Timiebi Aganaba Jeanty believes that outer space is now a Wild West because a growing number governmental and commercial entities are trying to get into the murky legal environment above the Earth.
The professor of Space and Society at Arizona State Universitys’ (ASU) Interplanetary Initiative said that this expansion increases the possibility for greater economic, military, and political conflict as well as a new era international cooperation.
Aganaba said that rules are needed about how humans will govern themselves in space independent of Earth.
Aganaba stated that when faced with questions like how to dispose of waste, mine resources, and how to share vital goods such as water and oxygen, there is a frontier mentality we can use to learn and say, We don’t want the same mistakes to space.
She asks what sustainability means in the context of humanity becoming an interplanetary race.
Aganaba’s passion for space law was sustainability. She was born to Nigerian immigrants in the U.K. and went to law school in Nigeria. After graduation, she worked for the newly established National Space Research and Development Agency to establish the nation’s official position on space debris.
She was 24 at the time and had never been interested in space.
She stated that it wasn’t like she grew up watching Star Trek or Star Wars.
Her boss at the space agency encouraged Aganaba to look at space debris from the perspective of environmental laws. That may seem an odd framework to use in regulating such a hostile and sterile environment but the unsparing backdrop of spacerequiresexactlysuch an approach, Aganaba said.
She stated that sustainability refers to things that are both economically beneficial and have social implications. This is in the context of environmental limitations.
And much like the oceans which do little to protect the most vulnerable, vital coastlines, the vastness of space hides fact that there is very little area for economic activity. The area available for economic activity is limited, as are the resources of oxygen or water required to survive.
The rise of private-sector enterprises now includes proposals for private spaces stations, such as Jeff BezosJeffrey Preston BezosThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Russia-Ukraine, US and China hold talks but leave little Pete Davidson free to fly on Blue Origin rocket Bezos. The Unexpected Way JOBS Act Investors Are Making a Profit (And How You Too Can)Orbital Reef planned ASU is helping to designAganaba stated that this has put these questions in sharp relief.
Consider the issue of water and oxygen. They will be scarce in space, so future astronauts and colonists will need to bring them with them or mine them from the surrounding environment.
Aganaba said that the mining laws of Earth do not translate well to space. The Outer Space Treaty, which she described as the Constitution of space, is the most important legal treaty in space governance. It prohibits countries appropriating extraterrestrial environments.
This has been interpreted broadly to mean that no flags or claims of territories are allowed. These are crucial first steps in the exploration of resources on Earth, such as hydrogen and oxygen which colonists might need to mine to make air and water.
Aganaba explained that capitalists have a big problem. They are like, “Why would you go into space, invest to find a mine, and then it belongs all to the world?”
One possible explanation is that, while the mine was not able to be used, the resources could.
Although countries may claim they won’t be able to own pieces of Moon territory, we will ensure that our citizens have the right to go and obtain it.
The notion of protection runs into another glaring flaw in the OST: the problem with military activity in space. The treaty was signed by the United States, then-Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom in 1967. Space was not accessible by other than the main superpowers.
We keep asking, “Should space be militarized?” Should space be militarized? Aganaba said that space is already militarized, even though he did not realize it. We have had military bases in space since day one. We claim that we have all this stuff for peaceful purposes, but is it peaceful?
She added that the U.S. interpretation of peaceful means non-aggressive. However, she pointed out that missiles were guided to their targets by space-based communications and surveillance during the 1991 Gulf War. Would you consider using GPS to navigate missiles aggressive or non-aggressive?
Today, the OST has 20 more signatories. It is also considered to bind an additional 111 parties. Space is becoming more crowded than ever.
Aganaba stated that the OST does not provide any guidance on mining issues and that it does not provide rules of the road for basic matters like who is responsible for moving when two satellites are dangerously close to each other.
As space becomes more crowded, this is becoming increasingly risky. Particularly considering the growing commitment of the United States, along with other major powers such as China and Russia, to spaceassimilation a potential “warfighting domain.”
This raises the possibility of political or economic disputes becoming shooting wars, which could result in destruction of key space infrastructures and spreading shrapnel and other debris throughout Earth’s orbit, thereby crippling both combatants as well as bystanders.
Private actors must become militarized if they are to enter such an environment. It’s more like a world of defense contractors than a place full of students doing research.
This is where Aganabas perspective comes into play.
As a person who values diversity, equity, and inclusion, I don’t want any domain that is only militarized or dominated by a few. As an African, if resources are available, and if benefits are available, then the regular children in Africa should also be able to take advantage of them.
Aganaba said that Africa is in a unique position for influence on international space law. This is because space law is less based upon legal agreement or prescription than on custom. The idea that legal regulations follow generally accepted practice rather than preceding it.
Aganaba stated that it wasn’t clear before the Soviet Union sent Sputnik into space in 1957 that it was legal to send a spacecraft into orbit. It became legal only after the Soviets did so. Additionally, the other space-going powers, which was then primarily the U.S., didn’t object to it, and it was enshrined into international customary.
Aganaba believes this framework could give the African Union’s space program, which will launch next year, surprising power in any legal dispute over whether it is legal to claim or appropriate resources from orbit.
We want to see Africans focusing on satellite applications.
An even larger part of the influence that Africa has on space law could be due to their space industry. This means they are in a position to legally challenge U.S. and Chinese appropriation.
To influence governance, you don’t have to be a technological genius. She stated that it is possible to do this right now.