Friday, April 26, 2013

Asteroid Mining on the Move

     In April 2012 Planetary Resources announced an ambitious venture to mine asteroids. Followed by Deep Space Industries and Stott Space, the race to capture and mine an asteroid has kicked into gear. The rush to these celestial bodies is not necessarily for gold, but for platinum based metals that are used in renewable batteries. Metals used in manufacturing such as iron and nickel are also believed to be available. One question that comes up is how will the materials extracted from the asteroid be brought back to Earth? Another question is what effect will the influx of rare materials have on the market for those materials? An answer to the first question is that the materials do not have to be returned to Earth. Processing and manufacturing can take place in space. Using these materials to build new space vehicles can reduce the cost of space exploration as one of the largest costs is the fuel needed to leave Earth. As for the question regarding the effect on the market, well we can leave that to the economists and the invisisble hand for now. For a discussion of some of the legal issues surrounding asteroid mining see the previous post on the legal issues on mining the moon. Below is a collection of links from around the web to offer a snapshot of where the asteroid mining industry is and where it is headed.

Planetary Resources:

Deep Space Industries:

Stott Space:

Goals of Stott Space:

NASA receives funding to capture and asteroid:

Senator Bill Nelson (D, FL) and others back NASA plan to capture an asteroid:

Planetary Resources view of NASA's asteroid plan:

First an asteroid, and then Mars:

Commentary on NASA's plan:

Keck Institute for Space Studies: Asteroid Return Mission Study:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: Legal Aspects of Satellite Remote Sensing

     Remote sensing is the collection of data by detecting electromagnetic waves reflected from Earth. In the Legal Aspects of Satellite Remote Sensing, ISBN: 9789004190320, author Atsuyo Ito uses the definiton of remote sensing as the "science of extracting information from an object through the analysis of data acquired by a sensor that is not in direct contact with that area." In other words, a satellite orbitting high above the Earth's surface can form images of the surface, such as forests and volcanoes, without having to be near the volcano. This sensing technology allows for the gathering of information in understanding and addressing environmental issues and disasters. Ito does a thorough job of introducing satellite remote sensing, the legal regime around satellite remote sensing, its applications, and possible improvements.
     There are seven chapters divided into two parts. Part one is labled Clarification of the Current Regime and encompasses chapters 1-4 which introduce remote sensing, provides and overview of space law. Chapter 3 covers environmental law and how it is supported by remote sensing, and chapter 4 looks at disaster management and remote sensing applications. Part two is labled Improvements to the Current Framework and covers chapters 5-7. Chapter 5 discusses data policy and verification of accuracy and authenticity, chapter 6 covers liability, and chapter 7 reviews the key issues discussed in the book and offers recommendations for realizing the full benefits of remote sensing.
    After the main text there are 2 annexes. The first is the text of the Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space (U.N. Remote Sensing Principles), and the second is the text of the Charter on Cooperation to Achieve the Coordinated Use of Space Facilities in the Event of Natural or Technological Disasters (Disaster Charter). Following the annexes is a list of documents, and case law. Both lists are chronological and begin with international materials and then national materials arranged alphabetically by country. There is also a well organized bibliography and an index.
     Overall, Ito provides a compelling look at the current legal make-up of satellite remote sensing that is well researched and thorough. Her recommendations advocate for uniform policies that provide access and data sharing to benefit the greater public good.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sex in Space

     Now that the title of this post has your attention, what this post is actually going to discuss are the rights to reproduce in space. Seems like it this would be a no brainer. So much of a no brainer that a special suit has been developed to facilitate the "process." In a recent op-ed Laura Woodmansee, author of the book Sex in Space, questioned the ethics of reproduction in an environment where gravity, or lack of, affects the formation of cells. A study at the University of Montreal found that "intracellular traffic flow is compromised under hyper-gravity conditions and that both hyper and microgravity affect the precisely coordinated construction of the cellular envelope in the growing cell." What this means is that when the sperm and egg meet the new life will not grow as it does under Earth's gravity. Does the knowledge that a fetus will be malformed if conceived in space create an ethical obligation to not conceive in outer space? Who is going to prevent people from attempting? Can the government prohibit this private, recreational act? These are all good questions and as in most legal questions the answer depends.
     One can begin by looking at how the U.S. Supreme Court has defined the right to procreate within the Constitution. In the case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), a case involving the sterilization of criminals, the Court considered marriage and procreation fundamental to the survival of humans. By classifying procreation as a fundamental right any governmental attempt to prohibit that right has to meet the highest level of scrutiny.
     In Griswold v Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) the Supreme Court found a state law prohibiting the use and distribuion of contraceptives unconstitutional. Justice Douglas discussed a right to privacy implicitly found in the Bill of Rights, more specifically the First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments. Douglas said it would be "repulsive if police were allowed to search the sacred precincts of the marital bedroom for signs of the use of contraceptives."
     Expanding on Griswold, Justice Brennan wrote in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) "if the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."
     The issue of contraceptives came up again in Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977).  This time the issue was whether or not the government could limit the sale and distribution of contraceptives to minors under the age of 16 by licensed pharmacists. The Court found that limiting the distribution of contraceptives to minors by licensed pharmacists placed an undue restriction on the access to birth control and infringed on the right to control procreation.
     In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) that a state law prohibiting sodomy between persons of the same sex violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not further a legitimate government interest that would justify a severe intrusion into an area of personal privacy. In other words, private consensual sexual activity between consenting adults may not be prohibited.
     This handful of cases is by no means a comprehensive look at the jurisprudence that makes up the rights  to privacy, but they do lead to a conclusion that there is a fundamental right for people to engage in private consensual sexual activity and that the government would need to show a legitimate purpose that furthers a government interest in order to uphold any prohibition on this right. It seems unlikely that the government will be able to stop people from engaging in the procreation arts.
     There was a quote by Jeff Glodblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm in the movie Jurassic Park, (1993) in regards to cloning dinosaurs that seems like it may provide some insight to this situation: "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." With upcoming ventures to Mars such as the 2 person, 501 day mission around the red planet Inspiration Mars, and the Dutch startup Mars One which plans to colonize Mars via financing through reality TV, there will certainly be opportunities where people can engage in the reproductive arts. The answer to the question of whether or not they should, with current scientific knowledge, is going to be a judgement call that will be made, hopefully, after weighing all of the scientific, sociological, and psychological pros and cons.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Antarctica and Outer Space


What does Antarctica have to do with space law? The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4, 1957. This was not only the entrance of mankind into outer space; it was also the event that triggered the emergence of Space Law. Coincidentally the Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959 by the twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58.
           The Antarctic Treaty System (signed into force in 1961) states as its primary purpose to ensure “in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.

Other Provisions of the Treaty state:

Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only (Art. I).

Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue (Art. II).

 Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available (Art. III).

If these provisions seem familiar that is becuase they are very similar to the Outer Space Treaty which believes, "that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development."

The exploration and use of outer carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries… and shall be the province of all mankind (Art. I)

There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international cooperation in such investigation (Art. I).

Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means (Art. II).

States Parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space… in the interest of… promoting international cooperation and understanding (Art. III).

Antarctica, like outer space is considered to be an extreme and remote environment. So much so that the Mars Society, is conducting a 2,000 mile trans-Antarctic expedition "to test how extreme and remote environments affect human physiology, providing important insight into the challenge of sending humans to the Red Planet." The two year mission will focus on a variety of analog research, including:

Prolonged periods of complete isolation (7-9 months in duration)
Experiencing altered day-night cycles (including 3-4 months of complete darkness)
Exposure to extreme cold and weather (in the coldest desert with extremely low humidity)
Encountering chronic hypobaric hypoxia (including altitudes of up to 3,200 meters)

Antarctica and outer space are similar on a number of levels whether it is between the treaties that define the parameters of their use or the "extreme and remote" conditions. The other similarity is that both Antarctica and outer space are sovereignless. This was discussed in the following case regarding the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA):

Smith v U.S. 507 US 197 (1993)
In Smith, the court was asked to decide if the U.S. can be held liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for a wrongful death that occurred in Antarctica. The court held that the ordinary meaning of foreign country included Antarctica even though it had no recognized government. If Antarctica was not a foreign country then the plaintiff would have limited legal options because the court would have to look to the laws of Antarctica which has no law to determine the liability of the U.S. The Court points out that legislation of the U.S. is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. unless there is contrary congressional intent.

Justice Stevens acknowledged Antarctica's similarity to outer space in his dissent:
"The negligence that is alleged in this case will surely have its parallels in outer space as our astronauts continue their explorations of ungoverned regions far beyond the jurisdictional boundaries that were familiar to the Congress that enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946."
     Antarctica, like outer space, is sovereignless, remote, and of scientific and military interest. The biggest differenc is when you slip in Antarctica you fall. When you slip in outer space you float.