UN space group aims to set up team to co-ordinate lunar activities

Team would work towards transparency and opportunities between lunar operators

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs is looking into setting up an action team that will study lunar activities. EPA
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A UN space group is looking to set up an action team that will study lunar activities, including presenting opportunities for countries to work together on missions.

Aarti Holla-Maini, director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, told The National on the final day of the World Governments Summit in Dubai on Wednesday, that a proposal was submitted during a committee meeting to form an action team.

The proposal document lists several points on the requirements for peaceful Moon operations, including protecting the lunar environment, mitigating the creation of debris and regulating access to natural resources.

“There's a lot of excitement, especially also here in the UAE, about going back to the Moon,” said Ms Holla-Maini.

“And the proposal for an action team is all about ensuring sustainable Moon operations, like co-ordinating missions, sharing data from missions and openly presenting states with opportunities for partnerships so that they work together.

“We're talking about starting to look at governance around the Moon as well, especially from an operational standpoint.”

There is a renewed interest in the Moon in this modern space era, as space agencies and companies look to set up a human base there and use the surface resources to eventually launch to Mars and for use on Earth.

Experts say there is Helium-3 present on the Moon, a rare isotope on Earth, which could be used as a clean and efficient fuel for nuclear power plants.

There is also water-ice buried beneath the surface that could be used to sustain life and utilised as rocket fuel for launching from the Moon.

Sherif Sedky, chief executive of the Egyptian Space Agency, said during a panel session at the government summit that there needed to be updated treaties as a growing number of countries look to explore the Moon.

“The Moon is a natural extension of Earth, therefore, there ought to be a lot of governance and control on how to access the Moon without discrimination,” he said.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 by the UN lists peaceful uses of the Moon and other celestial bodies, but more detailed rules are needed around on ownership of resources on the lunar surface, co-operation on safety as humans explore the surface and protecting historical sites – most of which is included in the new proposal for an action team.

The US-led Artemis Accords, which outlines responsible behaviour of operating on the Moon, has been signed by 35 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

But the accords are not yet legally-binding and nations like China and Russia are unlikely to become signatories, with the former Russian space chief who labelled the agreement as “too US-centric”.

Andrew Faiola, commercial vice president at Astroscale – a private orbital debris removal company, said at the panel that operators needed the right regulatory environment.

“In some cases, less regulation is better, but it still is important as it’ll attract innovation and funding,” he said.

“We are developing technical and business models that haven’t existed before. Space is hard and expensive, so to have funding is to help kick start these industries.

“In the old days, it used to take up to 10 years for a plan or for tools to show up in the market. Now it’s become a matter of two years or even two weeks.

“This is why we need a bottom-up approach with regulations, options, and possibilities.”

Updated: February 15, 2024, 7:39 AM