Dr Namrata Goswami – Scramble for the Skies
Discourse on Space Resource Utilization

Goswami LE Mag March 2024

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Live Encounters Magazine March 2024.

How the Discourse on Space Resource Utilization has evolved since Scramble for the Skies
The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space
was written,
Guest Editorial by Dr. Namrata Goswami.

Namrata Goswami Space

In October 2020, my co-authored book Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space was published. In that book, we argued that we were noticing a shift in space policy discourse, from Cold War space missions informed by a push for acquiring prestige, to post-Cold War missions that focused on space resource utilization and development. In the book, we argued that as we move forward, nations and their societies would start viewing space from an economic perspective and would establish capabilities to access the resources in our solar system. They would view space from a critical infrastructure perspective. There would also be the emergence of a vibrant commercial space sector globally.

The book’s research assumptions now stand vindicated with the U.S., China, and India, establishing policies and programs that are looking to utilize space resources. Since October 2020, after the book was published, the U.S. has established both policies and missions that talk about space resource utilization. In April 2022, the White House released an In-Space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing National Strategy to support U.S. space manufacturing services. The U.S. Artemis Lunar Program to utilize the resources on the Moon has seen the launch of Artemis 1 in November 2022. Several more Artemis launches are scheduled in the next few years toward building a sustainable Lunar human presence.

In November 2022, the White House issued the National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy that specified the vital economic and space utilization aspects of the Moon. Amongst the priorities of this strategy were to extend cislunar space situational awareness (SSA), implement cislunar communications, positioning, navigation, and timing, and foster new commercial development.

The U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on space resources to include topics like Lunar and asteroid mining in December 2023. NASA issued a feasibility study on Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) in January 2024. Most notable of the policies was the U.S. State Department’s Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy, the first such document issued by the State Department in May 2023. The Framework asserted U.S. leadership in space and its intention to build partnerships with like-minded countries and allies. There was a recognition in the document that space systems contribute to U.S. critical infrastructure, and that the growth of the commercial sector and several nations investing in space renders space a vital component of U.S. diplomatic efforts.

China moved ahead on its long-term space goals by successfully carrying out a Lunar sample return mission (December 2020), landing on the surface of Mars (May 2021), and building its permanent space station in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the Tiangong space station (2022).  China announced plans to build an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in June 2021, the idea being to build a permanent Lunar base by 2036.

China planned to establish the International Lunar Research Station Cooperation Organization (ILRSCO) to establish the regulatory framework for its ILRS partnerships that include Russia, Pakistan, South Africa, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Egypt. Some of the goals of ILRS are in-situ lunar resource utilization, cislunar space environment assessment, lunar chemistry, and lunar topography. ILRS would consist of a cislunar transportation facility, and related lunar ground facilities, both robotic and human-enabled. China announced plans to send humans to the Moon by 2030. In 2024, China is launching the Chang’e 6 to the lunar far side to collect samples. In 2023, China moved ahead with its SBSP plans. The Chinese plans also included the development of SBSP satellites, across different space institutions involved in the project.

The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) is now focused on developing the base technologies for the construction of a large SBSP satellite, and laser and microwave power beaming. Hou Xinbin, a researcher at CAST and member of the Committee of Space Solar Power of the Chinese Society of Astronautics specified that the next step will be to place these satellites in space, experiment with microwave and laser beaming to ground stations on Earth, or develop a capacity which is even more beneficial; laser beaming realized between two satellites in orbit.

Another interesting development was the presentation of findings of a three-year feasibility study project (2021-2023) called “Tiangong Kaiwu” or “The Exploitation of the Works of Nature”, by Wang Wei, a leading scientist with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The project aims to build an end-to-end space logistics system spanning the entirety of the solar system by 2100, by utilizing key strategically positioned gravitationally balanced regions in space. This would include capacities to extract water ice from the Moon, and mining resources from Near Earth Asteroids, Mars, the asteroid belt and the Moons of Jupiter.

The vision is to enable a wide-scale space infrastructure that would facilitate extraterrestrial mining and processing. Wang specified that “just like the miracles created in the great age of navigation, a ‘great space age’ featuring the use of space resources will … create the next miracles in human history and bring new prosperity to our civilization…[this] has the potential to transform the global space economy and elevate China’s standing in the world of space exploration”.

India moved the furthest on space resource utilization and long-term space plans since Scramble for the Skies was published. At the time the book was published, India had not made its position on space resources clear; neither did it have a long-term space vision. The book pointed out how India lacked a strategy for long-term investment in space development compared to either the U.S. or China. I wrote an article titled “Asia’s Space Race: China Leads India on Strategy, for the Lowy Institute, Australia, in March 2022, where I stated that:

Where China and India differ is how they locate space in their grand strategic discourses. While India is focused on developing traditional space goals, such as satellite launches, sending humans to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and prestige missions like those to the Moon and Mars, China’s development of its lunar and Mars capacity highlights the growing role of space in its critical infrastructure. China, unlike India, aims to extend its space systems beyond borders – beginning with its Tiangong program – and towards a commercialised export model.

India has recently developed institutions to support its own national security and commercial space sectors, but its path continues to be determined by traditional space launch goals. Whereas both China and India, by investing in space launches, missions to the Moon and Mars, ASAT weapons tests and satellite-supported navigation systems, ticked several boxes towards becoming part of the traditional space club dominated by the United States and Russia, China now expresses ambitions to leave the club. Instead, its aim is to lead space-related technologies, such as quantum communications, robotics, on-orbit servicing, assembly and manufacturing, artificial intelligence (AI), and space-based solar power (SBSP).

All that has changed now with the year 2023 ushering in policy, strategy, and capacity developments upping the ante regarding India’s long-term space development. No longer is India’s space vision just about the traditional goals I had identified in the article in 2022. The Chandrayaan 3 Lunar Mission landed on the Southern hemisphere of the Moon on August 23, 2023. It was India’s second attempt to land on the Moon, after the failure of the Chandrayaan 2 mission in 2019.

The ability of the Chandrayaan 3 Lunar mission to build an end-to-end space logistics capability, with a low-key budget of $75 million, that included the rocket launch, propulsion system, lunar lander, and rover was one such game changer. Since then, India has announced the Chandrayaan 4 mission, which aims to land on the far side of the Moon, accomplish a precise landing technology, in collaboration with Japan, hunt for water, and bring back lunar samples. In 2023, India announced its official space policy.

As per that space policy document, the focus of India’s space program is to develop and support its commercial space sector. The 2023 space policy indicates that India’s space vision is “to augment space capabilities; enable, encourage and develop a flourishing commercial presence in space [emphasis added]; use space as a driver of technology development and derived benefits in allied areas; pursue international relations, and create an ecosystem for effective implementation of space applications among all stakeholders.”

About the issue of space resources, the 2023 Indian space policy made India’s position clear, something that was missing when Scramble for the Skies was published. The 2023 space policy provides India’s position on the extraction of space resources. On pages 6 and 7 of the 2023 space policy document, India stakes its position, to include clarifying ownership issues: “Non-Governmental Entities (NGEs) will be encouraged to engage in the commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource. Any NGE engaged in such process shall be entitled to possess, own, transport, use, and sell any such asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of India.”

The Indian Prime Minister’s Office released a space roadmap, announcing a lunar sample return mission (the Chandrayaan 4) by 2024, a space station by 2028, and finally a manned mission to the Moon by 2040. The Chandrayaan 5, 6, and 7 will be future lunar missions that will be building the capability to accomplish India’s goal of lunar infrastructure, human presence, and lunar tourism. India’s lunar program now includes a technology build up phase between 2023-2028, a Lunar reach-out phase (2028-2040), and a Lunar base between 2040-2047. The Chandrayaan 5, 6, and 7 missions will be within the lunar reach-out phase. From Chandrayaan 6 onwards, India will start to build lunar habitats, followed by the Chandrayaan 7 aimed at lunar infrastructure building.

As per ISRO Chairperson, S Somanath, “2040 is 17 years away and that’s a good time to develop technologies to send humans to Moon. Our work on the proposed space station too is progressing aggressively and we should be able to have the first unit ready by 2028”. India is developing a Human Rated Launch Vehicle for its Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission. This will include building capacities like life support, Bioastronautics, Crew training, and Human rating & certification. India has signed the U.S. Artemis Accords that have Lunar resource utilization as a key goal.

Japan’s space policy also saw some significant changes. On June 23, 2021, Japan enacted the Space Resources Act on Promotion of Business Activities Related to the Exploration and Development of Space Resources (Act No. 83 of 2021) that came into effect in December 2021. This act defines space resources as “water, minerals, and other natural resources that exist in outer space, including on the moon and other celestial bodies.” The Space Resources Act clarified Japan’s permission process stating that “an applicant for the space resources extraction permit must attach a business activity plan to the application.

The activity plan must include the purpose of the proposed space resources exploration and exploitation activity; the term, location, method, and other details of the activity; and other matters specified by a Cabinet ordinance”. The most critical part of Japan’s Space Resources Act is its unambiguous statement on who owns the resources they mine on a celestial body, an issue hotly debated for long in the space community. Japan stated that “The Space Resources Act provides that the person who obtained the permit owns the space resources that the person exploits in accordance with the approved activity plan. (Art. 5.)”.

Consequently, Japanese commercial space company, ispace became the first private space company in the world to be granted a license under Japan’s Space Resources Act to go extract resources on the Moon, establish ownership, and then sell the resources to NASA. This will be the first business activity on the Moon.

Takeshi Hakamada, ispace’s Founder and CEO, stated at that time. “With this license, we will transfer ownership of the lunar regolith we expect to collect to NASA during our first mission…commercial space resource utilization is another step toward our goal of establishing the cislunar economy and will support NASA’s goal of a long-term presence on the Moon.” ispace attempted to land on the Lunar surface in April 2023, but lost communication between the lander and the mission control team, and hard landed on the Lunar surface.

In a span of nearly three and half years, since Scramble for the Skies was published, we now witness several nations account for space resource utilization and space development. This also includes Middle Powers like Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE Mars mission called Hope Probe which entered Mars orbit in February 2021 has gathered new data on Mars, to help improve our understanding of the Mars atmosphere specifically the mysterious aurora called Sinuous Discrete Aurora. It is truly astounding to witness the level of changes to space policies and capacities around the world. We have the United Nations Space2030 agenda, where member nations aspire to build a sustainable future in space. Specifically, the Space2030 Agenda states and I quote

Through COPUOS [Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space], UNOOSA [United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs] supports policy discussions on emerging space affairs issues, including extraction of space resources, space traffic management and the governance of small-satellite ‘mega constellations’. It is, therefore, crucial for the United Nations to continue engaging with stakeholders to support and promote dialogue among Governments, industry and the private sector, academia and civil society to effectively tackle challenges and address changes in the space environment.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out once we have a permanent presence on the Moon, something nations are aspiring for by 2036. While we know how hard it is to land on the Moon, nations like the U.S., Russia, China, and India have accomplished the feat, and with Japan’s Smart Lander to Investigating the Moon (SLIM), and Intuitive Machines Lunar landing added to the mix, but not without landing glitches for the last two. With the kind of vision articulated by both China and India, it appears like Asia is taking the lead in this post-Cold War push for space development. Time will tell if they can sustain their ambitious space plans.

© Dr. Namrata Goswami

Dr. Namrata Goswami is an author, professor, and consultant specializing in space policy, international relations, and ethnic identity. She teaches at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, and the Joint Special Forces University and is a consultant for Space Fund Intelligence. She is a guest lecturer at Emory University for seminars on Technology, Society & Governance, and India today. She worked as a Research Fellow at MP-Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi; a Visiting Fellow at Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway; La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia; University of Heidelberg, Germany; Jennings-Randolph Senior Fellow, United States Institute of Peace; and was a Fulbright Senior Fellowship Awardee. She was awarded the Minerva grant by the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to study great power competition in outer space.

In April 2019, Dr. Goswami testified before the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s space program. Her co-authored book, Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space was published in 2020 by Lexington Press; Rowman, and Littlefield. Her book on The Naga Ethnic Movement for a Separate Homeland was published in 2020 by Oxford University Press.  She has published widely including in The Diplomat, the Economic Times, The Washington Post, Ad Astra, Asia Policy, Live Encounters Magazine, Cairo Review. She was invited in November 2019 to share about her life and her work at a Tedx event held at the Rosa Parks Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama.

She has appeared on CNN, BBC, Deutsch Welle, France24, and Channel 4, to share her research on space policy. She is currently working on two academic book projects, one on China’s Grand Strategy and Notions of Territoriality and the other on Spacepower Theory and Practice: Case Studies of U.S. China, India, Russia, and Japan.

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