Common Heritage of Mankind – Property Rights, in the Wake of Commercial Use of the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies

At 48th Colloquium on Law of Outer Space, 2005 Fukuoka, Japan.

Author: Sethu Nandakumar Menon

In the new generation of space era, there is tremendous increase in private and commercial involvement in all areas of space activities. This is unlike the last five decades where space activities where predominantly carried out by state organizations. All the major space treaties and principles where adopted before the onslaught in this commercial sector. Hence, there is a need to redefine or elucidate some of the rights and duties under these treaties and principles in relation to the commercial players. The exploration of the Moon and other celestial bodies will furthermore complicate the already complex concept of commercial use of outer space. The paper explores the magnitude of the concept of “common heritage of mankind” explained in the 1979 Moon Agreement, which allows the use of outer space for the benefit of humankind. The paper studies the important factors of the limited number of countries which are parties to the Moon Agreement and also explores the possibility of considering its different provisions under customary international law. The paper further analyses the paragraphs of article XI and other articles of the Moon Agreement to see how the international regime will be moving forward to explore the outer-space resources with the current international legal regime in place. This study also looks at the Outer Space Treaty and more specifically the common benefit clause and the scope and implication of article VI, in the light of the present commercial space activities. The work further discusses the right to property on the Moon and other celestial bodies in the present scenario. The paper concludes with an examination of the possible interpretations with the current international legal regime on property rights in outer space and with a note of the need of more international legal collaboration on this frontier.