Two space scientists say China is unlikely to claim the moon

China is constrained by international space law

Legally, China cannot take over the moon because it violates current international space law. The Outer Space Treaty, passed in 1967 and signed by 134 countries, including China, explicitly states that “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, through use or occupation. , or by any other means” (Article II). Legal scholars have debated the exact meaning of “appropriation,” but in a literal interpretation, the treaty states that no country can take possession of the moon and declare it an extension of its national aspirations and prerogatives. If China were to attempt this, it risks international condemnation and a possible international retaliatory response.

While no country can claim ownership of the moon, Article I of the Outer Space Treaty allows any state to explore and use outer space and celestial bodies. China will not be the only visitor to the South Pole of the Moon in the near future. The US-led Artemis Accords is a group of 20 countries that have plans to return humans to the moon by 2025, including the creation of a research station on the lunar surface and a support space station in orbit called the Gateway. with a planned launch in November 2024.

Even if no country can legally claim sovereignty over the moon, it’s possible that China, or any other country, would attempt to gradually gain de facto control over strategically important areas through a strategy known as “salami-slicing.” ‘. This practice involves taking small, incremental steps to bring about a big change: individually, those steps don’t justify a strong response, but their cumulative effect leads to significant developments and greater control. China has recently been adopting this strategy in the South and East China seas. However, such a strategy takes time and can be tackled.

Driving the moon is hard

Covering nearly 39 million square kilometers (or nearly five times the size of Australia), any control over the moon would be temporary and localized.

More likely, China could try to gain control over specific lunar regions of strategic value, such as lunar craters with higher concentrations of water ice. Ice on the moon is important because it will provide people with water that will not have to be shipped from Earth. Ice can also serve as a vital source of oxygen and hydrogen, which can be used as rocket fuel. In short, water ice is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability and survivability of any mission to the moon or beyond.

Securing and enforcing control of strategic lunar regions would require significant financial investment and long-term efforts. And no country could do this without everyone noticing.

Does China have the resources and capabilities?

China is investing heavily in space. In 2021, it led in the number of orbital launches with a total of 55 compared to the US’s 51. China is also in the top three for spacecraft deployments for 2021. Chinese state-owned StarNet is planning a megaconstellation of 12,992 satellites, and the country is nearing completion of construction of the Tiangong space station.

Going to the moon is expensive; The moon “taking over” would be much more the case. China’s space budget — an estimated $13 billion in 2020 — is only about half that of NASA. Both the US and China have increased their space budgets in 2020, the US by 5.6% and China by 17.1% from the previous year. But even with increased spending, China doesn’t seem to be investing the money it needs to carry out the expensive, daring and uncertain mission of “taking over” the moon.

If China takes control of any part of the moon, it would be a risky, expensive and extremely provocative move. China would risk further tarnishing its international image by violating international law and could lead to retaliation. All this for uncertain payouts that have yet to be determined.

Svetla Ben-Itzhak is an assistant professor of aerospace and international relations at Air University. R. Lincoln Hines is an assistant professor for the West Space Seminar at Air University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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