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United Nations Space Committee Looking Into Updating The Rules Of Space

            Over the last few years, the interest in space has reached new levels. Billionaires and nations are fighting for control by launching more and more satellites and stations into Earth’s atmosphere. Since so many have gotten involved in the modern space race, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee has formally recognized the vital role that space and space assets play in the international human experience. This committee deals with the global challenges and threats that affect Earth and its people.

            On November 1 2021, the U.N. created a new group with the goal to assess current and future threats to space and space operations. The group has to determine when certain behaviors are considered irresponsible, “make recommendations on possible norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors” in creating a treaty to prevent “an arms race in space.” The rules of space have been mostly the same since the treaty’s creation in 1967. It was negotiated after the Cold War when only the Soviet Union and the United States had power in space. Therefore, the rules are now just too vague to make sense of, especially when space is getting a little crowded.

            While the treaty does clearly say that everyone is allowed the freedom to explore space, there are two caveats that create multiple gaps in the rules, as well as grey spots that could cause confusion and, ultimately, a real conflict. The first caveat states that the moon and other celestial bodies must be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. It does not explicitly outline what “peaceful purposes” would include, and it also excludes the rest of space completely. The second caveat describes that those conducting activities in space must do so with “due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty.” Again, “due regard” is not outwardly defined, leaving it up to interpretation.

The treaty does not offer a system for conducting orbits or global space traffic, there are no requirements to share information on space trajectories, and there are no rules for who should move out of the way for those about to collide. In 2019, the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space created 21 new guidelines for the long-term sustainability of space, but the directions are voluntary and offer no agreed upon consequences for those who don’t follow the rules.

            Currently, the U.N. requires the newly constructed group to meet two times a year (twice in 2022 and twice in 2023). Their establishment also comes after China submitted a formal complaint against Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites almost colliding with their space station.

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