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Creating a Practical Legal Framework for the Commercial Exploitation of Mineral Resources in Outer Space

Lee, Ricky (2009) Creating a Practical Legal Framework for the Commercial Exploitation of Mineral Resources in Outer Space. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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      Abstract

      This thesis addresses the legal and policy issues relating to what may be the most exciting prospect in the history of the human civilisation: the commercial exploitation of natural resources in outer space. The thesis is based on the hypothesis that such ventures are inhibited not by physical, technological and economic factors, but by the inadequacies and uncertainties present in the current body of space law and policy. Consequently, a new international legal framework and a policy consensus are required to provide a legal environment favourable for such a valuable and necessary development.

      To substantiate this hypothesis, the thesis begins by establishing the economic necessity and technical feasibility of space mining today, an estimate of the financial commitments required. This is followed by a risk analysis of a typical commercial mining venture in space, identifying the economic and legal risks. This leads to the recognition that the legal risks must be minimised to enable such enormous financial commitments to be made.

      What then follows is a detailed analysis of the legal framework for such activities as well as identifying the inadequacies of space law for the commercial exploitation of celestial resources. This is achieved through a discussion of the general principles of international space law, particularly dealing with state responsibility and international liability, as well as some of the issues arising from space mining activities. Much detail is devoted to the analysis of the content of the “common heritage of mankind” doctrine in international law and the effect of international disagreement over its application to celestial bodies.

      Having established the relevant legal issues, the thesis then turns to consider the past failures in reach similar agreements and the competing policy interests that have prevented the success of such agreements. It attempts to balance such interests in creating a legal and policy compromise that may be acceptable to a majority of the international community and provide some practical proposals on the structural, procedural, administrative and judicial aspects of creating and implementing a new legal framework.

      Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
      Murdoch Affiliation: School of Law
      Supervisor: Nase, Vernon
      URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/1665
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