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Japanese perspective on US strategy on space resources

President Trump issued a new Executive Order on space resources, unlike former Space Policy Directives (SPD), on April 6th in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. SPDs sets objectives for the Administration how to conduct space policy whereas Executive Order has legally binding power to execute the decision by the Administration, and Congress and Supreme Court shall respect them as a national decision. Thus, this new Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources, instead of using SPD framework, would have a serious implication.

However, the contents of this Executive Order seem to be vague and poor at best. In Section 1, it reiterates the objective of SPD-1, which defines the aim of US human space mission is on Moon and then Mars and beyond, and the right of the United States to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space. Section 2 categorically denies the Moon Agreement which categorizes resources in outer space is a common heritage of mankind. Section 3 encourages international cooperation. These US positions on resources in outer space are well-known and there is not much that this Executive Order added to the course of US space policy.

Nevertheless, the Executive Order clarifies that the US is aggressively pursuing commercial exploration of planetary resources based on the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 and that the Trump Administration is fully committed to the Artemis program to land on the Moon. Initially, it is aiming at return to the Moon before Chinese astronauts (taikonauts) land on it. But the lunar landing has implications on commercial resource extraction. This Executive Order encourages NASA to focus on finding resources on the lunar surface.

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