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Anthropologists distinguish the U.S. State of California as a primary zone of prehistoric and tribal North America—it was one of the most linguistically and cultural diverse regions on earth. The original population of Native California and traditional cultures were decimated by the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Anglos, who successively settled California and transformed it. For that reason, knowledge of the character and function of astronomy in what is now California prior to European contact in the 16th century is incomplete and fragmented. Traditional astronomical lore is preserved in a few ethnohistoric commentaries, in some archaeological remains, and in ethnographic research conducted primarily in the early 20th century, when elements of indigenous knowledge still survived.
Throughout Native California, the moon’s conspicuous brightness, movement, and systematically changing appearance prompted its affiliation with seasonal change, the passage of time, and cyclical renewal, and most California tribes monitored and counted lunations in one way or another, but not necessarily throughout the entire year. In some cases, individual lunations were affiliated with and named for seasonal circumstances.
There is little evidence, however, for even minimal interest in or recognition of the planets visible to the unaided eye, with the exception of Venus as the “Morning Star” or “Evening Star.” Venus, like the moon and other celestial objects, was personified and regarded as a fundamental and active agent of the cosmos. There is no evidence, however, for detailed monitoring of Venus and quantitative knowledge of its synodic behavior.
Although the second most abundant element in the cosmos is helium, noble gases are also called rare gases. The reason is that they are not abundant on terrestrial planets like the Earth, which is characterized by orders of magnitude depletion of—particularly light—noble gases when compared to the cosmic element abundance pattern. Indeed, geochemical depletion and enrichment processes mean that noble gases are highly versatile tracers of planetary formation and evolution. When our solar system formed—or even before—small grains and first condensates incorporated small amounts of noble gases from the surrounding gas of solar composition, resulting in depletion of light He and Ne relative to heavy Ar, Kr, and Xe, leading to the “planetary type” abundance pattern. Further noble gas depletion occurred during flash heating of mm- to cm-sized objects (chondrules and calcium, aluminum-rich inclusions), and subsequently during heating—and occasionally differentiation—on small planetesimals, which were precursors of planets. Some of these objects are present today in the asteroid belt and are the source of many meteorites. Many primitive meteorites contain very small (micron to sub-micron size) rare grains that are older than our Solar System and condensed billions of years ago in in the atmospheres of different stars, for example, Red Giant stars. These grains are characterized by nucleosynthetic anomalies, in particular the noble gases, such as so-called s-process xenon.
While planetesimals acquired a depleted noble gas component strongly fractionated in favor of heavy noble gases, the Sun and also gas giants like Jupiter attracted a much larger amount of gas from the protosolar nebula by gravitational capture. This resulted in a cosmic or “solar type” abundance pattern, containing the full complement of light noble gases. In contrast, terrestrial planets accreted from planetesimals with only minor contributions from the gaseous component of the protosolar nebula, which accounts for their high degree of depletion and essentially “planetary” elemental abundance pattern. The strong depletion in noble gases facilitates their application as noble gas geo- and cosmochronometers; chronological applications are based on being able to determine noble gas isotopes formed by radioactive decay processes, for example, 40Ar by 40K decay, 129Xe by 129I decay, or fission Xe from 238U or 244Pu decay. Particularly ingrowth of radiogenic xenon is only possible due to the depletion of primordial nuclides, which allows insight into the chronology of fractionation of lithophile parent nuclides and atmophile noble gas daughters. Applied to large-scale planetary reservoirs, this helps to elucidate the timing of mantle degassing and evolution of planetary atmospheres. Applied to individual rocks and minerals, it allows radioisotope chronology using short-lived (e.g., 129I–129Xe) or long-lived (e.g., 40K–40Ar) systems.
The dominance of 40Ar in the terrestrial atmosphere allowed von Weizsäcker to conclude that most of the terrestrial atmosphere originated by degassing of the solid Earth, which is an ongoing process today at mid-ocean ridges, as indicated by outgassing of primordial helium from newly forming ocean crust. Mantle degassing was much more massive in the past, with most of the terrestrial atmosphere probably formed during the first few 100 million years of Earth’s history, in response to major evolutionary processes of accretion, terrestrial core formation, and the terminal accretion stage of a giant impact that formed our Moon. During accretion, solar noble gases were added to the mantle, presumably by solar wind irradiation of the small planetesimals and dust accreting to form the Earth. While the Moon-forming impact likely dissipated a major fraction of the primordial atmosphere, today’s atmosphere originated by addition of a late veneer of asteroidal and possibly cometary material combined with a decreasing rate of mantle degassing over time. As other atmophile elements behave similarly to noble gases, they also trace the origin of major volatiles on Earth, for example, water, nitrogen, and carbon.
Stanley Miller demonstrated in 1953 that it was possible to form amino acids from methane, ammonia, and hydrogen in water, thus launching the ambitious hope that chemists would be able to shed light on the origins of life by recreating a simple life form in a test tube. However, it must be acknowledged that the dream has not yet been accomplished, despite the great volume of effort and innovation put forward by the scientific community. A minima, primitive life can be defined as an open chemical system, fed with matter and energy, capable of self-reproduction (i.e., making more of itself by itself), and also capable of evolving. The concept of evolution implies that chemical systems would transfer their information fairly faithfully but make some random errors.
If we compared the components of primitive life to parts of a chemical automaton, we could conceive that, by chance, some parts self-assembled to generate an automaton capable of assembling other parts to produce a true copy. Sometimes, minor errors in the building generated a more efficient automaton, which then became the dominant species. Quite different scenarios and routes have been followed and tested in the laboratory to explain the origin of life.
There are two schools of thought in proposing the prebiotic supply of organics. The proponents of a metabolism-first call for the spontaneous formation of simple molecules from carbon dioxide and water to rapidly generate life. In a second hypothesis, the primeval soup scenario, it is proposed that rather complex organic molecules accumulated in a warm little pond prior to the emergence of life. The proponents of the primeval soup or replication first approach are by far the more active. They succeeded in reconstructing small-scale versions of proteins, membranes, and RNA. Quite different scenarios have been proposed for the inception of life: the RNA world, an origin within droplets, self-organization counteracting entropy, or a stochastic approach merging chemistry and geology. Understanding the emergence of a critical feature of life, its one-handedness, is a shared preoccupation in all these approaches.
Christopher Daniel Johnson
Negotiated at the United Nations and in force since 1967, the Outer Space Treaty has been ratified by over 100 countries and is the most important and foundational source of space law. The treaty, whose full title is “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” governs all of humankind’s activities in outer space, including activities on other celestial bodies and many activities on Earth related to outer space. All space exploration and human spaceflight, planetary sciences, and commercial uses of space—such as the global telecommunications industry and the use of space technologies such as position, navigation, and timing (PNT), take place against the backdrop of the general regulatory framework established in the Outer Space Treaty.
A treaty is an international legal instrument which balances rights and obligations between states, and exists as a kind of mutual contract of shared understandings, rights, and responsibilities between them. Negotiated and drafted during the Cold War era of heightened political tensions, the Outer Space Treaty is largely the product of efforts by the United States and the USSR to agree on certain minimum standards and obligations to govern their competition in “conquering” space. Additionally, the Outer Space Treaty is similar to other treaties, including treaties governing the high seas, international airspace, and the Antarctic, all of which govern the behavior of states outside of their national borders. The treaty is brief in nature and only contains 17 articles, and is not comprehensive in addressing and regulating every possible scenario. The negotiating states knew that the Outer Space Treaty could only establish certain foundational concepts such as freedom of access, state responsibility and liability, non-weaponization of space, the treatment of astronauts in distress, and the prohibition of non-appropriation of celestial bodies. Subsequent treaties were to refine these concepts, and national space legislation was to incorporate the treaty’s rights and obligations at the national level.
While the treaty is the cornerstone in the regulation of activities in outer space, today the emergence of new issues that were not contemplated at the time of its creation, such as small satellites and megaconstellations, satellite servicing missions, the problem of space debris and the possibility of space debris removal, and the use of lunar and asteroid resources, all stretch the coherence and continuing adequacy of the treaty, and may occasion the need for new governance frameworks.
Shoshana Z. Weider
Having knowledge of a terrestrial planet’s chemistry is fundamental to understanding the origin and composition of its rocks. Until recently, however, the geochemistry of Mercury—the Solar System’s innermost planet—was largely unconstrained. Without the availability of geological specimens from Mercury, studying the planet’s surface and bulk composition relies on remote sensing techniques. Moreover, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun makes it difficult to study with Earth/space-based telescopes, or with planetary probes. Indeed, to date, only NASA’s Mariner 10 and MESSENGER missions have visited Mercury. The former made three “flyby” encounters of Mercury between 1974 and 1975, but did not carry any instrument to make geochemical or mineralogical measurements of the surface. Until the MESSENGER flyby and orbital campaigns (2008–2015), therefore, knowledge of Mercury’s chemical composition was severely limited and consisted of only a few facts. For example, it has long been known that Mercury has the highest uncompressed density (i.e., density with the effect of gravity removed) of all the terrestrial planets, and thus a disproportionately large Fe core. In addition, Earth-based spectral reflectance observations indicated a dark surface, largely devoid of Fe within silicate minerals.
To improve understanding of Mercury’s geochemistry, the MESSENGER scientific payload included a suite of geochemical sensing instruments: in particular, an X-Ray spectrometer and a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer. The datasets obtained from these instruments (as well as from other complementary instruments) during MESSENGER’s 3.5-year orbital mission allow a much more complete picture of Mercury’s geochemistry to be drawn, and quantitative abundance estimates for several major rock-forming elements in Mercury’s crust are now available. Overall, the MESSENGER data reveal a surface that is rich in Mg, but poor in Al and Ca, compared with typical terrestrial and lunar crustal materials. Mercury’s surface also contains high concentrations of the volatile elements Na, S, K, and Cl. Furthermore, the total surface Fe abundance is now known to be <2 wt%, and the planet’s low-reflectance is thought to be primarily caused by the presence of C (in the form of graphite) at a level of >1 wt%. Such data are key to constraining models of Mercury’s formation and early evolution. Large-scale spatial variations in the MESSENGER geochemical datasets have also led to the designation of several geochemical “terranes,” which do not always align with otherwise mapped geological regions.
Based on the MESSENGER geochemical results, petrological experiments and calculations have been, and continue to be, performed to study Mercury’s surface mineralogy and petrology. The results show that there are likely to be substantial differences in the precise mineral compositions and abundances amongst the different terranes, but Mercury’s surface appears to be dominated by Mg-rich olivine and pyroxene, as well as plagioclase and sulfide phases. Depending on the classification scheme used, Mercury’s ultramafic surface rocks can thus be described as similar in nature to terrestrial boninites, andesites, norites, or gabbros.
Ulrich R. Christensen
Since 1973 space missions carrying vector magnetometers have shown that most, but not all, solar system planets have a global magnetic field of internal origin. They have also revealed a surprising diversity in terms of field strength and morphology. While Jupiter’s field, like that of Earth, is dominated by a dipole moderately tilted relative to the planet’s spin axis, the fields of Uranus and Neptune are multipole-dominated, whereas those of Saturn and Mercury are highly symmetric relative to the rotation axis. Planetary magnetism originates from a dynamo process, which requires a fluid and electrically conducting region in the interior with sufficiently rapid and complex flow. The magnetic fields are of interest for three reasons: (i) they provide ground truth for dynamo theory, (ii) the magnetic field controls how the planet interacts with its space environment, for example, the solar wind, and (iii) the existence or nonexistence and the properties of the field enable us to draw inferences on the constitution, dynamics, and thermal evolution of the planet’s interior. Numerical simulations of the geodynamo, in which convective flow in a rapidly rotating spherical shell representing the outer liquid iron core of the Earth leads to induction of electric currents, have successfully reproduced many observed properties of the geomagnetic field. They have also provided guidelines on the factors controlling magnetic field strength and morphology. For numerical reasons the simulations must employ viscosities far greater than those inside planets and it is debatable whether they capture the correct physics of planetary dynamo processes. Nonetheless, such models have been adapted to test concepts for explaining magnetic field properties of other planets. For example, they show that a stable stratified conducting layer above the dynamo region is a plausible cause for the strongly axisymmetric magnetic fields of Mercury or Saturn.
Modern observational techniques are still not powerful enough to directly view planet formation, and so it is necessary to rely on theory. However, observations do give two important clues to the formation process. The first is that the most primitive form of material in interstellar space exists as a dilute gas. Some of this gas is unstable against gravitational collapse, and begins to contract. Because the angular momentum of the gas is not zero, it contracts along the spin axis, but remains extended in the plane perpendicular to that axis, so that a disk is formed. Viscous processes in the disk carry most of the mass into the center where a star eventually forms. In the process, almost as a by-product, a planetary system is formed as well.
The second clue is the time required. Young stars are indeed observed to have gas disks, composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, surrounding them, and observations tell us that these disks dissipate after about 5 to 10 million years. If planets like Jupiter and Saturn, which are very rich in hydrogen and helium, are to form in such a disk, they must accrete their gas within 5 million years of the time of the formation of the disk. Any formation scenario one proposes must produce Jupiter in that time, although the terrestrial planets, which don’t contain significant amounts of hydrogen and helium, could have taken longer to build. Modern estimates for the formation time of the Earth are of the order of 100 million years.
To date there are two main candidate theories for producing Jupiter-like planets. The core accretion (CA) scenario supposes that any solid materials in the disk slowly coagulate into protoplanetary cores with progressively larger masses. If the core remains small enough it won’t have a strong enough gravitational force to attract gas from the surrounding disk, and the result will be a terrestrial planet. If the core grows large enough (of the order of ten Earth masses), and the disk has not yet dissipated, then the planetary embryo can attract gas from the surrounding disk and grow to be a gas giant. If the disk dissipates before the process is complete, the result will be an object like Uranus or Neptune, which has a small, but significant, complement of hydrogen and helium. The main question is whether the protoplanetary core can grow large enough before the disk dissipates.
A second scenario is the disk instability (DI) scenario. This scenario posits that the disk itself is unstable and tends to develop regions of higher than normal density. Such regions collapse under their own gravity to form Jupiter-mass protoplanets. In the DI scenario a Jupiter-mass clump of gas can form—in several hundred years which will eventually contract into a gas giant planet. The difficulty here is to bring the disk to a condition where such instabilities will form. Now that we have discovered nearly 3000 planetary systems, there will be numerous examples against which to test these scenarios.
Duane W. Hamacher and Kirsten Banks
Studies in Australian Indigenous astronomical knowledge reveal few accounts of the visible planets in the sky. However, what information we do have tells us that Aboriginal people are close observers of planets and their motions and properties. Indigenous Australians discerned between planets and stars by their placement in the sky and their general lack of scintillation. Traditions generally describe the ecliptic and zodiac as a pathway of sky ancestors represented by the sun, moon, and planets. This included observing the occasional backwards motion of sky ancestors as they communicate with each other during their journey across the sky, representing an explanation of retrograde motion. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people note the relative brightness of the planets over time and information about the roles they play in their traditions around Australia. Knowledge systems outline the importance placed on Venus as the morning and evening star, making connections to the object as it transitions form one to the other through observations and calculation of the planet’s synodic period. Traditions note the relative positions of the planets to the moon, sun, and background stars, as well as inter planetary dust through zodiacal light, which is perceived as a celestial rope connecting Venus to the sun.
The relative dearth of descriptions of planets in Aboriginal traditions may be due to the gross incompleteness of recorded astronomical traditions and of ethnographic bias and misidentification in the anthropological record. Ethnographic fieldwork with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is revealing new, previously unrecorded knowledge about the planets and their related phenomena.
Inuit are an indigenous people traditionally inhabiting the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and parts of Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula. Across this vast region, Inuit society, while not entirely homogeneous either culturally or linguistically, nevertheless shares a fundamental cosmology, in part based on a common understanding of the sky and its contents. Traditionally, Inuit used prominent celestial objects—the sun, moon, and major circumpolar asterisms—as markers for estimating the passage of time, as wayfinding and directional aids, and, importantly, as the basis of several of the foundational myths and legends underpinning their society’s social order and mores.
Random inquiries on Inuit astronomy made by European visitors after initial contact through the mid-18th and early 20th centuries were characteristically haphazard and usually peripheral to some other line of ethnological enquiry, such as folklore or mythology. In addition, the early accounts of Inuit star lore were often prone to misrepresentation due to several factors, including European cultural bias, translation inadequacies, a deficiency of general astronomical knowledge on the part of most commentators, and, most significantly, a failure—sometimes due to lack of opportunity—to conduct systematic observations of the sky in the presence of Inuit knowledge holders. Early accounts therefore tended to diminish the cultural significance of Inuit astronomy, almost to the point of insignificance. Unfortunately, by the time systematic fieldwork began on the topic, in the mid-1980s, unalloyed information on Inuit astronomical knowledge was already elusive, more and more compromised by European acculturation and substitution and, notably, by light pollution—a consequence of the increasing urbanization of Inuit communities beginning in the late 1950s. For the residents of most Arctic settlements, street lights reflecting off the snow have virtually eliminated the evocative phenomenon of the “polar night.”
For several reasons, the role of planets in Inuit astronomy is difficult to determine, due, in part, to the characteristics of the planets themselves. Naked-eye differentiation between the major visible planets is by no means straightforward, and for observers living north of the Arctic Circle, the continuous or semicontinuous periods of daylight/twilight obtaining throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall effectively prevent year-round viewing of the night sky, making much planetary movement unobservable, far less an appreciation of the planets’ predictable synodic and sidereal periods. Mitigating against the significant use of planets in Inuit culture is also the principle that their applied astronomy, along with its cosmology and mythologies depend principally on—apart from the sun and the moon—the predictability of the “fixed stars.”
Inuit of course did see the major planets and took note of them when they moved through their familiar asterisms or appeared, irregularly, as markers of solstice, or harbingers of daylight after winter’s dark. Generally, however, planets seem to have been little regarded until after the introduction of Christianity, when, in parts of the Canadian eastern Arctic, Venus, in particular, became associated with Christmas. While there are anecdotal accounts that some of the planets, again especially Venus, may have had a place in Greenlandic mythology, this assertion is far from certain. Furthermore, reports from Alaska and Greenland suggesting that the appearance of Venus was a regular marker of the new year, or a predictor of sun’s return, need qualification, given the apparent irregularity of Venus’s appearances above the horizon.
A survey of relevant literature, including oral history, pertaining either directly or peripherally to Inuit astronomical traditions, reveals few bona fide mention of planets. References to planets in Inuit mythology and astronomy are usually speculative, typically lacking supportive or corroborative information. It can therefore be reasonably inferred that, with the qualified exception of Venus, planets played little part in Inuit astronomy and cosmology despite their being, on occasion, the brightest objects in the Northern celestial sphere. This being the case, there is a certain irony in NASA’s recently bestowing Inuit mythological names on a group of Saturn’s moons—Saturn being a planet the Inuit themselves, as far as can be determined, did not note or recognize.
Pluto orbits the Sun at a mean distance of 39.5 AU (astronomical units; 1 AU is the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun), with an orbital period of 248 Earth years. Its orbit is just eccentric enough to cross that of Neptune. They never collide thanks to a 2:3 mean-motion resonance: Pluto completes two orbits of the Sun for every three by Neptune. The Pluto system consists of Pluto and its large satellite Charon, plus four small satellites: Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are spherical bodies, with diameters of 2,377 and 1,212 km, respectively. They are tidally locked to one another such that each spins about its axis with the same 6.39-day period as their mutual orbit about their common barycenter. Pluto’s surface is dominated by frozen volatiles nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. Their vapor pressure supports an atmosphere with multiple layers of photochemical hazes. Pluto’s equator is marked by a belt of dark red maculae, where the photochemical haze has accumulated over time. Some regions are ancient and cratered, while others are geologically active via processes including sublimation and condensation, glaciation, and eruption of material from the subsurface. The surfaces of the satellites are dominated by water ice. Charon has dark red polar stains produced from chemistry fed by Pluto’s escaping atmosphere.
The existence of a planet beyond Neptune had been postulated by Percival Lowell and William Pickering in the early 20th century to account for supposed clustering in comet aphelia and perturbations of the orbit of Uranus. Both lines of evidence turned out to be spurious, but they motivated a series of searches that culminated in Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto in 1930 at the observatory Lowell had founded in Arizona. Over subsequent decades, basic facts about Pluto were hard-won through application of technological advances in astronomical instrumentation. During the progression from photographic plates through photoelectric photometers to digital array detectors, space-based telescopes, and ultimately, direct exploration by robotic spacecraft, each revealed more about Pluto. A key breakthrough came in 1978 with the discovery of Charon by Christy and Harrington. Charon’s orbit revealed the mass of the system. Observations of stellar occultations constrained the sizes of Pluto and Charon and enabled the detection of Pluto’s atmosphere in 1988. Spectroscopic instruments revealed Pluto’s volatile ices. In a series of mutual events from 1985 through 1990, Pluto and Charon alternated in passing in front of the other as seen from Earth. Observations of these events provided additional constraints on their sizes and albedo patterns and revealed their distinct compositions. The Hubble Space Telescope’s vantage above Earth’s atmosphere enabled further mapping of Pluto’s albedo patterns and the discovery of the small satellites. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew through the system in 2015. Its instruments mapped the diversity and compositions of geological features on Pluto and Charon and provided detailed information on Pluto’s atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind.
The public impact of planetary science, or, alternatively, the public value of planetary science, is poorly understood, as little research has been published on the subject. Public impact may be linked to scientific impact, but it is not the same as public impact. Nor is it the same as public benefit or public understanding. No clear, agreed-upon definition of “public impact” exists, and certainly no definition of “the public impact of planetary science” exists. It is a matter of judgment as to whether global spending on planetary science has yielded positive public impacts, let alone impacts that are worth the investment.
More research on the public impact of planetary science is needed. However, the study of public impact is a social scientific enterprise, and space agencies, space research institutes, and aerospace companies historically have invested very little in social scientific research. Without further study of the subject, the public impact of planetary science will remain poorly understood.
Anja Nakarada Pečujlić
The adoption and entering into force of the 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (also known as the Registration Convention) was another achievement in expanding and strengthening the corpus iuris spatialis. It was the fourth treaty negotiated by the member states of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) and it represents a lex specialis to the Outer Space Treaty (OST), elaborating further Articles V, VIII, and XI of the OST. Article V OST deals with safe and prompt return of astronauts in case of distress or emergency landing to the state of registry of their space vehicle, which is then further defined in the Registration Convention. Article VIII OST only implied registration and provided for the consequences thereof, namely in respect of exercising jurisdiction and control over a registered space object. However, the Registration Convention specified the ensuing obligations and regulated the necessary practical steps of space objects registration. The Registration Convention also complements and strengthens Article XI OST, which stipulates an obligation of state parties to inform the secretary-general of the nature, conduct, locations, and results of their space activities in order to promote international cooperation.
The prevailing purposes of the Registration Convention is the clarification of “jurisdiction and control” as a comprehensive concept mentioned in Article VIII OST. In addition to its overriding objective, the Registration Convention also contributes to the promotion and the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. Establishing and maintaining a public register reduces the possibility of the existence of unidentified space objects and thereby lowers the risk of putting, for example, weapons of mass destruction secretly into orbit. Notwithstanding these important objectives, the negotiation history of the Convention and its lower number of ratification compared to the previous three space treaties testify to the numerous challenges that surround registration. The mandatory marking of space objects was one of the most heated points of debate between member states during the drafting of the Convention in the 1970s. Member states had conflicting views, depending on whether they were launching states or potential victims of launch failures. Additionally, questions on whether there should be one central or several registers and whether the type of information to be registered should be obligatory or optional were also pivotal in the discussion. It took five years of negotiation for member states to reach compromises and to adopt the Registration Convention, containing 12 articles. The articles covered issues ranging from registration procedure and different registries to amendments and withdrawal from the Convention. In addition, the following novelties were introduced: a new definition on “state of registry” was included; the “Moscow formula” was abandoned as the depositary was moved to the UN; and the “in five years review” clause found in Article X signified that the drafters were anticipating that technological developments could have such an impact on the Convention’s provisions that shorter time span between reviews were required than in previous space treaties.
Despite the Convention’s novelties and its objective to protect the attribution of jurisdiction and control on the basis of a registry, as well as to ensure the rights provided in the Liability Convention and the Rescue and Return Agreement by offering means to identify space objects, the articles dealing with joint launch registration and registration by Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) are seen as weakening jurisdiction and control concept. Due to the fact that jurisdiction and control stay only with the state of registry, the other launching states may only conclude appropriate agreements to retain any of these rights. Thus, international responsibility and liability remain with all the launching states, but jurisdiction and control only with the state of registry. Furthermore, in the case of an IGO, the IGO does not have the sovereign authority to exercise jurisdiction and control, thereby raising the question who could do so instead of or on behalf of an IGO. In this regard, the Convention leaves important areas unregulated. In the following years, there were proposals to expand the Registration Convention to encompass other subject matters such as financial interests of assets in outer space; however, up until today, these issues remain regulated only by the UNIDROIT Space Assets Protocol.
Bernhard Schmidt-Tedd and Alexander Soucek
Space objects are subject to registration in order to allocate “jurisdiction and control” over those objects in the sovereign-free environment of outer space. This approach is similar to the registration of ships on the high seas and for aircraft in international airspace. Registration is one of the basic principles of space law, starting with the first space-related UN General Assembly (GA) Resolution 1721 B (XVI) of December 20, 1961, followed by UN GA Resolution 1962 (XVIII) of December 1963 then formulated in Article VIII of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and later specified in the Registration Convention of 1975. Registration of space objects has arguably grown into a principle of customary international law, relevant for each spacefaring state. Registration occurs at the national and international level in a two-step process. To enter and object into the UN Register of Space Objects, the state establishes a national registry for its space objects and notifies the UN Secretary General of all registered objects. The UN Register is handled by the UN Office for Outer Space Affaires (UNOOSA), which has created a searchable database as an open source of information for space objects worldwide. Registration is linked to the so-called launching state of the relevant space object. There may be more than one launching state for the specific launch event, but only one state can register a specific space object. The state of registry has jurisdiction and control over the space object and therefore no double-registration is admissible.
Registration practice has evolved in response to technical developments and legal challenges. After the privatization of major international satellite organizations, a number of nonregistrations had to be addressed. The result was the UN GA Registration Practice Resolution of 2007 as elaborated by the legal subcommittee of the UN Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space.
The complexity of space activities and concepts such as megaconstellations present new challenges for the registration system. For example, the Registration Practice Resolution recommends that in cases of joint launches each space object should be registered separately. Registration of space objects is a legal instrument relevant for state responsibility and liability, but it is not an adequate instrument for space traffic management. The orbit-related information of the registration system is useful for identification purposes but not for real-time positioning information. Orbital data to allow positioning, tracking, and collision warnings need to respond to various requirements of accuracy.
Edik Dubinin, Janet G. Luhmann, and James A. Slavin
Knowledge about the solar wind interactions of Venus, Mars, and Mercury is rapidly expanding. While the Earth is also a terrestrial planet, it has been studied much more extensively and in far greater detail than its companions. As a result we direct the reader to specific references on that subject for obtaining an accurate comparative picture. Due to the strength of the Earth’s intrinsic dipole field, a relatively large volume is carved out in interplanetary space around the planet and its atmosphere. This “magnetosphere” is regarded as a shield from external effects, but in actuality much energy and momentum are channeled into it, especially at high latitudes, where the frequent interconnection between the Earth’s magnetic field and the interplanetary field allows some access by solar wind particles and electric fields to the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Moreover, reconnection between oppositely directed magnetic fields occurs in Earth’s extended magnetotail—producing a host of other phenomena including injection of a ring current of energized internal plasma from the magnetotail into the inner magnetosphere—creating magnetic storms and enhancements in auroral activity and related ionospheric outflows. There are also permanent, though variable, trapped radiation belts that strengthen and decay with the rest of magnetospheric activity—depositing additional energy into the upper atmosphere over a wider latitude range. Virtually every aspect of the Earth’s solar wind interaction, highly tied to its strong intrinsic dipole field, has its own dedicated textbook chapters and review papers.
Although Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars belong to the same class of rocky terrestrial planets, their interaction with solar wind is very different. Earth and Mercury have the intrinsic, mainly dipole magnetic field, which protects them from direct exposure by solar wind. In contrast, Venus and Mars have no such shield and solar wind directly impacts their atmospheres/ionospheres. In the first case, intrinsic magnetospheric cavities with a long tail are found. In the second case, magnetospheres are also formed but are generated by the electric currents induced in the conductive ionospheres. The interaction of solar wind with terrestrial planets also varies due to changes caused by different distances to the Sun and large variations in solar irradiance and solar wind parameters. Other important planetary differences like local strong crustal magnetization on Mars and almost total absence of the ionosphere on Mercury create new essential features to the interaction pattern. Solar wind might be also a feasible driver for planetary atmospheric losses of volatiles, which could historically affect the habitability of the terrestrial planets.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The space and multitude of celestial bodies surrounding Earth hold a vast wealth of resources for a variety of space and terrestrial applications. The unlimited solar energy, vacuum, and low gravity in space, as well as the minerals, metals, water, atmospheric gases, and volatile elements on the Moon, asteroids, comets, and the inner and outer planets of the Solar System and their moons, constitute potential valuable resources for robotic and human space missions and for future use in our own planet. In the short term, these resources could be transformed into useful materials at the site where they are found to extend mission duration and to reduce the costly dependence from materials sent from Earth. Making propellants and human consumables from local resources can significantly reduce mission mass and cost, enabling longer stays and fueling transportation systems for use within and beyond the planetary surface. Use of finely grained soils and rocks can serve for habitat construction, radiation protection, solar cell fabrication, and food growth. The same material could also be used to develop repair and replacement capabilities using advanced manufacturing technologies. Following similar mining practices utilized for centuries on Earth, identifying, extracting, and utilizing extraterrestrial resources will enable further space exploration, while increasing commercial activities beyond our planet. In the long term, planetary resources and solar energy could also be brought to Earth if obtaining these resources locally prove to be no longer economically or environmentally acceptable.
Throughout human history, resources have been the driving force for the exploration and settling of our planet. Similarly, extraterrestrial resources will make space the next destination in the quest for further exploration and expansion of our species. However, just like on Earth, not all challenges are scientific and technological. As private companies start working toward exploiting the resources from asteroids, the Moon, and Mars, an international legal framework is also needed to regulate commercial exploration and the use of space and planetary resources for the benefit of all humanity. These resources hold the secret to unleash an unprecedented wave of exploration and of economic prosperity by utilizing the full potential and value of space. It is up to us humans here on planet Earth to find the best way to use these extraterrestrial resources effectively and responsibly to make this promise a reality.
Shortly after the launch of the first manmade satellite in 1957, the United Nations (UN) took the lead in formulating international rules governing space activities. The five international conventions (the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 Rescue Agreement, the 1972 Liability Convention, the 1975 Registration Convention, and the 1979 Moon Agreement) within the UN framework constitute the nucleus of space law, which laid a solid legal foundation securing the smooth development of space activities in the next few decades. Outer space was soon found to be a place with abundant opportunities for commercialization. Telecommunications services proved to be the first successful space commercial application, to be followed by remote sensing and global navigation services. In the last decade, the rapid development of space technologies has brought space tourism and space mining to the forefront of space commercialization. With more and more commercial activities taking place on a daily basis from the 1980s, the existing space law faces severe challenges. The five conventions, enacted in a time when space was monopolized by two superpowers, failed to take into account the commercial aspect of space activities. While there is an urgent need for new rules to deal with the ongoing trend of space commercialization, international society faces difficulties in adopting new rules due to diversified concerns over national interests and adjusts the legislative strategies by enacting soft laws. In view of the difficulty in adopting legally binding rules at the international level, states are encouraged to enact their own national space legislation providing sufficient guidance for their domestic space commercial activities. In the foreseeable future, it is expected that the development of soft laws and national space legislation will be the mainstream regulatory activities in the space field, especially for commercial space activities.
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
Outer space is once again facing renewed competition. Unlike in the earlier decades of space exploration when there were two or three spacefaring powers, by the turn of the 21st century, there are more than 60 players making the outer space environment crowded and congested. Space is no more a domain restricted to state players. Even though it is mostly a western phenomenon, the reality of commercial players as a major actor is creating new dynamics. The changing power transitions are making outer space contested and competitive. Meanwhile, safe and secure access to outer space is being challenged by a number of old and new threats including space debris, militarization of space, radio frequency interference, and potential arms race in space. While a few foundational treaties and legal instruments exist in order to regulate outer space activities, they have become far too expansive to be useful in restricting the current trend that could make outer space inaccessible in the longer term. The need for new rules of the road in the form of norms of responsible behavior, transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs) such as a code of conduct, a group of governmental experts (GGE), and legal mechanisms, is absolutely essential to have safe, secure, and uninterrupted access to outer space. Current efforts to develop these measures have been fraught with challenges, ranging from agreement on identifying the problems to ideating possible solutions. This is a reflection of the shifting balance of power equations on the one hand, and the proliferation of technology to a large number of players on the other, which makes the decision-making process a lot problematic. In fact, it is the crisis in decision making and the lack of consensus among major space powers that is impeding the process of developing an effective outer space regime.
China has made remarkable achievements in the space sector and has become one of the most relevant players in the outer space domain. Highlights of this process have been the deployment in orbit of the first Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, on September 29, 2011, and the landing of the Yutu rover on the lunar surface on December 14, 2013.
While technological developments have occurred at such a rapid pace, the same cannot be said of the regulatory framework governing Chinese space activities, which still lays at its infant stage. Indeed, unlike other major spacefaring countries, China lacks a comprehensive and uniform national space legislation; as of now, China has enacted two low-level administrative regulations addressing the issues of launching and registration of space objects.
With the growth of the Chinese space program, such a lack of structured national space law is beginning to show its limits and to raise concerns about its negative impact on business opportunities and the ability of China to fully comply with international obligations. One should keep in mind that international space treaties (China is part to four international space law treaties) are not self-executing, thus requiring states to adopt domestic measures to ensure their effective implementation.
Importantly, Chinese authorities appear to be aware of these issues; as stated by the Secretary-General of the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) in 2014, national space law has been listed in the national legislation plan, and the CNSA is directly engaged in such a process. However, questions remain as to how this drafting process will be conducted and what legal form and content the law will have. For example, China could either decide to proceed with a gradual approach, consisting in the adoption of laws addressing selected issues to be eventually assembled into one single law or to directly move to the adoption of one comprehensive law.
In any case, if enacted, a Chinese national space law would represent an important step in the advancement of the Chinese space program and in the progress of international space law as such.
International space law is a branch of public international law. Norms of treaty law and customary law provide a foundation for the behavior of the subjects of international law performing space activities. Five multilateral space treaties are in effect, which are complemented by important recommendations of international organizations such as United Nations (UN) General Assembly Resolutions and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regulations.
The Inter-Agency Space Debris Mitigation Coordination Committee (IADC), a non-governmental body composed of several space agencies (for instance, the European Space Agency, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency), issued its Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines in 2002. The IADC defines “space debris” as “all man-made space objects including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or re-entering the atmosphere, that are non-functional” (IADC, 2002, Revision 1, 2007, 3.1. Space Debris). Although the term “space debris” was not included in any space treaty, the drafters of the space treaties considered space objects as “hazardous” because “component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicles and parts thereof” detach in course of normal launching operations, because space objects can fragment during an attempted launch, and because space objects that re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and survive friction have the potential to cause damage. In addition, radioactive and chemical substances on board space objects may represent a hazard to populations and the environment on the Earth.
Besides the threats to aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the surface of the Earth, space debris in orbit is increasing alarmingly and poses a threat to manned space missions and non-manned space objects. While the Convention on International Liability for Damages Caused by Space Objects (Liability Convention, 1972) considers the threats of space objects during launch, in outer space, and when entering the Earth’s atmosphere, there have been efforts to minimize the generation of space debris in orbit, outside the framework of the space treaties.
The IADC Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines are a comprehensive list of recommendations to launching states, owners, and operators of space objects. They are increasingly recognized by states through the creation of codes of conduct, national legislation, recommendations of international organizations, and state practice. Furthermore, non-governmental institutions, like the International Organization for Standardization, are providing more detailed technical instructions for the implementation of the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, which are a breakthrough for the application of the guidelines by states of different economic and technical standing.
Even though states are reluctant to accept new obligations through treaties, recommendations and state practice are becoming powerful instruments to avert the dangers of hazardous space debris that may create damage on the Earth or in orbit. Space debris also is becoming one of the drivers for the initiatives of the United Nations on the long-term sustainability of outer space activities to promote the existing mitigation guidelines and to formulate new guidelines for clearing outer space of debris.
Although legal principles to govern space were discussed as early as the mid-1950s, they were not formalized until the Outer Space Treaty (OST) 1967 was adopted and came into force. The OST establishes a number of principles affecting the placement of weapons in outer space. In particular it provides that “the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes” and prohibits the testing of any types of weapons on such bodies. More generally the OST forbids the placement of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in outer space. In addition there are a number of disarmament treaties and agreements emanating from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Conference on Disarmament that are relevant to weapons in space.
Although the disarmament provisions and international humanitarian laws place some restrictions on the use or manner of use of space weapons, none prohibit space weaponization. The absence of such prohibition is not due to many attempts over the years to prevent an arms race in space. Notable among these are Prevention of an Arms Race in Space Draft Treaty and the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Space Draft Treaty.
In considering the laws affecting space weapons a fundamental question that arises is what constitutes a weapon and does its placement in space breach the requirement that outer space be used exclusively for peaceful purposes? As an example, does a satellite used to control and direct an armed drone breach the peaceful use provision of the OST? There may be risks that without international norms governments and substate groups may acquire and use armed drones in ways that threaten regional stability, laws of war, and the role of domestic rule of law in decisions to use force.
Given their orbital velocity, any object in space could be a weapon with capability to destroy a satellite or other space object. There is also a growing population of dual-use satellites with military as well as civilian applications. These present great difficulty in arriving at a workable definition of a space weapon in the formulation of a generally acceptable treaty. In addition, there are divergent views of the meaning of peaceful use. Some, in particular the United States, consider the meaning to be “nonaggressive” rather than “nonmilitary.”