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Space Café: 33 minutes with Heloise Vertadier and Christopher Johnson– Lunar policy handbook: guiding responsible and sustainable development of the moon

Our Space Café “33 minutes with Héloïse Vertadier and Christopher Johnson– Lunar policy handbook: guiding responsible and sustainable development of the Moon” took place on Tuesday, 10th April.
Héloïse is the Co-Founder and Manager of the Breaking Ground Trust. In addition to her expertise in cyber and aviation law, she completed the MSS program at the International Space University and is finishing a Ph.D. at Otago University, New Zealand. Héloïse’s work explores the intersection of law and technology, developing innovative policies using existing legal tools. She has previously worked with the Open Lunar Foundation and NASA Ames Research Centre, and her contributions to the field have been recognized through numerous publications.
Christopher Johnson is a graduate of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University and interned at the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. For the past eight years, he’s served as the Space Law Advisor at the Secure World Foundation, a Non-governmental Organization focused on creating cooperative solutions for advancing space sustainability.

Lunar policy handbook

The Lunar policy handbook is a reference guidebook for government personnel and private actors in the space industry. It is designed to be a high-level guide that is useful for a broad audience of space actors, outlining policy issues and operational considerations related to lunar activities.

Our guests begin by discussing what led to the development of the lunar policy handbook. Chris reflects on various space agencies: “they looked at Mars, they looked at the Moon, they looked at asteroids, and they said that maybe the first stepping stone towards Mars is a planetary body, let’s return to the Moon”. For this return to the Moon there is not only a greater governmental interest, but also a greater commercial interest. 

Huge need for standards or at least guidelines on how to do this in a coordinated manner to avoid chaos.

Héloïse adds that “we recognised that there was a lack of global source of knowledge that would summarise all those questions, and also put them into practice with different sorts of activities.” 

Contributors to the handbook included about 19 individuals starting from 6 different organisations including with 4 other groups joining later on. The aim was to focus on different types of lunar activities: going from orbital activities, landed activities, resource utilisation etc. requiring a broad range of expertise to answer those questions. 

Handbook to support lunar economy

The first part of the handbook summarises all the policy questions that exist that they are currently aware of. The second part focuses on the types of activities and policy implications that those activities have. Héloïse goes on to explain that different activities will have different policy implications. Each chapter is created following an outline that is roughly the same for each of them.  The end goal is to promote the sustainable exploration and responsible behaviour on the surface.

Identify and assess gaps

Over the coming years the moon is expected to experience increased activities from commercial institutions. Throughout the handbook they have aimed to identify and assess the grey areas in terms of regulation and implementation.

One area which is addressed in the handbook is end of life disposal. On Earth, when a satellite is out of commission it is burned in the atmosphere, but that is not an option on the Moon.  It is an important question for the sake of the lunar surface, because we cannot crash satellites onto the ground. Héloïse reminds us that “there is a huge need for standards or at least guidelines on how to do this in a coordinated manner to avoid chaos”.

We recognised that there was a lack of global source of knowledge that would summarise all those questions.

Héloïse continues that even if the answers provided in the handbook are not the ones used eventually in 20 years, it is a first step towards creating debates and discussion. “I think that what’s fundamental today to ensure that the lunar future does not copy what we’re seeing happening on Earth, especially climate change”.

Future of the handbook

Héloïse believes that the handbook is meant to be a living document, which will continue to evolve over time, adapting and updating itself. She mentions that there may be an updated edition every two to three years, because it gives time for activities to develop and evolve in the way that they’ve planned for, or in different directions.

To conclude, Chris reports that just as much work goes into promoting the handbook as writing it. They are currently looking for potential other stakeholders who could print the next edition of copies. Plans for future site events and engagements in various countries are being considered. 

To listen to the Space Café WebTalk’s insights, you can watch the full program here:

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