Historic comet landing highlights space law mission

· 3 min read

Historic comet landing highlights space law mission

Frans von der Dunk

The Philae probe’s touchdown Nov. 12 on the surface of a comet more than 300 million miles away gives added purpose to the mission of Nebraska’s space law experts.

“This is a big deal,” said Frans von der Dunk, an internationally recognized space law expert and faculty member in the University of Nebraska’s Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law program.

“It is the first time a space agency has successfully landed on a small asteroid or comet-type of celestial body,” he said. The Rosetta mission was led by the multinational European Space Agency, with a consortium of partners that includes NASA.

Von der Dunk said long-debated questions about the legal status of celestial bodies and who holds the rights to harvest natural resources from such a body now have moved from the theoretical to reality.

After 10 years of travel across the solar system, the 220-pound Philae lander separated from its Rosetta mother ship at about 2:30 a.m. central time to begin a seven-hour descent to Comet 67P. It landed at about 10:05 a.m. central time. The probe is to photograph and test the comet’s surface, measuring its density and thermal properties, as well as identifying any complex organic chemicals that might be present. Other tests will measure the comet’s magnetic field and its interaction with solar wind.

Von der Dunk, who divides his time between his native Netherlands and Lincoln, was to appear Nov. 12 on the Dutch public radio program De Kennis van Nu (Knowledge Now) to discuss the Philae landing.

As an intergovernmental organization, the European Space Agency is a public body. Yet the successful landing on a comet makes it more imperative that the international community resolve how to handle commercial mining of materials found on comets and asteroids, as well as the potential for near-Earth objects to threaten the Earth, he said.

Both questions have been the subject of in-depth study by von der Dunk and other space law experts at UNL. The ASTEROIDS act, a current bill before the U.S. Congress, is a unilateral initiative to address asteroid resource exploration and utilization. In addition, there are largely U.S.-led activities of the Association of Space Explorers to address potential threats by near-Earth objects. The United Nations has become involved in those efforts.

For general legal analysis on space property rights and Near Earth Objects, visit:

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/25/

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/15/

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/57/

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/spacelaw/49/

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