Law and Humanities
Published: 29 October 2022
The Principle of Common Heritage of Mankind in the Law of Outer Space
Chi Eric Nnadozie, Ibrahim Sule
University of Calabar, University of Utara Malaysia
Download Full-Text Pdf
Keywords: Law of Outer Space, International Law, Property Rights, Common Heritage and Province of Mankind
Nomadic primitive men were in constant quest for food and water. With sparse population, they rarely encountered other humans. Chance meetings were greeted with confrontations over food and water, the basic essentials for survival. With the passage of time, life became easier when humans transited from hunting to farming. No longer in perpetual pursuit of food and water, civilization and property ownership commenced. Prior to the advent of international law, conquering land seemed simple: the fittest survived and won the land. The victor’s flag flapped majestically in the air above the conquered territory as a symbol of acquisition. No rules existed to ensure fairness. Superior armies seized land or those skilled in the exploration declared new unoccupied areas for their kingdoms. For a millennium, homo sapiens followed this savagery and barbaric “first in time, first in right” rule of property ownership. Haven conquered the earth, the inordinate expansionist tendencies of man have shifted his attention to the outer space, an area devoid of the obnoxious “first in time, first in right rule”. Rather, the order of the day in this sphere is the doctrine of “common heritage and province of mankind”. What is it all about? What is the genesis of the doctrine? Is it absolute and sacrosanct? Or is it a case of all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. All these will be unraveled as we explore the topic in this exercise.
Adrian Copiz (2002) Scarcity in Space: The International Regulation of Satellites, 10 Commlaw Conspectus 207, 218.
Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the Moon Agreement or Treaty) 1979, United Nations Treaty Collections (last updated 15 May 2020),
Andrew Lintner (2015), Extraterrestrial Extraction: The International Implications of the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act,
Andrew Wong (2018) Space Mining Could Become A Real –And It Could Be Worth Trillions, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/15/mining-asteroids-could-be-worth-trillions-of-dollars-html.
Armel Kerrest, Outer Space: Res communis, Common Heritage or Common Province of Mankind? Available at http://fraise.univ.-brest.fr/-kerrest/IDEL/Nice-appropriation.pdf (accessed on 20 August 2021).
Artemis Accords: Principles for a Safe, Peaceful, and Prosperous Future, NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis-accords/index-html.
Christopher C. Joyner (1999) The Concept of Common Heritage of Mankind in International Law, 13 Emory Int’l L. Rev. 615, 620.
Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (2015), 51 U.S.C. 10101, U.S.
Ernest Hemmingway (1926) The Sun Also Rises, (Charles Scribner’s sons).
Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources (“Executive Order”), (2020), https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-encouraging-international-support-recovery-use-space-resource.
Ezra J. Reinstein (1999) Owning Outer Space, 20 Nw. J. Int’l L.& Bus. 59, 62.
Eric Berger (2020) China’s largest rocket takes flight with its next-generation spacecraft, ARS Technica, https://www.arstechnica.com/science/2020/05/chinas-largest-rocket-takes-flight-its-next-generation-spacecraft/.
Grier C. Raclin (1986), From Ice to Ether: The Adoption of a Regime to Govern Resource Exploitation in Outer Space, 7 Nw. J. Int’l L. & Bus. 727, 738-39.
Guila Carbonaro (2020) UK’s first asteroid mining mission planned for 2021, CGTN, https://newseu.cgtn.com/news/2020-01-04/UK-s-first-asteroid-mining-mission-planned-for-2021-MXr46n148o/index.html.
Harminderpal Singh Rana (1994), The “Common Heritage of Mankind” & the Final Frontier: A Revaluation of Values Constituting the International Legal Regime for Outer Space Activities, 26 Rutgers L. J. 228.
Heidi Keefe (1995) Making the Final Frontier: A Critical Look at the Current body of the Outer Space Law, 11 SANTA CLARA COMPUTER & HIGH TECH. L. J. 345, 346 .
Jeff Fous (2020) Bridenstine ties international cooperation to norms of behaviour in space, Space News, https://spacenews.com/bridenstine-ties-international-cooperation-on-artemis-to-norms-of-behaviour-in-space/.
Jeff Foust (2015) Luxembourg Adopts Space Resources Law, Space News (17 July 2017), https://spacenews.com/luxembourg-adopts-space-resources-law; 51 U. S. C. 10101, U. S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act https://www.congress.gov/114/plaws/publ90/PLAW.114publ90.pdf.
Julie A. Jiru (2000), Comment, Star Wars and Space Malls: When the Paint Chip Of a Treaty’s Golden Handcufs, 42 S. Tex. L. Rev., 155, 159.
Kenneth Chang (2020) NASA Picks Moon Lander Designs by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos Rocket Companies, N.Y. Times, https://www..nytimes.com/2020/04/30/science/nasa-moon-lander.html.
Lea Brilmayer & Natalie Klein (2001), Land and Sea: Two Sovereignty Regimes in Search of a Common Denominator, 33 N. Y. U. J. Int’l L. & Pol. 703, 726.
Manish Pandey & Michael Baggs (2020) Why does President Trump want to mine on the Moon? BBC NEWS, https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-52228423.
Marc Bennetts (2020) U.S. plan for moon mining is like Iraq invasion, says Russia, THE TIMES,
Mary E. Schwind (1986), Open Stars: An Examination of the United States Push to Privatize International Telecommunications Satellites, 10, Suffolk Transnat’l L. Rev. 93, 94.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sputnik, at http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/rocketry/34.html (accessed on 20 August 2021).
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Destination Moon: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/TM-3487/app-c.htm (accessed on 20 August 2021).
Naval Treaty Implementation, Antartic [sic] Treaty, at http://www.nawacwpns.navy.mil/~treaty/Ant.html (accessed on 2 September 2021).
Outer Space Treaty (1967) art. 11.
Sahar Fatima & Vince Morello (2016) Another giant leap for Mankind, CIM Magazine, https://magazine.cim.org/en/technology/another-giant-leap-for-mankind/.
Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015, s. 51303, H. R. of the U. S. Congress, 15 June 2015.
Stacey L. Lowder (1999) Comment, A State’s International Legal Role: From the Earth to the Moon, 7 Tulsa J. Comp. & Int’l L. 253, 268.
Stephen D. Mau (1984), Equity, the Third World and the Moon Treaty, 8 Suffolk Transnat’l L. Rev. 221, 232-33.
Steven Chase(2020) Canada urged not to endorse U.S. approach to space mining, The Globe And Mail 9 April https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-canada-urged-not-to-endorse-us-approach-to-space-mining/.
Susan Cahill (2001) Give Me My Space: Implications for Permitting National Appropriation of the Geostationary Orbit, 19 Wis. Int’l L.J 231, 232.
The GUARDIAN (2020), Trump administration drafts pact for mining on the moon, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/may/05/trump-mining-moon-us-artemis-accords.
Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, opened for signatures on 27 January 1967, 18 U. S. T. 2410 (entered into force 10 October, 1967).
Ty S. Twibell (1997) Space Law: Legal Restraints on Commercialization and Development of Outer Space, 65 UMKC L. Rev. 589, 592.
UN (1979), Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, Arts. 4 & 11.
United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1967) Art. 1.
Vladimir Soldatkin (2016) Russia wants to join Luxembourg in space mining, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-luxembourg-russiaspace/russia-wants-to-join-luxembourg-in-space-mining-idUSKICNIQN1OQ.