To an Asteroid Unknown: Legal and Policy Considerations for Near-Earth Missions


To an Asteroid Unknown: Legal and Policy Considerations for Near-Earth Missions


Michael Dodge

About the Speaker

Michael S. Dodge currently serves as an Assistant Professor & Graduate Program Director in the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota. Prof. Dodge obtained his J.D. from the University of Mississippi School of Law (2008), and his LL.M. in Air & Space Law at McGill Faculty of Law in Montreal, Canada (2011), where he wrote a thesis on “Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and the GPS-Galileo Agreement”. Prof. Dodge is formerly Research Counsel & Instructor in the LL.M. in Air & Space Law Program at the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he taught courses in aviation law, remote sensing law and regulation, as well as domestic and international space law. At the University of North Dakota, he teaches courses that include space law, history of the space age, space politics & policy, space & the environment, and remote sensing law & regulation. He has been a contributor to several aviation and space law focused journals, and is also an Editor of the Journal of Space Law. Prof. Dodge has also coached teams participating in the prestigious Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court competition, where his team won the international championship in 2015. Since then, he has helped to judge for the North American round of the Lachs Moot Court. His research interests include the environmental management of outer space, global navigation satellite systems, the concept of sovereignty and ownership rights in space (including the law and policy of mining celestial bodies), and the law and regulation of remote sensing technologies.



A common trope in science fiction is the concept of humankind “slipping the surly bonds of Earth”, and coming to live and work in outer space. Indeed, as the world’s nations become increasingly dependent on space, policymakers and legislators have begun to see space, and its celestial bodies, as a means to satisfy curiosity, expand knowledge, and obtain precious resources. In the mid-twentieth century, the United Nations proposed a series of treaties to govern humanity’s burgeoning pursuit of space, and these documents, beginning with the esteemed Outer Space Treaty, continue to influence the activities of nations the world over. The treaty regime established several critical principles for the uses of space, and noted, amongst its primary articles, that neither outer space, nor its celestial bodies, could become “appropriated” territory for any country. Left unstated by those treaties, however, was the extent to which nations—or the people for whom they were responsible—were permitted to use the resources found on celestial bodies. For the past several years, multiple efforts have been made at the level of the United States Congress to initiate the exploration and exploitation of space resources. Some rules were proposed but rejected, whereas others were passed into law. The common theme of these rules was that celestial bodies in general, and asteroids in particular, are ripe for resource extraction programs. While much of the brouhaha surrounding these Congressional activities concerns the use of asteroids by private, commercial companies, the story is much more complex than one first surmises. Indeed, if humanity is to continue the pursuit of lengthy stays in space, or if it wishes to extend its reach to other planets with human explorers, using asteroids as waystations or resource providers may be inevitable. This talk will analyze the extent to which nations and private companies may use asteroids, including the legal and policy ramifications of extracting their resources, attempting to move such bodies, and creating potential markets.


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Publication Date



Grand Forks, ND

To an Asteroid Unknown: Legal and Policy Considerations for Near-Earth Missions