Australian Spaceport Plan Advances

A plan to build a spaceport to support small satellite launches has moved forward in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The Northern Land Council has granted a 275-hectare lease in northeast Arnhem Land to the Gumatj clan for use as a commercial rocket launching facility.

That’ll pave the way for Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation to sublease the site to Equatorial Launch Australia, a firm whose $236 million space base proposal is being considered by federal and NT infrastructure funds.

The 12-year lease has an option for a 28-year extension, and is expected to be finalised later this month.

The Arnhem Space Centre could be operational within a year, and would be the only facility of its kind in the south-east Asia region.

Equatorial Launch Australia says they have not finalized any orbital rockets to be launched from the spaceport. Initially, suborbital sounding rockets will be flown from there.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Since Australia is part of the Moon Treaty I expect firms like SpaceX and Blue Origin, along with most New Space firms, will steer clear of it. If they don’t their activities could fall under Moon Treaty Regimes destroying their plans for Martian settlement and Lunar development.

    That means this facility will likely be limited to the suborbital/orbital space tourism and Earth satellite markets. Sounds like another empty spaceport boondoggle.

  • Paul451

    Hysteria over the Moon Treaty has no basis in law or practice.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Its not hysteria, just reality. Australia was one of the first nations to sign and ratify it so it is part of your space law practice if Australia is where you practice space law.

    The good news is that a nation may withdraw from the Moon Treaty at any time with only a one year notice. Withdrawing from it would relieve Australia, and space firms in Australia, of the burden of compliance with a treaty they rest of the world chose not to be part of.

    As a side note, this is the fourth time since 1990 a group has tried to build a spaceport in Australia. I hope they succeed this time. But the odds are still against them given the legal environment and lack of a domestic space industry.

  • Paul451

    Its not hysteria, just reality.

    There’s nothing in the Moon Treaty that harms Australia’s ability to act as a launching nation. The hysteria over the treaty is not based on actual treaty law, but idiotic over-reading of the text.

    For example, your panic over the “Common Heirtage of Mankind” language, which is boiler-plate language used extensively through UN documents and other treaties, and doesn’t lead to whatever forced profit-sharing or whatever fantasy you’ve concocted.

    I always find it funny that you refute the common hysteria we see over the OST’s “no sovereignty” provisions, but double down on similarly misinterpreting everything in the Moon Treaty.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The only other treaty that language is in is the LOS.

  • Paul451

    Actually it goes back to parts of the Hague convention. Nonetheless, it does not in any way require some kind of forced sharing.

  • duheagle

    Sure. Who are we to believe? You? Or our lying eyes?

  • duheagle

    Well, this outfit seems to have an aboriginal tribe in its pocket so that might carry some heft given that Oz is nearly as hag-ridden by identity politics as the U.S. these days. Think Indian casinos with rockets.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Unforunately the LOS has already set the precedent it does with the Sea Bed Authority.

  • Paul451

    How about Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties?

    “Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31 [“General Rule of Interpretation”], or to define the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31:

    (a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or
    (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable.”

    It’s an article of international law that treaties can’t be interpreted to be “absurd” or “unreasonable”. But space advocates, and nerds in general, have a habit of wilfully trying to find the most absurd interpretation of legal or treaty language and then getting hysterical about their own misinterpretations. These misinterpretations create a collective mythology about a law or treaty, which then infests even peak lobbying orgs for that activity.

    When I was young, in the ’80/’90s, I used to do the same thing, especially over the Moon Treaty. But I started to read not only the treaty itself, but also the work of legal experts and the people who negotiated treaties, to see how they actually interpret language. All those “may”s and “give consideration to”s are not handcuffs, but recommendations about the preferred way to act.

    For example, Australia (as a treaty party) should “give consideration to” the ability of developing nations to access space resources. That might be as simple as operating the Spaceport “without discrimination” against those nations as customers. In other words, simply not using the spaceport to exclude new players. And if it’s a commercial spaceport, they’re probably going to do that anyway (especially since that’s likely a requirement under WTO rules). So where’s the burden? Where’s the justification for TLM’s hysteria?

  • Paul451

    the LOS has already set the precedent

    Not according to the US Bar Association’s Section of International Law report to the US Senate, back in 1980:

    “This [common heritage] or any other term may be specifically defined for the purposes of a particular text in which it is used. Although Article 11 does not say expressly what “common heritage” means, it does clearly state that the meaning is to be drawn from the provisions of the Agreement.
    Particularly as there are numerous relevant provisions within the Agreement to which reference can be made, this explicit direction to derive the definition only from within this text would seem to be legally sufficient to counter any assertion that the draft Law of
    the Sea Convention must be used as a precedent for the development of the future lunar resources regime….
    The essence of the concept of common heritage in the context of this Agreement lies in the existence of common, that is, equally shared, rights to explore and use the moon and its natural resources. It does not, however, connote specific implementing criteria or procedures.”

    In addition to Article 11’s “finds its meaning in the provisions of the agreement”, the preamble also explicitly lists the parent treaties/conventions that the Moon Treaty is drawn from:

    “Recalling the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space”.

    You note the decided lack of “UNCLOS III” in that list.

  • ThomasLMatula

    That is because the Moon Treaty was finalized before the LOS. But now that there is a Sea Bed Authority it would provide a precedent.

    More importantly, the political climate that created that Sea Bed Authority in the mid-1990’s is not much different today, particurly in regards to mining nations like Australia wanting to limit competition from resources from the sea floor, Antarctica and space.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yet under they same set of guidelines you post here the Sea Bed Authority was created, which has made mining the sea floor it governs impractical politically.

    Note politically, not techically as a deep sea mining venture is set to start up next year off of Pupua New Guinea, but it will be within its territorial waters and not subject to the control of the Sea Bed Authority. This means it won’t have to give half its claim to it, give its technology to the Sea Bed Authority so it will be able to mine its half and then pay a royalty on the half it gets to mine to subsidize the cost of the Sea Bed Authority mining the other half.

    Remember, what you may think is unreasonable and nations like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela think unreason are likely to be much different. 🙂 Both by the way are fellow Moon Treaty nations.

    I am sure firms in other nations will use the spaceport if it’s built. They will just not send payloads to any Celestial Bodies or that image them from Australia. It will be limited to comsats, space tourists and similar activities.

  • Paul451

    But now that there is a Sea Bed Authority it would provide a precedent.

    Why can’t you get it through your head that that is not how treaties work? The Whaling Commission doesn’t set a precedent for interpreting the Geneva Convention, UNCLOS III doesn’t set a precedent for the Moon Treaty, nor OST, nor the Space Registration convention, nor the Rescue treaty….

    For example, if a person or probe or sample from space lands in the wrong country, on their sovereign Earthly territory, both the OST and the Rescue treaty (and emphasised in the Moon Treaty) require that country to return those people/objects/samples to their launching or flag-registered nations. The OST/RT/MT usurp territorial sovereignty for space activities.

    UNCLOS has a similar provision for “Innocent passage”, but unlike the space treaties it is extremely limited, with dozens of exceptions that default back to sovereign territorial law. UNCLOS’s many elaborate exemptions do not limit the absolute ownership/return requirements of the OST/RT/MT by one iota. Because that’s not how treaties work.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Maybe because I have actually had courses in International Law, the Law of the Sea and Space Law. And have worked with space law experts.

    What is your back ground in international law?

    BTW you are confusing territorial sovereignty which involves Real Property rights with Chattel property rights. They are two different issues.

    Those spacecraft are the Chattel property of the nations that own them which is why they are required to be returned to those nations. The OST has very strong Chattel property rights because of the fear of the U.S. or U.S.S.R. stealing the other’s technology. That is why the OST/RA/RC require spacecraft landing on foreign territory on Earth to be returned.

  • Paul451

    you are confusing territorial sovereignty which involves Real Property rights with Chattel property rights.

    No. Again you read things that aren’t there. I’m pointing out that under many treaties, including UNCLOS, national sovereignty and territorial law supersedes property rights. But under OST/RT/MT specifically and uniquely reverse that priority. The existence of the former does not create a “precedence” that usurps the latter.

  • ThomasLMatula

    What property rights are you talking about? There are three types of property in the law, Real Property, Chattel (personal) Property and Intellectual Property. The OST prohibits the first, Real Property as it is derived from Sovereignty, is strong on protecting the rights of Chattel Property and is silent on Intellectual property leaving that to the nation states. That is why it is a good treaty for business and the economic development of space.

    The Moon Treaty by contrast creates a very limited form of Real Property (just mining rights) and basically undermines existing rights in Intellectual Property and Chattel Property in the process. That is one of the reasons so few nations have signed it.

    And BTW its the Rescue Agreement and the Registration Convention. Neither are referred to as treaties by folks who are actually familiar with space law. So what is RA?

  • Paul451

    I find it amusing that since I quoted the opinion of the International Law section of the US Bar Association, which refutes the entire core of your claim, instead of addressing it, you’ve resorted to credential-waving and laughable attempts at pedantry.

    And you can’t even get that right.

    So what is RA?