ispace Hakuto-R lander
The updated design of ispace's Hakuto-R lander is smaller and carries less propellant, but with the same amount of payload. Credit: ispace

WASHINGTON — Japan’s parliament approved legislation that allows companies to extract and utilize space resources as the head of Russia’s space agency criticized similar national laws on the subject.

The House of Councilors, the upper house of the National Diet of Japan, passed the bill June 15. The lower house, the House of Representatives, approved the bill June 10. The bill has support from the two largest political parties, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Constitutional Democratic Party.

The bill, formally known as the Law Concerning the Promotion of Business Activities Related to the Exploration and Development of Space Resources, grants Japanese companies permission to prospect for, extract and use various space resources. Companies that wish to do so must first obtain permission from the Japanese government.

“We enthusiastically support the passage of Japan’s space resources law and applaud the nonpartisan parliamentary group of diet members for taking a swift action to lead the world in this endeavor,” Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive of ispace, a Tokyo-based lunar lander company, said in a statement.

Japan’s legislation is similar to provisions in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2015. That law grants U.S. companies rights to resources that they extract, but not property rights to celestial bodies, which would run afoul of the Outer Space Treaty. Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates have since passed similar legislation.

All four countries are signatories of the Artemis Accords, which endorses the ability to extract and use space resources. “The Signatories affirm that the extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation under Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, and that contracts and other legal instruments relating to space resources should be consistent with that Treaty,” the accords state.

Russia has taken a different view. “The matter of regulation of these mining activities is still a very thorny issue,” Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, said during a session of the Global Space Exploration Conference 2021 in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 15.

He called for a “system of regulations” to address those issues at an international level, rather than national laws like the new Japanese space resources legislation. “Russia believes that states mustn’t adopt any laws and regulations on a unilateral basis because space is our common heritage and belongs to everyone,” he said. “We consider the United Nations as a suitable to discuss these issues.”

One of the newest signatories of the Artemis Accords, New Zealand, also supports international discussions on space resources. “While existing international law provides high level rules around the utilization of resources, we see a need for additional rules or standards to ensure the conservation and long-term sustainability of these resources,” Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand foreign minister, said in a May 31 statement about signing the accords. Mahuta called the Artemis Accords “an important first step in that regard.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...