Astronomical rewards await victor of US and China’s race for space

Then there’s the quest for cheap, clean energy. “Unlike Earth, which is protected by its magnetic field, the moon has been bombarded with large quantities of Helium-3 by the solar wind,” the European Space Agency explains. “It is thought that this isotope could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, since it is not radioactive.”

One major feature of the current presidency is the administration’s contempt of multinational institutions. Trump is a dealmaker – believing that two representatives in a room can hammer out an agreement that suits them both but anything produced by a committee will result in an unsuitable compromise for all.

This preference for doing individual deals means the US has now developed something called the Artemis Accords, named after Nasa’s Artemis programme, which aim to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.

Details have now started leaking, and the accords make it clear that the administration will still oppose the 1979 Moon Treaty. This was a multilateral treaty that attempted to ensure all activities on celestial bodies would conform to international law.

America has never ratified it. Instead of negotiating the details with others, the US will discuss the accords separately with current space partners including Canada, Japan and European countries such as the UK.

The Trump administration is targeting countries with “like-minded” interests in mining the lunar surface. Russia will not be included. To deal with any disputes, Washington proposes “safety zones” around moon bases to prevent “interference or damage” from any rival. This sets the scene for a California-style gold rush.

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