Space exploration and resource exploitation are becoming increasingly relevant as new countries and initiatives are investing in these areas.

For instance, in 2023, India successfully landed a spacecraft on the Moon. In turn, the Mangalyaan-2 (MOM 2) mission, planned for 2024, aims to study the Martian surface, atmosphere, and climate. In addition, in India's recently published Space Policy, non-governmental entities are encouraged to engage in the commercial recovery of asteroid resources, and would be entitled to possess, own, transport, use, and sell any such resource obtained in accordance with applicable law.

The US has also returned to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years, and Japan made its first lunar landing in January 2024, with a Martian mission foreseen for 2026. Other missions are also being planned, including to the moon: globally, more than 100 lunar missions, both by private companies and by governments, are expected to take place by 2030.

Recently, China clarified its stance on the utilization of space resources in a document addressed to UNCOPUOS. China aims to launch the Chang’e-6 lunar far side sample return mission around May this year. Following that, Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8, slated for launch around 2026 and 2028 respectively, will investigate lunar resources at the lunar south pole and validate the on-site utilization of these resources. Missions to Mars have also been disclosed: the Tianwen-3 mission is being planned, aimed to collect Martian soil and rock samples and return them to Earth. China has also entered into cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding aimed to cooperate in space exploration: for instance, it signed, with the Algerian Space Agency, the 2023-2027 China-Algeria Space Cooperation Outline, to deepen cooperation across various domains, including lunar and deep space exploration.

Yet, the regulatory frameworks have struggled to match the swift pace of innovation in the space resource exploration sector. Up to now, only the United States, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Japan have enacted domestic legislation concerning commercial space exploration and possession of space resources, whilst initiatives at the international level (such as the Building Blocks for the Development of an International Framework on Space Resource Activities or the MVA Best Practices for Sustainable Lunar Activities) lack binding nature. Likewise, the Artemis Accords address space resources, establishing that “the extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation under Article II of the Outer Space Treaty”, a long discussed point that the signatories of the Accords interpret in a manner aimed to facilitate resource exploitation.

Yet, a common or aligned legal approach does not exist, thus leading to fragmentation impacting space activities.