By Grant Henriksen
NSS Policy Committee
Benefit sharing is a concept that refers to the distribution of benefits derived from the exploration and use of outer space among different stakeholders. Article I of the Outer Space Treaty (OST) says that outer space is the province of all mankind. Space is a potential source of immense scientific, economic, and social benefits. However, today these benefits are not equally enjoyed among nations and regions, as some have more access, financial resources, and capabilities to explore and exploit outer space than others. There are significant disparities in the capabilities, resources, and interests of different actors in the space domain, which may lead to conflicts and inequalities. Developing nations face challenges such as inadequate infrastructure, legal frameworks, regulatory regimes, risk capital, and public awareness to support their involvement in space activities. Such nations may face many more urgent challenges which preclude their participation in space activities. Therefore, it is important to consider how the benefits of outer space can or should be distributed among stakeholders. Article I of the OST also states that exploration and use of outer space “shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development.” Benefit sharing is not clearly defined or regulated in the existing international space law framework, which creates legal uncertainty and challenges for space activities such as space resource utilization.
To cast light on this subject the National Space Society has just published a paper on “Benefit Sharing” Terms of Reference. The purpose of these terms of reference is to define and explain how the National Space Society proposes that the concept of “benefit sharing” should be understood with regard to space activities and development. We recognize that other stakeholders may use this term differently, and such differences may lead to confusion and misinterpretations in discussions around these topics. The terms of reference are intended to broadly define the parameters of what types of benefit sharing the National Space Society supports or does not support. The National Space society plans further work on this subject in the future, using this terms of reference as a guide.