SciFi Space Law Review: Artemis

Artemis is author Andy Weir’s follow up to The Martian, and and follows Jazz Bashara, a young woman who works as both a courier and a smuggler on the first city on the Moon.

She finds herself entangled in a criminal conspiracy for control of a future lunar industry, and must use her wits, scientific intellect, and reluctantly her friends and family to thwart the plot.

The story is well thought out, with multiple layers of mystery and intrigue for the protagonist to investigate. Weir also manages some real character depth, both with how he sets up Jazz as her own person on the station, and with how the challenges she faces in the story actually pull on her personal relationships.

In particular, Jazz’ relationship with her father is surprisingly poignant, and is handled with real care. Which is not to diminish her interactions with other characters, most of which have their own unique characteristics. It is indicative of how complex Weir manages to make his human characters, and how thoughtfully he considers the impact of their life on the Moon, including a very interesting solution to a specific religious practice.

The author does deliver on the scientific complexities you would expect after reading The Martian. No spoilers, but the future lunar industry which is the catalyst for the conspiracy is very real, and its impact on the economy is explained in very real terms. As are the current industries on the moon.

If there is one fault, it’s that Weir tends to stack scientific complications on top of one another, in such a breathless pace that it makes the characters look incompetent. The last couple of chapters read like one long chain reaction. That being said, the book does pay it off with real choices and real consequences for the characters.

But that wasn’t the most fascinating part of the book for our purposes. What caught my attention were the legal mechanics. You may recall that Weir dabbled in the law previously with The Martian (“piracy”). In Artemis, he again applies a thoughtful approach to imagining what it would take to enable a commercial lunar outpost.

First, Weir illustrates how inhabitants of the station can recognize the legal status of the station:

Just in front of the train airlock there was a huge Kenyan flag. Beneath it were the words “You are now boarding Kenya Offshore Platform Artemis. This platform is the property of the Kenya Space Corporation. International maritime laws apply.”

Then he goes on to explain the history:

Kenya had one—and only one—natural resource to offer space companies: the equator. Spacecraft launched from the equator could take full advantage of Earth’s rotation to save fuel… [and they] convinced fifty corporations from thirty-four countries to dump billions of dollars into creating KSC … the new megacorporation.

And just like that, Weir created a new model for lunar sovereignty: single nation corporate ownership. (Not to be confused with claiming ownership of the Moon (see OST, Art. II); the book also details how the company does not sell land, but only rents space in their habitat.)

I had some thoughts on this, and I decided to bounce the issue around with my colleague, Ian Perry, a lawyer currently working on a doctoral dissertation related to flag of convenience in space.

I asked him if the fictional legal structure in Artemis would count as a flag of convenience, and if that would be problematic.

“As a matter of international law, this basic idea sounds legal, though I suppose that some countries would complain. In the current draft of my dissertation, I have said that something can be considered an “instance of a flag of convenience to the extent it lacks a connection with the country whose flag it flies, with connection including both the location of the beneficial owners, the crew, and the location of the manufacture of the craft.” As you describe it, the situation in Artemis sounds like it could be an instance of flag of convenience; how much so would depend on the details.”

My first reaction to Weir’s legal construct was to consider the Outer Space Treat, Article VI jurisdiction for national activities, and Ian agreed.

“Given that private activities in space are supposed to be within the jurisdiction of a national government, a country with a friendly regulatory environment might use that as a way to get space investors to operate from that country—though this presents special challenges in terms of the national laws of space-faring countries because the export of space technology is heavily regulated.”

And this is where Weir’s idea for a single nation megacorporation on the Moon will have to prove itself in reality: will countries actually allow their domestic industries to export their technology and resources to be launched and controlled by another country?

We can’t say that Andy Weir’s legal reasoning in Artemis is wrong. And that’s the best kind of right.

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