Space Property Rights

Steve Wolfe just sent me a call for papers that’s right up my (and perhaps some of my readers’) alley:

I am chairing an interesting program at the ISDC this year titled the Space Settlement Policy Forum. It will be held June 5th in Washington, DC. Forum details and agenda are attached.

Though most consider discussion of space settlement related policies to be academic, for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other leaders the reality of space settlement is an imminent and highly desirable probability. In this forum we will take a sober look at the laws and policies that would or should be implemented in order to facilitate and encourage space settlement development. The Forum will address this broad challenge without presuming a single ‘silver bullet’ solution.

Topic Categories Include:

  • How Current Space Law Encourages and Inhibits Space Settlement Development
  • Potential Government Incentives for Private Funding of Space Settlements
  • Changes to International Law to Enable Space Settlement Development
  • Licensing Regime for Space Settlement Development and Construction—What would it look like?
  • Proper Role of Government in Space Settlement Development: Leading the Way or Being a Cheer Leader?
  • What Are the Space Settlement Enabling Technologies That Government Agencies Should Be Investing In Now?

Presentation Submission Guidelines:

  1. Prepare a 15-minute to present with slides
  2. Prepare a paper of not less than 3-pages that will be publish in the proceedings of the conference.
  3. The presentation must recommend, and argue for, a particular legal or regulatory change directly related to space settlement
  4. The paper must provide a summary that includes specific recommendations for policy change
  5. Interest must be expressed to Steve Wolfe immediately
  6. Abstract submission due by January 25, 2019

Kind of short notice, but I’ll probably be submitting multiple abstracts.

11 thoughts on “Space Property Rights”

  1. It seems if NASA were to ever get around to exploring the Moon, such exploration would be helpful in terms of space property rights.

    I tend to think the lunar exploration will lower the risk of investing in lunar water mining and lunar rocket fuel production but it also it should lower risks involved passing laws in regard to space property rights.
    One could argue that if NASA explores the moon and determine where there might be some mineable water and you don’t already have the needed laws, it will require years before you can get the laws. So do laws first. so there is less delay.
    But it seems generally one have better laws if one had the exploration done.
    I think it”s best to have as part of lunar exploration purpose to be stated as to enable lunar and space property rights to be established.
    Or Trump should at a minimum have an executive order which states this, or better have congress indicate that this is part of lunar exploration program’s purpose.

  2. It’s hard to establish civilized property rights in a place where no one has sovereign jurisdiction — it seems more likely that such jurisdiction would tend to be established by getting there first and having the means to defend it.

    Then again, here on earth that has tended to be how sovereign jurisdiction gets established in the first place. Treaties prohibiting the militarization of space will need to be abolished or generally breached before that pattern can be followed in space.

      1. The U.S. already holds sovereign jurisdiction of U.S.-flagged vessels and the American stations in Antarctica. It also has a limited military presence in Antarctica to support the research stations. In the face of a full-scale, treaty-busting attack, their main value would be calling the nearest Navy ship for rescue — and the ship would have a chance of getting there before everyone was dead.

        In space there would be a shorter “everybody’s-dead” horizon, and less ability to call home for reinforcements in case of a treaty-busting military attack on a U.S. outpost. The presence would have to be there already, and fully capable.

        1. I just read the Outer Space Treaty. Nuclear weapons are banned. Fortifications, military bases, military maneuvers, and weapons testing are banned. But I don’t see any ban on arming civilian bases with non-nuclear weapons, nor is there any prohibition on self-defense using those weapons. Members of the military can be stationed at civilian bases. Mr. McGehee’s concerns appear to be already taken care of.

          1. Military bases are only banned on celestial bodies. They can be placed in orbit. For instance, the OST doesn’t forbid a Death Star, as long as it doesn’t have any WMD.

  3. Ships: The waters off the coast of Nigeria and Somalia are where ships at sea are at some risk of piracy. Piracy is barely an issue elsewhere. Acts of war against ships are generally non-existent. Property rights regarding ships at sea don’t seem to be a major conundrum, and outside pirate-prone waters, the US Navy doesn’t have to be involved on-site.

    Antarctica: Despite overlapping sovereignty claims, there are no problems with property rights in Antartica at all.

    I can’t see why off-planet settlements couldn’t be treated like ships at sea, and planetary settlements couldn’t be treated like bases at Antarctica, at least for the foreseeable future.

    Yes, sovereign nations, with their police forces and military provide the ultimate backstop against attacks by pirates & terrorists & hostile countries, but I don’t think the first two are a threat in space, as for other countries, a country like, say, Cuba doesn’t attack ships at sea because they know Havana is vulnerable, not because the ships are well defended. Settlements in space won’t be attacked unless the attackers are willing to accept a war back on Earth.

    1. Obviously it’s a continuum. At the beginning it’s pretty easy, possession is 0.9 as they say. When it gets more complicated is when sub-communities form on the moon that are essentially colonies of nation-states back on Earth. Andy Weir has an interesting take on this in his book Artemis. Essentially the first colony is an independent corporate entity chartered under the auspices of a “third-world” country, but whose economy is dependent upon tourism from the “first-world” countries that supply much of the transport infrastructure. Being an autonomous corporation of a small country gives them an interesting degree of freedom to pursue enterprises of self-interest. Being first-world dependent allows for a balance-of-power situation to help insure their independence.

  4. If you pick up a rock on the moon do you own it? If you spent a billion dollar investment to find a PARTICULAR rock and you want more of those rocks in the discovered patch of rocks, is that patch protected? Do you have mineral rights over that patch of particular rocks you spent a billion to find? Can you use those rights as a financial instrument?

    I do not want a rape of the seas treaty or an Antarctica treaty. Either we are going there to exploit the resources under our system of capitalism and property rights .. or not ..

    Zero G – Zero Tax with a sunset clause after two decades.

  5. Space property rights are ridiculously premature. Besides solar energy, nobody has utilized any space resource in any capacity yet and won’t do so for decades to come. Besides tiny experiments like MOXIE on Mars 2020 rover, or returning small amounts of rock in sample return missions.

  6. – Potential Government Incentives for Private Funding of Space Settlements

    – Licensing Regime for Space Settlement Development and Construction—What would it look like?

    – Proper Role of Government in Space Settlement Development: Leading the Way or Being a Cheer Leader?

    Establishing private property rights but what next? A great incentive for private investment is providing utilities (Electricity, transportation, trash). These can be PPPs but a company is unlikely to be able to secure startup capital with an uncertain future customer base. But this all has to be done with growth in mind rather than building out just enough for short term immediate needs of the government(s).

    Licencing could go along with zoning. Different areas for different activities with different levels of regulating and permitting. Some sort of tax structure is needed as well. Maybe just a B&O tax for corporations while non-corporate researches just have to be licensed and pay their bills.

    Licensing requirements are difficult because we don’t know how to operate on the Moon. Researching infectious diseases is different than processing minerals into ore but both could have serious impacts on their neighbors. There has to be a short term experimental licensing phase just so that we can see what happens.

    There also needs to be a dual track of national and international settlement. Working with other countries is great but it also hinders our own people. We need to have a place for Americans to operate under American laws without interference from countries who don’t necessarily share our priorities or best interests. That doesn’t necessarily mean no other nationalities are welcome but it does mean they are our guests not parties that decide regulations and policy.

    A settlement policy that suborns American sovereignty to other countries is disastrous for the future and wont garner much support from Americans.

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