Space Property Rights

My latest piece at The New Atlantis is up.

It’s very similar to my paper for CEI, but I have a new twist at the end:

…it is worth noting that, while the OST arguably does not prevent the recognition of property claims per se, it may prove to be a hindrance to any kind at all of large-scale space activity, not just settlement. In that regard, this is the most troublesome sentence in the entire treaty: “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.”

Consider the implications of the words “continuing supervision,” if taken literally. It could be argued that satisfaction of this requirement would demand that any person operating off the planet would be required to have a government minder with him at all times. Prior approval — for example, a launch license — might not be sufficient, because supervision could be argued to imply not just observation, but physical control. This wording in the treaty could imply that even the remote monitoring of private activity in space, which itself would be a significant hindrance for space settlement, would be insufficient.

With new affordable spaceflight technologies on the horizon, extensive private activity in space will be a serious possibility in the near future. If we wish to see humanity flourish in space, we have to recognize that the Outer Space Treaty is a relic of a different era. Fresh interpretations may not suffice: we may soon have to renegotiate and amend the treaty — or even completely scrap it and start from scratch — if we want not just to protect space as a mere scientific preserve but to open it for settlement as a grand new frontier.

So we have to be prepared to fight.

14 thoughts on “Space Property Rights”

  1. Rand, I’m currently reading one of your reader’s book.

    “In the Shadow of Ares (Amber’s Mars)” by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson.

    Well written and relevant to this topic – the primary plot is centered around government interference in the development of Mars settlements.

  2. No, the correct response is to just simply ignore these idiotic treaties – just like everyone else in the world does.

    1. If a country is going to ignore a treaty, they might as well withdraw from it. Would prevent some headaches down the road.

      1. What, precisely, happens if someone revokes their citizenship after Earth departure? Or a group of someones?

        You aren’t immediately a “pirate”. And the -countries- named in the OST have explicitly ruled out colonial era ‘claims’, yes?

        What’s the list of countries that are -not- members of the OST again?

        Brings new meaning to the term “illegal alien”, but you can still get a drivers license, a job, and can’t be deported because the destination is “cruel and unusual”.

  3. This “continuing supervision” clause is part of what prompted me to call, in 2003, for the disestablishment of FAA/AST. (You can find the testimony by searching on my name and FAA/AST.) I wanted to replace the entire Federal obligation under the treaty with an insurance regime. The government would set some insurance requirement for third party risk, and walk away. One would be granted a launch license if the requirement was met, otherwise not. Simple, straightforward, understandable and it eliminates an office that consumes over $100M of taxpayer’s money per decade for no discernible safety purpose.

    Once adopted for launch licensing, a similar argument might be extended to cover in-space activities. The requirement for annual renewal of the insurance would satisfy the “continuing supervision” clause.

    1. I’m reminded of RAH in TEfL, as Lazarus Long tells about retaking his ship from a religious leader. They put the zealot out of the airlock, and
      “He went thataway, eyes popped out and peeing blood…”
      Once you’re outbound as a pioneer or prospector, why NOT tell the OST ‘bosses’ back on Earth to go urinate vertically on some heavily braided cordage. Sending their overseer on a solo trip to the Sun in his / her birthday suit, just puts an exclamation point on the feeling.

  4. The builders of the tower of Babel were pikers compared to the hubris contained in the legal assumptions. Nations have no jurisdiction over the universe. Individuals have always had the right to claim title to a reasonable sized plot of land (even when that plot was part of a nation. How much more so for land that isn’t part of any nation?) Every time you hear the word grant you are seeing arrogance. The U.N. is positioning itself to be the ultimate slave master of mankind by claiming jurisdiction of people and land in space. We’d be idiots to let them.

    We already have laws that allow companies to be publicly held. To require a governmental blessing before they can make claims is allowing an entity with absolutely no jurisdiction the right to limit the value of those claims. Taxation then follows. Nations have no right what-so-ever, but will get the right if people stupidly allow the precedent to be established.

    There are a number of flaws with the Space Settlement Initiative but the biggest is that it treats people as chattel. It also doesn’t address the individual cost of migration which is far more important than the funding of transportation companies.

    We are at a point in history where people can reclaim their natural right to liberty. It would only take one company to embrace a plan for that. Being profitable, many companies could compete to do so.

    It takes a lightbulb.

  5. I am always amazed at how folks read something into a space treaty, like the OST, that is not there and then work themselves up about it.

    All “continuing supervision” means in the OST is what it has always meant, that nations are held responsible for the actions of their citizens. For hundred of years nations have been responsible for the actions of their sailing ships and sailors. When Sir Drake raided Spanish ships it was Queen Elizabeth who got the complaint from the Spanish Ambassador.

    That didn’t change when aircraft and airships were developed. Why do folks think it would change for space?

    All it means is that if you are going into space under the flag of the U.S. the U.S. has the responsibility to license/regulate what you do, as is the same case if you fly a private plane or take your sailboat out on the open sea. If you don’t like the U.S. regulations pick another nation to incorporate in. The Isle of Man has been working to turn itself into a flag of convenience for space. I am sure a few millions dollars properly applied, pocket change for any serious space settlement venture, could produce a similar flag of convenience ideally suited for the venture.

  6. As the OST has exactly zero mechanism for enforcement or penalty… I will repeat what I say about it every time it comes up.

    Any state that sees any benefit in ignoring any part of it, will instantly do so.

    It isn’t worth the paper it’s notionally written on.

      1. When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…

        No state required.

  7. The intent of this declaration is to give future Goodstuff’s Cyber World generations a “lunar advantage”. The concept was born July 2005. After a good deal of surfing the internet, nothing was found that forbids development on the moon and actually encourages a first come, first served opportunity.


    GOODSTUFF’S CYBER WORLD is more than a “virtual entity” — therefore, we hereby make the following declaration

    Our home is on the northern edge of Goodstuff’s lunar crater and we are claiming squatters rights. We are also claiming mineral and ice rights on the northern ridge and slopes of Goodstuff crater. Furthermore, we have the right of surface and space access to our home.

    If you would like to help or support this endeavor please respond via the comments section at the “GOODSTUFF” LINK

    btw -I will be linking back to you

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