Saturday, April 07, 2012

Do Current Laws Support Private Space Activities?

Rand Simberg.
According to US based space expert Rand Simberg, the real reason we've remained trapped in low Earth orbit since the 1970's is a series of international treaties defining property ownership of outer space resources, which were designed specifically to make space "of sufficiently low value—either militarily or economically—as to remove the incentives for racing to get there."

As described in the April 2nd posting titled "Homesteading the Final Frontier" on the Competitive Enterprise Institute website, Simberg (who is listed as an "adjunct scholar" for the institute) mentions both the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies (also known as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty) and the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (also known as the 1979 Moon Treaty) as being intentionally structured to make it "difficult to raise funds for extraterrestrial ventures, despite the abundant resources on the Moon and on asteroids, including metals with high value on Earth."

According to Simberg, the real solution to space access is a question of legislation and not of technology. Even better, only two pieces of legislation need to be directly dealt with:
  • First of all, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty needs to be formally re-interpreted as only prohibiting declarations of national sovereignty and not as prohibiting private property in outer space. This is already a reasonable and common (although not universal) interpretation of the treaty as outlined in my February 5th, 2010 post "Feedback on 'The Men Who've Sold the Moon.'"
  • Secondly, a new federal law (instead of an international treaty) needs to be passed to provide national recognition of land and property claims off planet under specified conditions relating to access and utilization. This would allow the land to be used as loan collateral or as an asset to be sold to raise the funds needed for development in much the same way that funds are currently raised for mining exploration. The specifics of the land claims process could even be taken from the existing mining legislation as it covers land claims.
Although this new law would explicitly contradict the 1979 Moon Treaty, Simberg reminds us that only thirteen states have ratified it (and not one is a major space-faring power) so it therefore has little relevance to current space activities.

This is, of course, not the first time that legislation traditionally associated with the mining industry has been perceived of as being a suitable legal framework for outer space activities. As outlined in my June 20th, 2010 article "Mining as a Model for the Commercial Space Industry," many Canadians have been coming to substantially the same conclusions.

But that doesn't mean the sentiment is universal. The April 5th Mail Online article with the inflammatory title of "Billionaires should be allowed to BUY up planets and rip up an out-of-date space treaty, claims expert" states that a move of this type would "would mark a huge change in how mankind sees space and could open up the galaxy to a debacle akin to the Colonial era ‘Scramble for Africa’."

Whether or not future Martian history ends up resembling the 1964 historical war film "Zulu" is something that would seem best left until after we've discovered whether or not life exists on the planet. The key here is to remember that a simple change in legislation can make that day come dramatically sooner.

1 comment:

  1. Private ownership of stuff like the moon, etc, really is a touchy subject. My family "owns" a certain amount of land. But it used to belong to somebody else? Their were first nations here long before we came.. we stole it from them.

    I think in large part we as a people aren't prepared to consider dividing up the moon, selling it off. in fact, considering that it is something we have been looking at through telescopes for ages, enjoying the beauty of it's untouched, pristine surface, I would argue that many people would be against colonizing it, destroying that beauty. Perhaps an alternate solution is to open up colonization of the dark side of the moon? That wouldn't mar it's beauty from the perspective of people here. I for one, don't really relish the idea of looking up at the moon one day and seeing a city there instead of the (very definitely spiritual) sight I see now. My mind might change, but that is one of my gut reactions to the article. Particularly if most real-estate is owned by mining companies. The idea that we as a human race have to constantly go in search of more raw material to grow our civilization, "colonize the universe" is distinctly unappealing. One wonders why we can't be satisfied with the one planet we have. Many people would argue that we will only have earned the right to spread our civilization beyond the earth the day we have learned to respect the earth and take care of it properly, the day we conquer greed, and can be motivated only by the desire to explore, respecting and cherishing what we find. Do we really want a future in which we destroy all that we find by mining it to pieces, like during the conflict between the federation and the Klingons?

    Comes to mind the piece in the hitch-hikers guide about a planet whose people lived in some kind of dust cloud. They couldn't see anything, except the light of their own sun or something. Then they gained the ability to travel beyond the cloud, and suddenly were able to see the whole galaxy, and other galaxies. They decided the sight was ugly, and set about extinguishing all the stars so that they could re-create the beauty of their dark dust cloud for everybody.

    makes my head spin. the morality of existence? :-)


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