Property Rights in Space…

As it becomes near impossible to buy property in most Indian cities, we perhaps need to look at space.

Anyways this super article by Rand Simberg is not about buying homes in space, but over the property rights issues in space. Thanks to this piece I realised there is  research and discussion on the issue of property rights in space.

Space contains valuable resources. These provide a compelling reason for entrepreneurs, investors, and governments to pursue space exploration and settlement. Asteroids are known to be rich in valuable elements like neodymium, scandium, yttrium, iridium, platinum, and palladium, most of which are rare on Earth. Because of the high price that these minerals command, harvesting them from space could possibly justify even very costly mining expeditions. This is the hope of Planetary Resources, a company recently formed and funded by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt with the intent of mining asteroids. Similarly, Microsoft billionaire Naveen Jain has founded the company Moon Express, with plans to use robots to start mining the Moon — as early as next year, it claims. Meanwhile, Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company plans to mine ice in Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole to provide propellant for planetary missions, and is raising funds for the venture now.

The basic technology for space travel necessary for off-planet development has of course existed for several decades; the United States did, after all, put a man on the Moon in 1969. And recent advances in spacefaring technology, like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launcher, promise to reduce the cost of transporting people and goods to and from outer space. This new rocket will deliver about fifty metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit at a price of $120 million, allowing material to be shipped to space for about a thousand dollars per pound — far less than the tens of thousands of dollars per pound that technologies like NASA’s retired space shuttle cost to ferry cargo. And if SpaceX or some other company can achieve the goal of partial or full reusability, the price of launching goods into orbit will likely drop much further, especially if market forces bring more competitors into the field.

It all began post cold war:

International space law, such as it is, began to take shape during the space race, when outer space was viewed not as a potential frontier for development and settlement by private actors but rather as a competitive battlefield between the two superpowers in the Cold War, as well as a new realm for scientific discovery, led by government space agencies. The United States and the Soviet Union each sought to curtail the other’s political and military use of space; they found common ground, or at least claimed to, in the project of exploring space for the advancement of science.

An important precedent for the development of international space law was the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which was meant to prevent the militarization of the Antarctic and to ensure that peaceful activities, particularly scientific exploration, be allowed to continue there. These were just the sort of aims that world leaders at the time were concerned with achieving through an international agreement governing space activities, and on September 22, 1960, President Eisenhower recommended that the principles of the Antarctic Treaty be used as a model for an international agreement governing space. But tellingly, because the Antarctic Treaty prevented any nations from establishing sovereignty and contained no provisions for granting property rights or regulating economic activity, resources in the Antarctic have gone undeveloped to this day. This stands in contrast to the emerging resource boom in the equally inhospitable regions of the Arctic, where much clearer property rights exist under the jurisdiction of Arctic nations.

In the end:

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.

 Great read. Very different..

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