Developments for Property Rights in Space

So… I know I’m late with the podcast, and I promise, that is coming. But in the meantime, I saw a couple of great articles discussing property rights in space, namely, how a company can claim something and have exclusive rights, an important thing when it comes to developing a sustainable infrastructure in space.

To put it another way, you might think about investing in an oil well… but unless the company drawing from that well had exclusive rights to it, why would you bother? Someone else could come along, sink another shaft, and draw from the same well. Why bother doing all the exploring if someone else can come along and drop another straw into the cup and draw out the same profits without the upfront? This is why property rights are important!

First the good news from Popular Science:

In May, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would give asteroid mining companies property rights to the minerals they extract from space. Called the Space Act of 2015, the bill now awaits the Senate’s decision.

The bill (which is similar to last year’s stalled ASTEROIDS Act) says that resources extracted from asteroids and other objects in space belong to the person or company who extracts them. It also would require space mining companies to “avoid causing harmful interference in outer space,” and allows a company to sue others who cause “harmful interference” to space mining ventures.

Which is all well and good until we get back to the Outer Space Treaty, that I’ve discussed previously. From

Tronchetti contends that the bill violates the Outer Space Treaty, which forbids the establishment of national sovereignty on other worlds. The idea is that the bill would confer such sovereignty to private companies, something that the United States lacks the power to do. Keith Cowing of NASA Watch echoes that sentiment and the misunderstanding of the Outer Space Treaty and the Space Act of 2015.

The Outer Space Treaty is silent about private entities claiming ownership of celestial bodies. As a practical matter, a private company would lack the ability to enforce such a claim without a national government backing it up if some other entity chooses to dispute it.

Tronchetti and others suggest that the Space Act of 2015 is being passed prematurely, that there is enough time for an international consensus on space property rights to evolve naturally. Supporters of space mining point out that companies are preparing to undertake such operations now. Confirming that those companies owns the resources they extract would be of great help in attracting investors, even if those operations lay years in the future.

Consensus… the last respite for people who don’t want to just move forward with something.

Don’t get me wrong, in politics, consensus is a good thing. Laws shouldn’t be passed without consensus. But for private industry, the idea that a consensus needs to exist to move forward is… pardon my French, fucking retarded. Where would we be if we needed consensus to build ships to trade with other nations? Where would we be if we needed consensus that flight was the next big thing? Consensus is great for science. But for industry… not so much. Nor should it even be required. Because… consensus by whom? Scientists? Politicians? Others in the same field but terrestrial and who will have their markets affected?

It seems to me, all of them would have a conflict of interests. Scientists because there’s always a downside and, unfortunately, the precautionary principle seems to be the order of the day these days. Politicians because they’re funded by major industries that could be affected. And… well… others in the same field because they’re in the same field, don’t want to fund the research necessary to go out and do these things and are comfortable at the prices as they are now.

Could there be downsides? Certainly. Of course there could be.

But would anyone say that we shouldn’t have cars today because of the climate change they may be causing?

Not anyone rational.

No. Progress comes with costs. The thing that has to be decided is, how do we deal with those costs once they become evident? And there are always two options: we can cut down on what’s causing the problem or we can come up with a solution for the problem. In the climate change area, it seems like it’s mostly going the “cut down on the problem” route although more than a few people have suggested technological solutions that are a fraction of the other option.

I’m not involved so much in that debate so I’ll leave it at that.

But… when it comes to mining asteroids…. seriously? Does the precautionary principle need to be met here? Because, you know, it is impossible when applied strictly. After all, how does one prove a negative?

But it should be a fairly easy equation: Would those mining activities on Earth be more destructive? Probably. Would those mining activities bring resources we need? Yes. Do those mining activities have any direct negative affects on Earth? None that anyone can mention besides the fact that it’ll make it easier to have more stuff. Do they have any positive? Well… we have more of a scarce resource… so… yeah…

What we don’t need is a consensus on this issue. There is none to be found. What we need is to give private industry the assurance that an investment they make in space is backed by the force of law so that they can make the expenditures necessary to try this kind of thing so we can see if there even is a downside and, then, start thinking about ways to mitigate whatever downsides come with the upsides of having more resources and the benefits they bring available.