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Space Science

Property Rights In Space? 269

ATKeiper writes "A number of companies have announced plans in the last couple of years to undertake private development of space. There are asteroid-mining proposals backed by Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, various moon-mining proposals, and, announced just this month, a proposed moon-tourism venture. But all of these — especially the efforts to mine resources in space — are hampered by the fact that existing treaties, like the Outer Space Treaty, seem to prohibit private ownership of space resources. A new essay in The New Atlantis revisits the debates about property rights in space and examines a proposal that could resolve the stickiest treaty problems and make it possible to stake claims in space."
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Property Rights In Space?

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  • Re:Homesteading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:29PM (#42339943)

    Your 'homesteading' right is ultimately defeated by an even more natural right: The right of he who has the sniper rifle to shoot you and your family from a safe distance, then come loot your home and take over your land.

    Rights are an artificial construct, and exist only so long as they can be enforced either directly (Employ enough guards to secure your home against any threat) or indirectly (Have a government that will, reasonably reliably, either defend you or remove the economic incentive for attack by finding and imprisoning the attacker afterwards). A right that is not in some way backed up by physical force simply doesn't exist: You can whine all you want about your 'right' to property, but it won't do you one bit of good if there isn't ultimately the threat of violence to back it up.

    In space violence isn't very practical, so property rights would be backed up by the threat of governmental seizure of the earthbound assets of offending companies or individuals... and again, you still need the men with guns sitting around somewhere just in case a CEO converts all company product to gold and tries to hide it in an abandoned mine. Not that any of them would be that stupid, because they know that if they defy a court ruling long enough sooner or later violence will happen.

  • Re:TL;DR? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:30PM (#42339947) Homepage Journal

    In the scenario envisioned here, the government would recognize claims and register titles, and claimants could then begin to grant, sell, and trade property deeds.

    Don't forget, that if you are short on cash you can sell the improvements for half their price, flip the deed over and mortgage it.

    Oops, this is about the moon, sorry, I had it confused with a different fictional scenario.

  • Re:TL;DR? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j00r0m4nc3r ( 959816 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:45PM (#42340195)

    Outer space has no owner

    Whoever goes there and brings the most guns owns it..

  • Re:Homesteading (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:45PM (#42340199)
    'natural rights' are meaningless. Rights only exist in so far as something strong enough can stop people from violating them. Take away that state force and it just comes down to people having the resources to stop others.. in other words, become states.

    'Homesteading' has nothing natural to it.. it was a piece of paper from the government saying that they would let you go settle in someone else's territory, and if those people got uppity you had the backing of the military.
  • by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:07PM (#42340603)

    Considering the enormous expense and effort that went into obtaining those moon rocks, it's not surprising they were technically "loaned" rather than "given away" as you mistakenly assert.

    The point is there needs to be a legal framework in place so such expenditures are protected. The only way to spur private space exploration is to make it possible to profit from it. Otherwise it's simply a huge waste of money - what benefit does humanity derive from, say, letting the hyper rich shoot themselves into orbit for a short while?

    Extraterrestrial resource extraction could mean endless supplies of things like rare earth minerals needed for high tech manufacturing. You do like cheap computers and cell phones, don't you?

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:23PM (#42340853) Homepage

    Velocity of money [] does not change significantly based on who is spending it. Every transaction has subsequent transactions that support the economy, and they cancel out. The question is the efficiency of the transaction under consideration. Does that spaceship, a giant chunk of capital, a great heaping pile of allocated GDP, produce wealth as quickly as a thousand small businesses? (please be rigorous in your consideration of the definition of "produce wealth")

  • by alienzed ( 732782 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:36PM (#42341049) Homepage
    how about we solve the lunacy of the concept here first...
  • Re:Homesteading (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:53PM (#42341263)
    You are an idiot. Homesteading has existed for all of history. One guy with a sniper rifle can't take away someone else's land because everyone recognizes the rights of the homesteader, while very few recognize the rights of the thief. The thief/murderer will be killed for his crimes, whether by police in a state, or by aggrieved relatives in an anarchic state.

    You shouldn't talk about things you have no background in. Rights are no more artificial than society. They both exist, even if pigheaded fools like yourself claim they don't.
  • by GoogleShill ( 2732413 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @06:01PM (#42341377)

    Think of all the time (money) a company will need to spend to figure out the best place to set up a mine on an asteroid in order to extract enough material to make it worthwhile. Why would they go through those efforts when a competitor can just wait for them to do that, then setup a new mine right next to it? The competitor can then undercut the original company's profits immensely as they have no R&D expenses to pay.

    That's what I see happening with the public domain option you speak of, and it is one extreme. The other is allowing anyone to "stake their claim", which won't work as the first company with enough money will just pop around to every asteroid staking it for themselves and wait for someone to actually want to use one of them, then charge them ridiculous rents... Kind of like patent trolls, or the domain registry.

    There needs to be something in between these extremes, like "stake your claim, but if you don't actively use it within 5 years, you lose it". Or, "stake your claim, but you must rent it for a reasonable rate".

    I'll probably get modded down by the free-market fundamentalists, but there needs to be some sort of regulation to ensure that technical advancement can happen while allowing profit and competition. That's what makes a healthy capitalist economy.

  • Nasty Twist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @07:23PM (#42342543) Journal

    In other words, the same rules as we have on Earth. A government claims a land because they want it and they have the means to defend it...

    Sort of...but with a nasty twist. Whoever has control of large amounts of material in space and the ability to transport it back to earth will actually have the biggest guns. So if we let corporations loose in space without some viable means to prevent large chunks of rock hitting the Earth they will end up not just with more spending power than governments but with more military might than them too. I'm not sure this is a good environment for democracy to flourish.

  • by Dyolf Knip ( 165446 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @09:40PM (#42343717) Homepage

    Well, stuff in space _is_ scarce, in the sense that it's not infinite, that is. Sure, there's _a lot_ of non-stellar mass in the solar system, but the parts of it that are easily accessible with current technology is really pretty limited. Luna, Apollo asteroids, and the occasional comet, mostly. And to make things even trickier, what happens when people start living out there permanently? That chunk of rock will be just as much 'their' property as any piece of terra firma.

    Start with the simplest way to handle ownership claims and see where that goes: You have to go out and stick a flag on it to even have a shot at such a claim being legit. In person, or will a probe suffice? Define "probe"; don't want anyone spamming the surface of Mars with 1" radio cubes and claiming the entire planet as a result. For that reason, I'm inclined to limit ownership claims solely to putting boots on the ground. You own your unmanned probe and anything in produces using unowned resources (so automated factories are allowed), but the body as a whole is still up for grabs.

    Of course, how much can you claim? The entire asteroid/cometplanet? Well that sucks. The EU founds a small colony on Mars just a few weeks ahead of the US and Chinese, so they get the whole pie? I guess you could make it a function of how many people you actually have there, but do they have to be there permanently?

    And hey, who's going to enforce all this anyway? Considering the potential riches involved, nobody is going to accept a UN ruling that means that country A gets the piece of rock that country B just spent $10 billion putting a mining facility on because A sent a suicide volunteer on a one-way trip to put them on said rock before B.

    I suspect that in the end, the 'border's will be decided in the traditional way. Namely, guys with guns moving them around until they conclude that getting a bigger piece of the pie for themselves would be more trouble than it's worth.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray