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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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  • Trickle Down Theory? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:33PM (#42340005) Homepage

    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.

    Just shows that Reaganomics got it part right -- if you keep giving more and more money to a smaller and smaller sliver of society, they will find things to spend it on. Unfortunately, not cost efficient things that trickle down to smaller businesses, entrepreneurs, and working people. They spend it on ever more gigantic toys. "Oooh, Larry, let's build a billion dollar spaceship!" Great. Too bad we don't have a thousand small businesses spending that money on labor, rent, stock, and taxes instead.

  • Who will enforce it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:43PM (#42340151) Homepage Journal

    A property right without a sovereign to back it up with arms if necessary leaves me at the mercy of anyone bigger than me who wants to take my claim away.

    A property right with a sovereign to enforce it with arms if necessary may put that sovereign in violation of treaties it has already agreed to.

    Even if it doesn't, such a sovereign would have to be willing to stand up against the combined military might countries who are willing to go to war to defend the "right of all mankind" to "own" the asteroid or whatever piece of property is at issue.

    In other words, any country which says it will back a claim to "space real estate" is betting that the rest of the world won't care or at worst, will just whine about it but take no real action. Any person or company making such a claim is betting the same AND betting no other person or company will attempt to fight the claim by force.

  • Re:The 51st State? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Motard ( 1553251 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:53PM (#42340345)

    We planted a flag. That's how these things are done.

    Later on, the shooting starts.

  • by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:02PM (#42340519)

    Property is something that can only exist within a given jurisdiction.
    Until a government claims jurisdiction over space, any one can go to space, establish a settlement and claim sovereignty and ownership.

    Any attempt by a government to claim you're on their land would then be an act of war.

  • by thereitis ( 2355426 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @05:34PM (#42341011) Journal

    The point is there needs to be a legal framework in place so such expenditures are protected.

    I suggest that for starters treating all space bodies as public domain is the best way to go.

    Otherwise, how do you separate people with plans in motion to go there from those who are merely being 'patent trolls' by claiming something and doing nothing with it? Or claiming something with the specific purpose of making sure someone else can't make use of it?

    Having ownership in space seems destined to create an 'artificial scarcity'. Maybe I'm wrong, but an ownership based framework seems ripe for greedy people to abuse.

  • by dpidcoe ( 2606549 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @07:28PM (#42342609)

    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")

    Firstly, good on you for clarifying that (seriously, more discussions need to be that way).

    Secondly, the efficiency of the transaction is going to be an extremely complex analysis, especially as you'll have analyze the 1000 small businesses that it's to be compared against (what kind of businesses? how saturated is their market? how interested are the business owners in their business?)

    Speaking from my experience working R&D in a company that builds things that no one else has ever built before, I know that a project such as a spaceship isn't going to get completed without involving tons of small businesses. Even small R&D projects usually end up contracting tons of outside machine shop work (even though we have our own machine shop, a lot of places do it better/faster/cheaper, or do things we flat out can't do), and all sorts of obscure businesses that you'd never even think would have anything to do with the project (example: contracting one of a kind high pressure tanks for compressed gas from a 20 person company that manufactures rockets. It was part of a project to make a better high energy density battery).

    While contracting those businesses to build something new doesn't necessarily increase wealth in the strict economic definition, it does several things that aren't going to be directly factored into any economic calculations:
    - Provides an income stream to small businesses who rely on this sort of stuff in order to stay in business. They might in turn use that money to create wealth according to the definition used in economics.
    - Creates innovations that other people/businesses can then leverage to produce wealth. e.g. once an awesome high energy battery hits the market, someone else can use it to found a new company that makes powered exoskeletons for paralyzed people.
    - Keeps people employed. If those people don't have money to spend, the economy will tank no matter how much "wealth" you've created.

    As for small businesses, it really depends on the business. Years ago I worked for a small photography company. It was based out of the owners garage and employed maybe 30 high school students and 10 photographers part time on the weekends. Every single bit of cash that company earned went straight into increasing the wealth of the owner, while everyone else got minimum wage. If I ran the numbers right (we all knew what each other made, and we knew how much cash we took in during a weekend job), the profit margins were obscene. Yet we still were using broken equipment repaired with duct tape and beating up our own vehicles to transport equipment to/from the jobsites. The owner wouldn't even drop the ~5k it would have cost to switch everyone over to using digital cameras. Hardly the utopian ideal of a great small business working hard for the economy

    And one parting thought: From what I remember from macroeconomics, investing in infrastructure is a good way to increase wealth. So on paper, if we tax everyone who makes more than 150k/year at 90% and implement a 100% death tax for the next 20 years in order to invest it all in making a world class road system, 100mbps fiber to everyone's porch, and a powergrid so smart that it becomes self aware, it should do wonders for the economy right?

    In reality, I suspect that it would create a new class of superrich, all of whom are nephews of politicians and/or working as power/phone/road company management.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall