Tag Archives: Outer Space Treaty

International group forms to get UN protection of Apollo sites

An international group of lawyers, academics, and business people has formed an organization called “For All Moonkind,” aimed specifically at getting UN protections for the six lunar Apollo sites.

They are going to the UN because, based on the Outer Space Treaty, this is the only place that has jurisdiction. Unfortunately. This quote illustrates why:

“Though we are based in the US, we are an international organization,” said Michelle Hanlon, US space lawyer and Co-Founder of For All Moonkind. “Humaid Alshamsi [the UAE participant] brings tremendous experience in public and private aviation and space law to our team. We are thrilled that he has agreed to join our effort.”

For All Moonkind was critical of the auction by Sotheby’s of the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong. “The astronauts of the Apollo project represented all of us here on Earth,” explained aviation and space lawyer and Advisory Council Member Humaid Alshamsi, “they went to the Moon in peace for all, and the relics of their historic achievement should be shared by all. The loss of this artifact to a private collector is a loss for humanity.”

The Outer Space Treaty forbids any nation from claiming territory in space, thus leaving it under the control of the UN and the international community, a community that — as demonstrated by this quote — is hostile to capitalism and private enterprise. While I laud this group’s desire to protect these historic sites, I fear their actions are going to place limits on the freedoms and property rights of future space colonists.


The difficult task of legally preserving the Apollo lunar sites

Link here.

While I heartily agree that these historic sites should be preserved, if you read the article you will notice how the focus with these people is not the future, but preserving relics of the past. I say we don’t need more memorials. The best memorial for Apollo 11 would be thriving city on the Moon, even if it trampled on Tranquility Base.

Note also that the restrictions imposed by the Outer Space Treaty once again make things worse. Under the treaty, there is no way for the U.S. to reasonably preserve these American historical sites, without first getting the approval of the UN. The result? I guarantee that any arrangement we manage to work out will almost certainly restrict the freedoms of future space colonists. This not a good thing, and it certainly isn’t something we here on Earth should be doing to the brave people who will someday want to build new civilizations on other worlds.


Luxembourg parliament adopts draft space law

Capitalism in space: The Luxembourg parliament yesterday adopted a draft space law that will allow that country to authorize, under the Outer Space Treaty, future private enterprise missions in space, including mining on the Moon and the asteroids.

The press release makes the following claim:

The Grand Duchy is thus the first European country to offer a legal framework ensuring that private operators can be confident about their rights on resources they extract in space. The law will come into force on August 1, 2017. Its first article provides that space resources are capable of being owned. The country’s law also establishes the procedures for authorizing and supervising space exploration missions.

In reading the actual law [pdf], however, I do not think this really does what they claim. All the law does is simply state that “Space resources are capable of being appropriated.” That’s it. They are essentially saying that any private profit-oriented mission that launches under Luxembourg’s authorization will have their blessing to take as much from any planetary body as they desire. No property rights are delineated, including the borders of any territory owned, which is not surprising since the Outer Space Treaty forbids Luxembourg from doing so.

In fact, I think this illustrates for us all the future as we colonize the solar system, assuming the Outer Space Treaty is not revised or dumped. Like pirates, nations (or their citizens) will grab as much as they can, and will then use force to protect those holdings from any one else. Everyone will have to do this, because there will be no legal framework to establish their claims.

Since it appears, at least for the present, that no one wants to change the Outer Space Treaty, expect the future in space to be a brutal legal nightmare for all involved.


Commercial space has won

Today the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), held the third of a series of hearings on the future regulatory framework required for American commercial space to prosper.

My previous reviews of the past two hearings can be found at these links:

In today’s hearing the witnesses in general once again called for a variety of reforms that would simplify the regulatory process for private enterprise. Dr. Moriba K. Jah, associate professor from University of Texas at Austin, suggested removing NOAA’s veto power on remote sensing, something that the proposed House bill I analyzed in my Federalist op-ed actually does). Jeffrey Manber of Nanoracks suggested giving the private sector a certain date when ISS will be decommissioned so that they can more easily obtain investment capital for building the privately-built space facilities that will replace it. Tim Ellis of Relativity, a company trying to build rocket engines manufactured entirely by 3D printing, called for more American spaceports, accessible by private companies, as well as a simplification of the FAA permitting process. Robert Cabana, Director at the Kennedy Space Center, talked about the need for government facilities to provide the infrastructure for private companies, as the center has done for the private launch sites and manufacturing facilities they have helped get established at Kennedy since the retirement of the shuttle.

Tim Hughes from SpaceX topped them all.
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Australia to consider forming its own government space agency

The new colonial movement: The Australian government is studying the idea of forming its own space agency.

With ever-increasing dependence on satellites for communication and navigation, an Australian space agency could oversee the launch of satellites.

But, initially, an Australian space agency’s main role would be to help keep jobs and $3 billion of spending in Australia rather than flowing overseas. The agency would also help Australians take advantage of satellite technology, especially for farmers.

This proposal is actually all about the requirements under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty. If Australian companies wish to do anything in space, the treaty requires Australian to have some legal framework in place to regulate that activity. The regulations can merely rubber-stamp an approval for any private operation, but they must exist. Without them Australian companies will be forced, for legal reasons, to go to elsewhere to make their space endeavors happen.


White House rejects House proposal to create a military “Space Corps”

The White House today objected to a House defense policy bill that included a number of provisions, including the creation of a separate “Space Corps.”

Proposals to build the “Space Corps,” to prohibit a military base closure round, levy notification requirements for military cyber operations, develop a ground-launched cruise missile — and to “misuse” wartime funds for enduring needs — were some of the Trump administration targets.

The White House stopped short of threatening a veto, however, and said it looks forward to working with Congress to address the concerns. Still, the list will provide ammunition to Democrats and Republicans who hope to pick off provisions of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act when it comes to the House floor on Wednesday.

The idea at this time of establishing a separate military division devoted to space military operations is absurd, a waste of money, and would only create an additional bureaucracy that no one needs right now. However, in reading this op-ed by retired Air Force colonel M.V. “Coyote” Smith, one of the early proponents of this idea, I am not surprised to learn that one of the key good reasons for creating such a force is the Outer Space Treaty. As Smith notes,

Created at the height of the moon race between the two principle [sic] Cold War antagonists and others, the Outer Space Treaty was designed to prevent either power from claiming sovereignty over the entire moon upon arriving first. It succeeded. Unfortunately, it forbids any national appropriation of real estate and resources in space.

This prevents the issuance of property deeds and the awarding of resource rights to any part of the planets, moons and asteroids, without a potential legal contest. This also frustrates commercial and private entities whose business plans require legal clarity.

Thus, the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty forces the need for a military force to protect the rights of any American individual or businesses in space. As I said today in my op-ed for The Federalist:

The Outer Space Treaty poses limits on property rights. It also does not provide any mechanism for peacefully establishing sovereignty for any nation on any territory in space. Yet national sovereignty and territorial control is a given in all human societies. If we do nothing to establish a peaceful method for creating sovereignty and national territories in space, nations are going to find their own way to do it, often by force and violence.

Thus, no one should be surprised by this first proposal. It might be too soon, but it probably is not as soon as many critics claim. Unless we get the Outer Space Treaty revised to allow the establishment of internationally recognized borders, the need by everyone for a military in space to defend their holdings will become essential. And what a messy process that will be.


Space law vs the Outer Space Treaty

My new op-ed at The Federalist is now online. Other than changing the title from my proposed version above to something a bit more unwieldy, “What You Need To Know About The Space Law Congress Is Considering,” they have posted it exactly as I wrote it.

The essay provides a very detailed analysis of the commercial space law that the House is presently considering. While they are proposing many good reforms, my conclusion unfortunately sums things up:

W.E.B. Du Bois, in studying the African slave trade, once asked, “How far in a State can a recognized moral wrong safely be compromised?” and answered his own question by saying that it is dangerous for “any nation, through carelessness and moral cowardice, [to allow] any social evil to grow. . . . From this we may conclude that it behooves nations as well as men to do things at the very moment when they ought to be done.”

The Outer Space Treaty poses limits on property rights. It also does not provide any mechanism for peacefully establishing sovereignty for any nation on any territory in space. Yet national sovereignty and territorial control is a given in all human societies. If we do nothing to establish a peaceful method for creating sovereignty and national territories in space, nations are going to find their own way to do it, often by force and violence. It behooves us to have the courage to face this issue now, and “do things at the very moment when they ought to be done.”

Read it all.


Australian academic group to review Outer Space Treaty

Another op-ed today once again notes that the Outer Space Treaty needs updating, and notes that an Australian working group linked to an academic international space conference in Australia in September will be reviewing the treaty and suggesting future revisions.

In late September 2017, Adelaide will host the largest space-related meeting on the annual calendar – the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC). In more recent years, there has been a companion conference just prior to the IAC – the Space Generation Congress (SGC). This was initiated on the request of states through the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to represent the interests of the next generation in outer space.

At the SGC, a group of young Australians will lead a working group of delegates from across the globe, to develop and propose a set of supplementary protocols to the OST, in order to adapt global space governance to the needs of the next 50 years.

The article emphasizes that any changes to the treaty should be made with future generations in mind, and this is one reason the members of the working group are being drawn from the Space Generation Congress, since this is an event comprised mostly of students. That they are modern academic students is nonetheless worrisome, considering the increasingly oppressive culture of modern academic student communities. I fear that their naive effort to establish rules will be based too much on the good intentions of young people, and we all know what path that puts us on.

A personal note: I will have another op-ed published this week by The Federalist on the recent efforts in both houses of Congress to deal with the Outer Space Treaty, and it includes my detailed analysis of the proposed space law that was approved by a House committee in early June.


UK’s space industry bill introduced in House of Lords

The new colonial movement: The United Kingdom’s proposed space industry bill has now been introduced in the House of Lords, the first step to making it law.

I have not had a chance to read it, but the claim is that this bill will establish a regulatory framework, under the Outer Space Treaty, to attract private commercial space to Great Britain.


The academic community weighs in on Outer Space Treaty

Link here. They recognize the problem the Outer Space Treaty creates for property rights, but not surprisingly have trouble touching on the heart of the problem, that the treaty forbids the establishment of any nation’s laws on any territory in space.

Hertzfeld points out that the industry needs policies that address for-profit operations in space, particularly activities that will be managed or operated by the private sector. Until now, he says, most private sector activities have been narrow, but that could change as companies become more involved with satellites and in spaceflight. “How do you deal with property rights in space?” he said. “Ownership of these natural resources, mineral resources, up there? How do you deal with approaching satellites that are perhaps owned by someone else, particularly if it’s another nation’s satellite? How do you deal with debris that could cause accidents?”

“There are lots and lots of questions in how you do this internationally, because other nations are involved. These are the issues that are not clearly defined right now.”

Von der Dunk adds that there are still many countries that have no, or only a limited, national space law program. As a result, he says, in the implementation of the Outer Space Treaty, a divergence has grown that has led to gaps, inconsistencies and overlaps in domestic oversight. “Ideally, at the international level it would be good to have some form of harmonization at least of the approaches, noting that of course every sovereign state may have some individual idiosyncratic elements to deal with, but that idea has never moved beyond the stage of academic discussion,” von der Dunk said. “Sovereign states are not willing to comply with any serious effort to make this happen.”

I would love to know what “some form of harmonization” means.

Nonetheless, that this article was published in a major media outlet, which asked these academics about this issue, is once again evidence that people are finally recognizing the problems posed by the Outer Space Treaty, and are beginning to discuss ways for dealing with it.


British government to loosen regulations on space

The British government is about to propose new regulations on space to allow the operation of commercial spaceports while establishing a licensing system for the launch companies that will fly from those spaceports.

These new regulations are likely the legislation the government announced it was preparing back in February. I suspect they are, like other recent legislative proposals, trying to fit the square peg of private enterprise into the round hole of the Outer Space Treaty.


House committee passes new commercial space bill

Last week the House Science committee passed a new commercial space bill designed to streamline the licensing system that presently exists for getting private space missions certified as required under the Outer Space Treaty.

The bill reforms the existing licensing system for commercial remote sensing satellites, streamlining a process that many companies in that sector said results in lengthy delays. It also establishes a “certification” process for commercial spaceflight not otherwise licensed today in order to eliminate any regulatory uncertainty and ensure compliance with the Outer Space Treaty.

“The goal of this bill is not to regulate space broadly,” [Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas)] said in a statement at the markup. “Instead, the bill takes a commonsense approach by establishing a legal foundation upon which U.S. industry can flourish.”

I am in the process of reviewing the proposed law, and hope to write something detailed about it in the next few days. I should say here that in general this law seems to be trying to address the same issues relating to the Outer Space Treaty that have been discussed during the Senate hearings organized recently by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). And while to me the resulting bill seems generally good, it still leaves hanging the Outer Space Treaty’s fundamental problems relating to property rights.


Luxembourg revises space law to address Outer Space Treaty

Luxembourg has revised its proposed new space law in order to try to address the property right concerns posed by the Outer Space Treaty.

The legislation is patterned on the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, which includes provisions that grant U.S. companies the rights to resources they extract from asteroids or other celestial bodies. One difference, Schneider said, will be that while the U.S. law requires companies to be based in the country, Luxembourg’s protections would cover companies regardless of their location. “We don’t really care where the money comes from,” he said.

The bill also creates a system for the authorization and continuing supervision of commercial space activities that are regulated by the country. The lack of similar policy in the United States for “non-traditional” commercial space activities like asteroid mining — required, many argue, in order to comply with Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty — has been an issue debated in the last few years.

…Luxembourg is also in the process of creating a national space agency, Schneider said. The country is a member of the European Space Agency but has not previously had its own national agency. However, he said the agency will be structured differently than those in other countries. “This space agency will not be a copy of NASA or ESA, but it will be a space agency whose only focus on the commercial use of space resources,” he said. It will be set up a public-private partnership between the government and private funds.

I would say that the competition in space is definitely now heating up. These actions by Luxembourg might not solve the legal problems with the Outer Space Treaty, but they will certainly up the pressure on the world’s space-faring nations to face the issue.


Another proposal for dealing with the Outer Space Treaty

Link here. The author has made an interesting analysis of my earlier essay on this subject, and come up with what I think is a very intriguing and most encouraging idea:

Government establishes a legal framework for enforcing law. So, rather than allow nations to make claims of territory, let us instead allow private enterprises to go to the Moon or elsewhere, stake a claim, and then, to establish a legal framework for resolving any disputes that arise, choose the government under whose legal jurisdiction their claim will reside. No governments would appropriate territory. They would merely be lending their courts to render judgments on legal disputes arising outside their territories. That would seem to satisfy Article 2. This scheme would not require a new Treaty but could probably be implemented via United Nations resolutions. [emphasis in original]

I actually like this, as it puts the power in the hands of the citizens or companies, allowing them to pick the nation to which they wish to align.

What I find most encouraging however is that the subject of the Outer Space Treaty is now becoming a major issue worth discussing, by many others. I have my ideas, others have theirs. Either way, the issues and weaknesses of the treaty are now being debated, and people are proposing solutions. In the fifty years since the treaty was signed it has previously been impossible to generate this much discussion on this issue. (Believe me, I have tried.) That others are now responding and proposing alternative approaches means that maybe the time has finally arrived where this problem will be dealt with.


Washington rallies around the Outer Space Treaty

Yesterday Senator Ted Cruz (D-Texas) held the second in what he says will be a series of hearings on the future government regulation of the commercial space industry. The specific focus of this hearing was the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and its effect on private enterprise.

The hearing saw two panels of witnesses, the first three legal experts on the Outer Space Treaty, the second four industry experts from a variety of private space businesses.

Like the first hearing on April 27, the witnesses this time were once again unanimous in their call for a simplification of the present regulatory arrangement. They also emphasized repeatedly that private enterprise should not be required by Congress to get permission to do things in space. Instead, Congress should merely provide regulation that will facilitate private enterprise while helping them avoid interfering with each other.

Unlike the first hearing, however, the atmosphere was decidedly less interested in improving the overall international regulatory framework created under the Outer Space Treaty. Instead, the witnesses in unison were supportive of the treaty and did not want the U.S. to either pull out of it or try to change it. All advocated the position that the treaty as written allowed the U.S. to regulate private businesses in a manner that could protect property rights in space.

As I watched the hearing I was struck by this unity of position. To me, it appeared that the Washington elitist community was circling its wagons in order to protect the status quo.

The witnesses from the business community appeared afraid of the consequences of any effort to change the Outer Space Treaty. As Mike Gold, Vice President of Space Systems Loral, noted,
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Cruz to hold hearing on updating Outer Space Treaty

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) revealed today that he plans to hold a hearing next week on reviewing the Outer Space Treaty.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in an on-stage interview during The Atlantic magazine’s “On the Launchpad” event here that the hearing, scheduled for May 23, would explore modifications to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to better enable commercial space activities. “We’ll be hearing testimony both from lawyers who have studied the issues and also from business leaders that want to expand commercial investment in space,” he said, “considering how do we update and modernize the treaty to reflect the realities of the modern world.”

He said he was concerned that the treaty, crafted at the height of the superpower space race of the 1960s, does not reflect the needs and interests of emerging commercial space companies. “The central focus of that treaty was preventing nuclear weapons in space. That’s a very good thing,” he said. “But, 50 years later, we’re in a very different environment.”

Cruz said he didn’t have specific changes to the treaty in mind. “I don’t want to start by making decisions before we hear testimony and before we think through it,” he said. He added he hoped that, like recent space-related legislation that has passed Congress, including the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, to win bipartisan agreement to pursue efforts to “modernize it to create the incentives for continued investment.”

I had sensed this might be Cruz’s next move, based on the last hearing, and it is gratifying that he is going to go forward with it.

Update: The list of witnesses can be found here. The committee webpage also says they will be focusing on Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty, which does not discuss the issue of sovereignty (Article II). Instead, Article VI says this:

States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organization, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organization and by the States Parties to the Treaty participating in such organization.

I begin to sense the direction this negotiation will head. Rather than claim sovereignty, they will rework this clause to allow each nation’s laws to apply to the activities of their citizens. In a sense, this is an end-around Article II.


Space, regulation, the Outer Space Treaty, and yesterday’s Senate hearing

Yesterday the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce committee held a hearing, organized by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), entitled “Reopening the American Frontier: Reducing Regulatory Barriers and Expanding American Free Enterprise in Space.”

You can watch the hearing here. There have also been a number of stories last night and today that summarized the testimony during this hearing.

Having watched the full hearing, I think that most of these stories did not capture well the full political context and significance of yesterday’s event. They focused on Cruz’s advocacy for private space and the call for less and more streamlined regulation by the witnesses. They missed a great deal else.
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European push for more space regulations under international law

In the European space community and governmental circles, there appears to be a new push to revise the Outer Space Treaty, focused specifically on increasing the treaty’s regulatory power in the area of large satellite constellations and space junk.

This week [the city of] Darmstadt hosts a closed-door, governmental meeting of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Whether it was planned or not, the IADC is set to discuss a much-needed renewal of international space law, which is, experts admit, rather vague. But how far they will go is anyone’s guess.

…There is a palpable sense that the space community needs enforceable international laws and regulations, rather than – or merely to bolster – its current inter-agency agreements. They’ve served us so far, but few countries have actually signed up to them. That leaves a lot of wriggle-room, especially as space becomes increasingly commercialized.

Most of our space activities are governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. It’s a short document that primarily seeks to ensure space operations are “peaceful” and for the good of all humanity. It is complemented by other agreements, including a set of documents on mitigating space debris. “We have a good, coherent set of justified rules and we don’t intend to alter them drastically,” said Christophe Bonnal of the French Space Agency, CNES, and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in closing remarks last week. “But we will improve them at the IADC meeting to include mega-constellations.”

It appears to me that this is a push-back against Luxembourg’s recent announcement that it is going to request a renegotiation of the Outer Space Treaty to allow for property rights in space. What this article is advocating instead is that the treaty increase its control and regulatory power over private satellite constellations, which at present are not covered by the treaty.


U.S. space law versus UN Outer Space Treaty

In its effort to provide legal protections to private companies attempting to do asteroid mining, it appears that the U.S.’s most recent space law directly contradicts the UN Outer Space Treaty.

The United States recently passed a law that contains an article that directly concerns asteroid mining and legalizes it. This law is the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), which was signed into law by President Obama in 2015. The CSLCA addresses resource extraction in Article IV, and states, “A U.S. citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell it according to applicable law, including U.S. international obligations.”

The issue here is that US law is in opposition to a UN treaty, to which the US is a signatory. The Outer Space Treaty is one of the oldest and most important agreements in the history of international space policy. Under the Outer Space Treaty, asteroid mining is illegal, since it is an appropriation of a celestial body by a State. Since the human being or organization that is doing the resource extraction is under the purview of some State, that State is responsible for the actions that are done by the nationals or organizations that are doing the mining.

This responsibility was given to the State by the sixth article of the OST and is strengthened by the Liability Convention of 1972. Since the State is responsible and liable for the actions done by their nationals, this means that the State could be interpreted as appropriating the asteroid.

I am surprised and encouraged to see two different articles about the problems of the Outer Space Treaty appear in the press less than a week after my op-ed on the very subject. I am sure there is no connection, other than the subject is increasingly topical, and others are recognizing the same things I am. Still, that these stories are appearing suggests that the chances are increasing that something will finally be done to either change or abandon the treaty.


Luxembourg rejects proposed space legislation because of Outer Space Treaty

Luxembourg’s legislature has rejected a proposed space regulatory framework because it did not address the legal restrictions on property rights imposed by the United Nations Outer Space Treaty.

Schneider, the deputy prime minister and minister for economy, presented a bill whose objective was to set a legal framework and give legal security to the property of minerals and other valuable resources in space, in particular on asteroids, and to regulate the authorisation and surveillance of both exploration and mining missions.

In a formal opinion published on 7 April, the council noted that private property claims are illegal or at least not legally binding in most of the international treaties and agreements relating to space and celestial bodies.

Neither the UN treaty on principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies of 1967, nor the agreement governing the activities of states on the moon and other celestial bodies of 1979 (which was not ratified by Luxembourg) answer the question of private property of space resources.

What is most important here is that the Luxembourg government now intends to “to ask for a revision of the question of property in the Outer Space Treaty.” As I said in my op-ed in The Federalist on Monday, nations are increasingly recognizing that the Outer Space Treaty is a problem for property rights, and needs to be revised. Otherwise, private development will be difficult if not impossible.


New Zimmerman op-ed in The Federalist

As I noted earlier in the week, my op-ed outlining my proposed Trump space policy was today published in The Federalist. The title: “How President Trump Could Jumpstart Space Settlements.” The key quote:

So what should Trump do? At this moment he has a wonderful opportunity to put his stamp on the future, and steer the entire human race to the stars. Trump should propose a new Outer Space Treaty, superseding the old, that would let nations plant their flags in space. This new treaty should establish the rules by which individual nations can claim territory and establish their law and sovereignty on other worlds or asteroids.

From here I go into great detail about how that new treaty would function, laying out how it would encourage the peaceful settlement of the solar system while encouraging private enterprise and the establishing of law and freedom for future space settlers.

Read it all.


House leans to less regulation of commercial space

During a hearing on March 8 of the House subcommittee on space the representatives overall pushed for less regulation of commercial space activities.

The overall problem was once again dealing with the Outer Space Treaty:

At a March 8 hearing of the subcommittee, members and witnesses grappled with the issue of how the government should oversee emerging commercial space activities in order to comply with obligations to the Outer Space Treaty, including whether such oversight is, in fact, required. Such “authorization and continuing supervision,” as specified in Article 6 of the treaty, is handled today by various agencies for commercial communications and remote sensing satellites and for launch. It’s less clear who would regulate new activities, ranging from commercial lunar landers to satellite servicing efforts, creating uncertainty in industry about who, if anyone, could provide that authorization and continuing supervision.

An April 2016 report delivered to Congress by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, required by Section 108 of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, recommended what it called a “mission authorization” approach for providing that oversight. This approach would be modeled on the payload reviews performed by the Federal Aviation Administration during the launch licensing process, including an interagency review of proposed missions. While the mission authorization concept had won support from many in industry, as well as the FAA and some members of Congress, a change of administrations and its approach to regulation has emboldened some who want to limit industry regulation.

“Unfortunately, the Obama administration issued a report last year that called for expansive regulations over all types of private space activities,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, at the hearing. He cited a “crisis of overregulation” in general as a reason to oppose the previous administration’s proposal.

The House members and the witnesses apparently rejected the regulatory proposals that had been put forth by the Obama administration, and were instead searching for ways to limit the amount of regulation required under the Outer Space Treaty.

I say, dump the treaty. Nothing in it helps the development of space by private individuals or companies. Everything in it encourages bureaucracy and the limitation of private property.


Japan passes its own commercial space law

The competition heats up: Just as the U.S., Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and others have recently passed laws of clarify and encourage the private commercial development of space, Japan now done so as well, enacting its own commercial space law.

Now that Japan has adopted its Space Activities Act, start-ups are not left wondering what agency they should contact but can go in advance to discuss their plans with officials at a specially designated counter in the Cabinet Office. The new Japanese law also provides government support in the provision of financial guarantees required by commercial space launch operators, such as by arranging third-party liability insurance coverage. The required coverage is calculated on the basis of the maximum probable loss estimated in line with the rocket type and the payload content; in the case of damages in excess of this coverage, the law provides that the government is to pay for the residual damages up to a certain limit. This is similar to arrangements that have been adopted in the United States and France, although the French government sets no limit on payments.

In addition, Japan’s Space Activities Act provides that the launch operator bears liability for accident damages even if they are due to problems in the payload. This channeling of liability would seem to be disadvantageous to launch operators, but it can be expected to enhance the competitive position of the Japanese companies providing this service, because it reassures customers around the world who are seeking to have their satellites put into orbit. France is the only other country that has adopted a similar provision.

The article is worth reading in that it provides a good overview of the history of space law since the 1960s, as well as the political background that helps explain why Japan has lagged behind in the commercialization of its space industry.


Congressman proposes new legislation to better regulate commercial space

We’re here to help you! In an effort to guarantee that the United States remains compliant with the UN Outer Space Treaty when its private citizens begin flying commercial operations in space, Congressman Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) is proposing new legislation that would better supervise and regulate the emerging commercial space industry.

Bridenstine explained that his top concern is that a U.S. company will proceed with a plan to put a spacecraft on the Moon or conduct on-orbit servicing or some other new type of activity only to have a “near-peer” country like Russia or China complain at the last minute that the United States is violating the OST. That would put the United States “in a difficult position,” he argues. Therefore he sees the need for “airtight” legislation that sets up a process by which the government authorizes and supervises these private companies. Once a company has gone through the process, the United States can unequivocally demonstrate to the international community that it has, in fact, complied with the treaty.

The Obama Administration has been open to working with these new companies, but he wonders if that will remain true over the long term future. He insisted that Congress “needs to exert its authority and power so that whatever administration comes next or is in place 50 years from now, the process exists” and is not subject to a new administration’s “whims.” He also worried that without a legislative solution, it could become a matter of “executive branch regulation by default.” That opens the possibility of some agency saying no, with no recourse for the private sector.

Read the whole report at the link. If you believe in freedom, competition, and private enterprise, it will chill your bones. At no time does anyone suggest that maybe the United States should simply get out of the Outer Space Treaty, as we are legally allowed to do according to the treaty’s own language. The treaty itself is a very bad law, as it makes it impossible for any private citizen or company in space to be protected under U.S. law, leaving everything instead in the control of United Nations bureaucrats and the polyglot of nations, many quite tyrannical, that dictate UN policy. Bridenstine’s proposals will only make this situation worse, as it will not only keep all control in the hands of the UN, but it will saddle American citizens with further regulations imposed by our own government.


Luxembourg to establish space property rights

The competition heats up: The government of Luxembourg today announced an initiative to establish a legal framework that will ensure property rights in space for private investors.

The Luxembourg Government announced a series of measures to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources. Amongst the key steps undertaken, as part of the spaceresources.lu initiative, will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) such as asteroids.

Luxembourg is the first European country to announce its intention to set out a formal legal framework which ensures that private operators working in space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract, i.e. rare minerals from asteroids. Such a legal framework will be worked out in full consideration of international law. Luxembourg is eager to engage with other countries on this matter within a multilateral framework.

The announcement is a bit vague about what exactly Luxembourg really plans to do. For example, it is unclear if this framework will only apply to Luxembourg citizens, or will be used to bring the private efforts from other countries to Luxembourg (the more likely scenario). It also does not tell us how the initiative will deal with the UN Outer Space Treaty, which essentially outlaws countries from establishing their own legal framework in space. Individuals can supposedly own private property in space under that treaty, but no country can claim territory or impose its own legal framework on any territory, thus making any private property claims unclear and weak.


Mainstream media outlet notices possible news!

Last week President Obama signed the revisions to the Commercial Act that is being touted as allowing Americans property rights in space.

I have been following the news coverage of this event, and even though there have been many articles incorrectly pushing the above spin, only today was there a news story that finally noticed that these touted property rights would violate the Outer Space treaty.

The content of the second link above, though it notices the possible violations to the Outer Space treaty, is also still a pitiful example of journalism. It is very clear from reading the article that no one involved in writing it (the article’s byline is CBC News) ever read the newly passed law. I have, and found that nowhere in it does it actually grant Americans property rights in space. What it does do is demand that the executive branch support that idea and write a number of reports and studies to demonstrate that support.

The goal I think of this new law is to begin the political process towards the U.S. eventually pulling out of the Outer Space treaty. Congress is essentially stating that it doesn’t agree with the language of that United Nations treaty, and it wants the U.S. government to begin the process of either getting it changed, or preparing to pull out. (The treaty does provide language allowing nations to pull out. You give one year’s notice, and then do so.)

It would be nice if journalists who write about this subject did the simple and easy research necessary for reporting it intelligently.

Until they do, however, I guess people will just have to come here (written with a grin).


A petition to have the U.S. withdraw from the United Nations Outer Space Treaty has been submitted to the White House.

Now’s here’s a good idea: A petition to have the U.S. withdraw from the United Nations Outer Space Treaty has been submitted to the White House.

Read it. Mark Whittington, who submitted it, is absolutely right. We get out, we can claim territory on the Moon and thus apply U.S. law to that territory. People and companies could thus own land and have an opportunity to make a profit from their property.