Pence endorses property rights in space

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

In a speech yesterday at a meeting of the International Astronautical Congress in Washington vice president Mike Pence pushed the importance of property rights in space, noting that the Trump administration is looking for ways to protect those rights.

He made clear that the United States would continue to observe international agreements on space activities — presumably including the Outer Space Treaty, which rules out claims of sovereignty on the moon or other celestial bodies. But Pence also said America’s partners should respect private ownership in space, which is a less settled legal frontier.

“As more nations gain the ability to explore space and develop places beyond Earth’s atmosphere, we must also ensure that we carry into space our shared commitment to freedom, the rule of law and private property,” he said. “The long-term exploration and development of the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies will require the use of resources found in outer space, including water and minerals. And so we must encourage the responsible commercial use of these resources.”

Pence hinted that the United States will be developing new policies relating to the use of space resources. “We will use all available legal and diplomatic means to create a stable and orderly space environment that drives opportunity, creates prosperity and ensures our security on Earth into the vast expanse of space,” he said.

I’m not sure how the U.S. can do this, however, under the limitations placed on us by the Outer Space Treaty. Without the ability to apply U.S. sovereignty to any private operations on the Moon, Mars, or asteroids, it will be impossible to apply U.S. law to those operations.

One avenue that the Trump administration might be considering is an amendment to the treaty that would allow nations to apply their laws to their citizens in space, not the territory on which they land and develop. Such an approach would avoid breaking the treaty’s restrictions on not claiming territory, but it would still achieve essentially the same thing.



  • Cotour

    And I am certain that the Chinese and the Russians will fully abide by all of these rules and laws. (Sarcasm)

    Just like the rules only are to be adhered to by the Reupblicans and not the Democrats, and we can clearly see that play out before our own eyes in real time.

    Q: What is the difference between the Democrats and the Russians and the Chinese and how they adhere to rules and laws?

    A: Nothing.

    All they are all waiting for is the next weak and Globalist / Liberal / Socialist to occupy the White House. Its just a waiting game for them.

  • Max

    Property rights in space?
    As long as you don’t take cash with you… If they find out they will suspect you making a drug deal and confiscate all your property in asset forfeiture. Good luck getting it back.

  • Lee S

    I actually think this is a non-issue, at least in my lifetime, and probably in my kids lifetime… If the US finds a rich asteroid to mine, Russia, or much more likely to be in the gold rush, China, will just go find another rich asteroid… The same goes for water on the moon, Mars, and…. Well that’s about it for the next few centuries… Unless a real game changer in space tech comes along.
    No one wants a confrontation that will lead to trouble back here on the blue planet, and by the time competition for space resources becomes a “thing”, the geopolitical situation here on earth will be unrecognisable to those of us alive today.
    ( Although my bet is on Trump’s brain, alive and well in a jar, celebrating his 250th term in office, and Brexit still not finalized!)

  • pzatchok

    Its a stupid treaty anyways.

    Leave ownership to those who occupy the land. Leave for a set period of time and lose ownership. Just like abandoning a ship at sea.

    Let nations fight it out over who wants to govern the people who occupy the land.

    Ownership of the land and its mineral rights will drive people to invest in getting there and exploiting the possibilities.

  • mike shupp

    One avenue that the Trump administration might be considering … I think this is the way the Outer Space Treaty treats things now, and I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. If I wander into a Chinese-administered lunar base and buy and smoke cigarettes, if the behavior is legal there, I shouldn’t be prosecuted even if tobacco is illegal in the USA. After all, on earth I’m subject to punishment for laws I break in foreign lands and we’re generally accustomed to that.

    Yes, this does suggest that earth nations should have something like sovereign rule over local regions even if they can’t claim territory in perpetuity. But it’d be like a one line addition to the OST, and shouldn’t be controversial.

    Beyond that .. two or three stars for Pzatchok for suggesting “use it or lose it” rules. We ought to encourage local ownership of local resources if we really want to make interplanetary colonization attractive to would-be settlers. Mars ought to belong to Martians, not Swiss gnomes and the wolves of Wall Street! You’d get smiles too from the earthly economists who admire Henry George.

  • Edward

    Be careful about proposed solutions. Think about how we treat geostationary orbit (GEO); it is not first come first served, because many countries in the 1970s were concerned that the United States and the Soviet Union would take up all the useful slots and radio frequencies. Some amount of cooperation and coordination is needed in order to avoid physical spacecraft collisions, frequency overlap, or other “fight it out” measures. The current regulating organization has a “use it or lose it” policy for GEO slots, if an assigned slot does not get a satellite using it in a timely manner, then the slot may get reassigned to a company that will use it — so schedule slips on GEO satellites are hazardous.

    The OST was created before we had a good idea of how to use space, and the obvious assumption was that national space agencies would be the main user, not commercial or other non-governmental organizations. Now that we have discovered that governments are poor stewards of space, commercial companies are eager to take the lead, and they want rules, laws, and treaties that encourage its safe and sane use, not discourage it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *