Trump signs executive order supporting private ownership in space


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President Trump today signed a new executive order reiterating the United States’ support for private enterprise in space, including the ownership of any resources mined or obtained from other orbiting bodies, such as the Moon and the asteroids.

The text of the order is here. It acts to underline previous laws passed by Congress supporting private ownership in space. It also does three things:

1. It makes it very clear that the U.S. will oppose any effort by the international community to impose the Moon Treaty in space. This U.N. law, which is not the Outer Space Treaty that has governed space since 1967, was never ratified by the U.S., and in fact was only signed by seventeen countries. Its provisions were hostile to private property and private enterprise, essentially making both impossible in space. Thus, today’s executive order states:

The United States is not a party to the Moon Agreement. Further, the United States does not consider the Moon Agreement to be an effective or necessary instrument to guide nation states regarding the promotion of commercial participation in the long-term exploration, scientific discovery, and use of the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies. Accordingly, the Secretary of State shall object to any attempt by any other state or international organization to treat the Moon Agreement as reflecting or otherwise expressing customary international law.

2. The order re-emphasized the U.S.’s commitment to allowing private companies to retain ownership of any resources they mine from other worlds. Though the Outer Space Treaty appears to allow this, there is some uncertainty, and because that treaty also forbids nations from claiming any territory to establish their sovereignty and laws upon that territory, establishing the ownership of mining resources under U.S. law remains unsure. Today’s order essentially states that U.S. law will apply to those resources:

Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.

3. The order makes clear that the U.S. will use all of its influence to convince all other space-faring nations to agree to this approach.

This last item might be the most important. If the Trump administration can convince all other nations to some new approach that allows for private property in space, the difficulties created by the Outer Space Treaty might be bypassed.

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8 comments

  • sippin_bourbon

    Capitalism in space!

  • Ian C.

    Those are good news, reinforcing prior decisions.
    While nations (and private entities under their jurisdiction) cannot claim legal ownership of outer space territories (yet), they can establish factual ownership through presence. Being there beats not being there. And what they mine is theirs. And if they’re under US protection, who really could enforce opposing claims?
    I already see cartoons coming from Europe (w/o Luxembourg) showing Trump/America as either cosmic imperialists or space cowboys.

  • Chris

    This subject would be classic for the previously classic “Fred Freindly” type of show (Constitution -that delicate balance?)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Constitution:_That_Delicate_Balance

    Perhaps a YouTube round table of persons from NASA, commercial space, legal (national and international) …etc. to debate and “war game” the various scenarios on the exploitation/exploration of space and space objects.

    Subjects could include:
    – real estate claims on the moon (water resources come to mind)
    – orbital “real estate” above the earth and various other bodies (geo synchronous and Lagrange points?)
    – enforcement of agreements in space – who has the authority? Might is right? Does a space infraction warrant a terrestrial response?
    – Laws in space – who’s laws?
    Etc.

    Mr Z, you could moderate.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I have watched a bunch of those. I would see them on PBS every now and then.
    I enjoyed them. They bored the other half tho.

    But I would enjoy a round table.

    Can we put AOC on the panel for comic relief?
    (sarc)

  • wayne

    Chris / sippin_bourbon–
    I recall watching those as well, on our local PBS station.

  • Star Bird

    Anyone want to own a Asteroid how about a Comet want t o buy the Moon? hey i want to build a place on a far away planet and send all the liberals there to live

  • pzatchok

    How about two simple rules to start.

    You (a human intending to own the property) must live on the land. A majority of an Earth year. For 5 years.
    You must work the land towards eventual profit. You can not just squat and wait. You can only claim the land you are actively working.

  • pzatchok: Um, wouldn’t it be great if someone had already proposed such an idea?

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