Governing Habitats on The Moon

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.34.47 AMBy Talia Loucks

No one from Earth has been to the moon since 1972, but Google’s Lunar XPRIZE has sparked an interest in returning. The Lunar XPRIZE is a race to the moon in which competitors must land a robot safely on the moon and send back “HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy.” The deadline is next year and it has created a growing interest in moon activity. One company, Bigelow Aerospace, has even developed inflatable habitats to set up in space. The program, known as BEAM, has been developed as an attachment to the International Space Station, but Bigelow would also like to launch these habitats to the Moon. Even though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans sovereign ownership rights to the moon, Bigelow may one day soon be allowed to place its habitats on the Moon.

As was outlined in a recent WJLTA blog article on Asteroid Mining, the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Agreement currently govern space law. Though no sovereign can claim ownership in space, the Outer Space Treaty has potentially left open a loophole that could allow for nongovernmental, private entities to have ownership rights in space. Additionally, the 1979 Moon Treaty, which governs lunar activity was never signed by the U.S., leaving open another potential loophole for private American entities. Continue reading

Mining in the Final Frontier

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL

By Talia Loucks

It all began when aerospace consultant, Gregory Nemitz, claimed he owned an asteroid. In 2003, Nemitz sent NASA an invoice, demanding $0.20 a year for storage of a NASA probe on his asteroid. When NASA refused to pay, Nemitz filed suit against the United States, alleging it had taken his property without just compensation. A federal district court dismissed Nemitz’s suit, ruling that he had failed to prove he had any property rights. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether a general right to own property exists in space, but this case makes one certain: A property in space right cannot come from simply creating a website and claiming ownership.

Move ahead 13 years and it is no longer solely NASA and other sovereign nations’ space programs parking their spacecraft outside of the earth’s atmosphere. There is a growing space economy being developed through private companies. This new economy includes tourism, exploration and now asteroid mining.

Asteroid mining, if successful, could be extremely lucrative. Valuable minerals such as platinum, palladium and gold could be mined. One of the most valuable resources believed to be available for mining from asteroids, however, is water. Additionally, asteroids may hold all of the components for life and could be a window into the history of the universe while helping to continue to advance science. Continue reading