Homesteading the Final Frontier

Homesteading the Final Frontier

A Practical Proposal for Securing Property Rights in Space
April 02, 2012

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Executive Summary

While new space transportation companies are driving down the cost of accessing space, development of the space frontier will continue to be held back, as it has for decades, by the lack of clear off-planet property rights. Without them, it is difficult to raise funds for extraterrestrial ventures, despite the abundant resources on the Moon and on asteroids, including metals with high value on Earth.

Many believe that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty implicitly prohibits private property in outer space, but under another conceivable interpretation, it only prohibits declarations of national sovereignty. A proposed law requiring the United States to recognize land claims off planet under specified conditions offers the possibility of legal, tradable land titles, allowing the land to be used as loan collateral or an asset to be sold to raise funds needed to develop it.

Such a law would vitiate the 1979 Moon Treaty, which does outlaw private property claims in space, but to which the U.S. is not a signatory. This should be viewed as a feature, rather than a bug. The law would not impose any new costs on the federal government, and would likely generate significant tax revenue through title transaction fees and economic growth from new space ventures carried out by U.S. individuals and corporations. It would have great potential to kick the development of extraterrestrial resources—and perhaps even the human settlement of space—into high gear.