Will Anyone Ever Own Their Own Land In Space - And May We Get Wars In Space In The Future?
    By Robert Walker | June 7th 2014 05:11 PM | 43 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Will anyone own land in space? Could an individual, company or country claim the Moon? Will we have countries in space, organized by ideas and religions, and territories just as we have on Earth? Will they go to war with each other over territories, resources or ideas as they do on Earth?

    Look at this carefully, and you find that there are various things about the space environment that make a difference from the way things work on the Earth. Many of our Earth based concepts may be impossible to apply in space or may need to be radically changed.

    This is not just an academic question. It's already lead to some vigorous debate. Partcularly, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace has recently said he wants property rights to be extended to the Moon.

    That's a major issue since the Outer Space Treaty specifically forbids it. As an international treaty, the US government or organizations couldn't change this by itself even if they wanted to. So what is gong to happen in this impasse?

    If you look at it carefully, the Bigelow idea is more nuanced than you might think from some of the news stories. They don't want to own land on the Moon. They want functional rights for their habitats and immediate vicinity. That may be consistent with the OST, if you look at it in detail.

    However, it would need additional legislation, which would be highly controversial all the same, for reasons that aren't that obvious until you think it through in detail, as we'll see.

    This idea of functional rights is not the only suggestion for extending the OST to cover property rights in space. It's the idea that's had most coverage in the news I think, and I'll focus on it here, but there are other ideas, for instance Wayne White's idea of basing it on sovereignty and judicial overview for safety reasons, based on precedent such as the safety exclusion zone around the ISS within which it takes over direction and control of incoming vessels.


    In all of this, do be aware, I'm not a lawyer. This should not be taken as legal advice. For details follow up the links to the papers and talks by specialists in space law. If you notice any mistakes in this do let me know in the comments. Thanks!


    Wherever we build in space, and whatever the future space legislation may be, there is one major difference from Earth. The actual land itself has almost no value for humans. There is nothing growing on it, and nothing can grow on it until you build on top of it. Also, there is plenty of it into the foreseeable future, so there is no scarcity of supply either.

    So, though habitats like the Bigelow habitats are valuable to humans, we don't need to own land in space, because it is essentially almost valueless for humans.

    It is probably not even of much value as a building site except in a few very special locations such as the peaks of eternal light at the poles of the Moon, or pre-existing natural caves.

    Apart from that, most ideas for habitats could be placed anywhere where there is a reasonably flat space, or even free floating in space so long as they are adequately shielded from cosmic radiation.

    Land like this on Mars is of no intrinsic value to humans. You can't grow crops there, or plant trees.

    Actually myself, as you may from the other articles here, I think there is a reasonable chance that we won't want to have humans on Mars because I expect us to find interestingly different life there. If so then I expect Chris McKay's idea to do biologically reversible exploration would prevail, which he has said means you need to be able to remove all Earth microbes from Mars in the future.

    But whether or not we have humans on Mars, we might have greenhouses there that export crops to orbit - as some forms of hydroponics are possible without introducing Earth microbes to Mars. If so , the greenhouses on Mars would be valuable for humans, but not the land they are built on.

    Parts of it may be valuable as sources of minerals or metals. Parts maybe of special value for tourism (spectacular locations or sites that are easy to inhabit).

    In places where water is rare, ice deposits may be of value. Caves may be of value as they are scarce.

    But nowhere in space is of value for growing crops or trees until we build on it. And by far the most land area in space is of this almost totally worthless type, for humans.

    This is a major difference from Earth.

    This suggests that space settlements can probably work just fine without any ownership of tracts of land.

    The same is true also for other places in the solar system. Even floating cloud colonies on Venus would still be like this, if we ever build those. True, plants would be able to grow there without much modification of the environment, mainly protection from the acid in the clouds - still - they can only grow inside of habitats. Since the habitats float in the upper atmosphere, there's no intrinsic value in any part of the Venusian surface, except for mining and minerals.

    There's nowhere in the solar system outside of Earth where you can grow anything without first building a habitat to grow it in, now, or for at least a few centuries into the future (terraforming on Mars, if possible at all, see Trouble with Terraforming Mars, takes centuries to make conditions habitable enough to grow plants out of doors).

    So, space colonists probably won't care too much about owning land as such, not as we do on Earth.

    However it seems that they would need to have functional ownership, including functional ownership of habitats, and of mines for commercial development - at least, they would need that if you follow the Western capitalist model for space development.

    This is what Bigelow want essentially - functional ownership which also gives them rights over a small area around their habitat. It's an area that grows if they have humans on board, for safety of the humans, and shrinks if it is unoccupied.

    This is easier to make consistent with the Outer Space Treaty which almost all nations have signed. So at first sight it may seem quite promising as a way ahead. However there is more here than meets the eye - it's not as straightforward as you'd think.

    In discussions of this sort of thing, people who are keen on the idea of owning land in space often suggest withdrawing from the Outer Space Treaty. So we need to understand this first, why all discussion of these points is so focused on the treaty, and what it says and why it is so important.


    The problem is that the OST (and it's three "child treaties" on rescue, liability and registration of objects launched into space), at the moment is the only space law protecting us in space. For instance, it is the only treaty that prevents nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in orbit.

    It's also the only treaty that prevents nations from claiming the Moon or other solar system bodies as their own territory. That's why we don't need to worry that the Chinese mission to the Moon is a precursor to an attempt to claim part of the Moon as Chinese territory. We also don't need to worry that US or Russia might decide to use their 1960s and 1970s hardware and historical landings on the Moon as a precedent to try to claim it, or parts of it, as theirs.

    It's a remarkable achievement that so many countries have signed it.

    Here is a map of all signatories of the Outer Space Treaty. Green here means signed and ratified. Yellow means signed, but not ratified. Notice that it is signed and ratified by all the major space faring nations and I think just about any with space faring ambitions also, even including North Korea.

    Here is a list of the signatories: Outer Space Treaty

    You can see what a remarkable achievement this is when you compare it with the Moon treaty, the only other major attempt so far at space legislation. This has been ratified by only seven nation states so far, Austria, Chile, Morocco, Netherlands, Peru, the Phillipines, and Uruguay. None of the major space faring nations have supported it - unless you count Netherlands because of Mars One

    That shows how hard it is to get nation states to agree on a treaty about space. The OST is not likely to be renegotiated in the near future.

    However the great thing about functional ownership is that it is consistent with the OST. It would amount to an extra agreement or treaty on top of the OST agreed upon by the main space faring nation states. Which again could be gradually ratified by more and more nations like the OST.


    You sometimes get people saying that private individuals could escape from the provisions of the OST by launchng from a non signatory state or from the sea. For instance sometimes people say that if Elon Musk were to launch from a floating ocean platform, he wouldn't be bound by it.

    However that's not true. The treaty is clear. It doesn't matter how you get into space. You could get into space slowly over a number of days in an orbital airship. You'd still be bound by it as a citizen of a signatory state.

    The relevant article is article VI

    Article VI
    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.

    This means that however SpaceX gets into space, the United States government is responsible for authorizing and supervising their activties in space to make sure that they comply with the OST.

    For Mars One, then the Netherlands government is similarly responsible for authorizing and supervising all their actions in space.

    For more about this see Michael Listner in his Space Law Review for 2013 on the Space Show. He took Mars One as an example, and explained that the Netherlands government is responsible for their actions in space, no matter how they get into space. Michael LIstner is a lawyer specialist in space law, and founder and principal of Space Law and Policy Solutions, a firm that counsels governmental and private organizations on matters relating to space law and policy

    You could only evade the OST by renouncing citizenship of any signatory state. If, for instance, Elon Musk wanted to act outside of the OST, he would need to renounce his US citizenship, and become a citizen of say Tonga or some other non signatory - and start up a new space company there.

    Even then though, his rockets would use US technology and components and so his launches would still be governed by US law. The owner of the mission, payload and passengers would also be governed by the OST if they were citizens of an OST signatory.

    It's a complex situation legally. But whatever the details, it doesn't seem at all likely there would be any future legally in attempting something like that.

    I used Elon Musk here as a "for instance" simply because in internet debates SpaceX or Mars One are often used as an example in this context. Of course, I don't mean to suggest at all that Elon Musk has any such plans.

    Bigelow, Mars One, SpaceX and all the other private companies with space aspirations fully intend to comply with all the provisions of the OST as far as I know.


    For details see Real Property Rights in Outer Space. and for Bigelow's particular proposals, see Bigelow: Moon Property rights would help create a lunar industry

    First, if you make a habitat then you own that habitat. That's already the case under the OST.

    Also, if you take hardware into space you own that, again in the OST.

    Now there is one awkwardness under the current OST. Though the US owns the lunar modules, rovers etc on the Moon, and the Russians the lunakhods, and the Chinese their lander - and same also for the Russian and US landers on Mars - they can't prevent others from removing their hardware.

    Technically, under the OST, any other nation could go to the Moon or to Mars or anywhere else, and return those machines to Earth. The only provision under the OST is that on return to Earth, they have to give them back to the original owners.

    This is the Article VIII

    A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body. Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return.

    This would need some tweaking, some extra rules or agreements that all space faring nations would make between themselves either informally or formally, or could be a treaty like the OST but one that is added on top of the OST so not needing renegotiation of the OST.

    That's just a for example. You'd need laws to cover functional ownership of habitats as Bigelow desired, also of resources, possibly even functional ownership of individual asteroids if small enough.


    That may seem reasonable - but another view on it is that the wealthiest nations, the ones able to send rockets into space, shouldn't have a monopoly on the financial benefits you can get from space.

    For instance, suppose companies from the US, ESA, Russia, or China start mining platinum in space (many space rocks, the so called "iron meteorites", are rich in platinum).

    A platinum rich asteroid could be worth trillions, potentially increasing the wealth disparity between the space faring nations and the non space faring nations even more. Indeed the difference could potentially be huge, a small asteroid could be worth as much as the entire world earns in a year.

    A single company, or a group of companies in space, if they could reduce their costs enough so it is worth while supplying the Earth - they could potentially completely undercut entire industries on the Earth. It might no longer be economically worthwhile mining platinum, gold, and various other valuable metals, on Earth. The space companies would be the sole suppliers.

    It's not so expensive to import materials from space to Earth as you might think. The initial outlay is high of course, to set up your mining equipment on the asteroid.

    But after that, you could use ice from the asteroids or comets as fuel. It's not that much, less delta v than you need to launch to Earth from the Moon for some of the Near Earth Objects, e.g. the NEO Nerus requires only 5 km / second delta v to return materials to Earth - less than for the Moon.

    Then, there's an idea to use the natural rotation of the asteroid (nearly all asteroids spin) to launch payloads with a tether spin. This is a similar idea to the space elevator - but while that's a difficult future technology possibility - the equivalent on an asteroid is easy and practical. It's a possibility for small mining operations on the larger asteroids - or for a sample return. However, you can only return a small percentage of the asteroid before it despins completely.

    For smaller asteroids a tether could be useful as a method of despinning it before you start operations. Robert Hoyt's new WRANGLER NASA study (June 4 2014) will look into a method for doing this with a nanosatellite. "The leverage offered by using a tether to extract angular momentum from a rotating space object enables a very small nanosatellite system to de-spin a very massive asteroid or large spacecraft." - see WRANGLER: Capture and De-Spin of Asteroids and Space Debris

    Then to land it on the Earth you don't need to decellerate of course, and you don't need a heavy heat shield either. You could use a lightweight infltable ballute heatshield.

    Or, a more recent idea, use this new inflatable heat shield called HIAD developed by NASA which may be available soon. It's already been tested and found to survive re-entry from space.

    HIDA - Inflatable heat shield being developed by NASA to make it easier to land large payloads on Mars and on the Earth

    Artist impression of it is used for an Earth re-entry. Images from this news story from NASA. For the 2012 test, which was successful, used for an actual re-entry from space, see Nasa's inflatable heat shield survives toughest test yet

    Lightweight heat shields like this, together with use of ice from asteroids for fuel could be used to supply materials from asteroids to Earth.

    Of course this is all potentially of great benefit to the Earth, to get new supplies of these materials - especially platinum which is in short supply here and a useful metal, not just for jewelry, the least reactive metal, corrosion resistant, conductive, ductile, malleable,.... - would surely be used more if it wasn't so rare and precious on Earth.

    But how can that be managed financially? How can it be done in a way that is fair for all nations not just space faring nations?

    Flyover of the tiny asteroid Eros by NEAR Shoemaker in 2000

    Eros is approximately 34.4×11.2×11.2 kilometres - a tiny asteroid. The resources on Eros have been estimated at a value of 20 trillion dollars at present day prices of platinum, gold etc - though of course importing so much material would depress prices. What would it do to the world economy if space faring nations were to gain access to this wealth at the expense of the non space faring nations?

    See also Single asteroid worth £60 trillion if it was mined – as much as world earns in a year

    One of the provisions in the Moon treaty is that all wealth streaming from space industry should be divided equally between all nations, including non space faring nations.

    When you look at the vastness of potential wealth from space, and the potential effect on the world economy, you can see their point.

    The space faring nations object that this is impractical, and that commerce can only work in space if you have ownership of the mines by individuals able to make a profit on their enterprise.

    Here is the relevant section of the Moon treaty:

    6. In order to facilitate the establishment of the international regime referred to in paragraph 5 of this article, States Parties shall inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as the public and the international scientific community, to the greatest extent feasible and practicable, of any natural resources they may discover on the Moon.
    7. The main purposes of the international regime to be established shall include:
    (a) The orderly and safe development of the natural resources of the Moon;
    (b) The rational management of those resources;
    (c) The expansion of opportunities in the use of those resources;
    (d) An equitable sharing by all States Parties in the benefits derived from those resources, whereby the interests and needs of the developing countries, as well as the efforts of those countries which have contributed either directly or indirectly to the exploration of the Moon, shall be given special consideration.

    This is the main sticking point that prevented widespread adoption of the Moon treaty. I think both sides of this argument have a point here.

    Especially in the initial stages, how can commercial companies get started on space mining if they have to divide profits equally between all nations of the Earth?

    But on the other hand, looking a bit further into the future - how can it be fair for the space faring nations to grab such a huge slice of future industry for themselves, to the disadvantage of the non space faring nations?

    And how can that avoid increasing disparities between the wealthy and poor nations in the world, in the future, if companies based in space faring nations have such a monopoly on precious metals and other imports from space?

    I have no idea how you can resolve it. Do you have any thoughts? Do say in the comments.

    Incidentally, though the US hasn't signed or ratified the Moon Treaty, it hasn't renounced it either. Which leads to an interesting legal situation, apparently it's not totally clear whether or not it is bound by it, especially if it takes no action to refute its legitimacy, which it hasn't done so far.

    "Even with only six nations ratifying the Moon Treaty, the fact that eleven other nations, including Australia, France, and India, have acceded to or become signatories to the Moon Treaty creates a shadow of customary law that could grow such that non-parties could find themselves overshadowed by the penumbra of the Moon Treaty, especially if those non-parties take no action to refute its legitimacy."

    Michael Listner:The Moon Treaty: failed international law or waiting in the shadows?


    Some of the players in space mining are in favour of benefit sharing. Jim Keravala, of the Shackleton Energy Co. is strongly in favour of both benefit sharing and sharing of technology with other countries at a service level, so they can have their own space programs and opportunities. Much in the way they have access to airplane technology and GPS services, at a level permitted under arms control regulations.

    He talks about it here, with some passion, 34 minutes in : the SpaceShow, Friday, 12-14-12. He believes that by the end of this century we could establish a society which, world wide, has no child without health, well being, education, and freedom to choose their future, and that that is not a utopian vision but something we can realistically achieve.


    One other approach due to Wayne Whyte is to base the property rights on sovereignty. He has examined the first article of the OST and determined that though it prevents judicial sovereignty based on land - it does not prevent judicial sovereignty of governments, such as the US for instance, over habitats in space, based on considerations such as the safety of humans in the habitats. He cites as one of his examples that could motivate future space law, the safety zone around the ISS, which is a controlled zone. Incoming spacecraft surrender to control and direction of the ISS when they get closer than a certain distance.

    This is similar to the way that the sea immediately around an oil rig is a controlled zone at sea for safety reasons. When ships are close to an oil rig, the rig owners will either take over control directing their approach, or else, if they are not expected visitors, warn them to keep away for safety reasons.

    For Wayne Whyte's views see his talks on the SpaceShow


    Whatever the decision about all these other issues, it seems pretty clear from the OST that we are not likely to get any actual ownership of land in space in the near future.

    I think myself that that is good actually that we are forced to work within the OST, because, perhaps almost by chance, it turned out to be a really excellent forward looking well thought out treaty.

    When you don't have ownership of solar system bodies outside of the Earth that's far less reason for conflict and makes co-operation between astronauts of different backgrounds easier and reduces likelihood e.g. of wars between groups of colonists in space.


    Many people have claimed ownership of objects in outer space - dating back at least 250 years to Prussia, where King Frederick granted title to the Moon to a farmer with “healing powers”.

    However these claims are not considered legally valid. To show up the legal absurdity of some of these claims, a lawyer recently claimed ownership of the sun. Another case is a lawyer who, amusingly, claimed ownership of an asteroid which he knew that NASA was about to visit, and sent an invoice to NASA for parking and storage fees of $20, to pay for one full century of rent. (He filed his claim online at the Archimedes Institute - which provided a free online registry of such claims - of course without any legal backing whatsoever).

    NASA refused to pay, of course, citing the OST, and he took it to the courts, and again, not surprisingly, lost his case.

    For more about all this, see Unreal Estate: The Men Who Sold the Moon by Virgiliu Pop.


    If you've been following my articles and opinion pieces, you'll know that I I think there is a significant chance that we'll find interestingly different life on Mars, and that as a result, that we may well decide not to send humans to Mars surface, only study it from orbit.

    Also for long term space settlement, I think free space gives more room to expand, rather than on planetary surfaces - that is - with the exception of favoured places on the Moon such as the peaks of eternal light at the poles, and possibly lunar caves.

    I don't see much advantage in anywhere else in the solar system myself for humans, over colonies made from material from the asteroid belt - except - long term - the atmosphere of Venus, floating colonies in the clouds - theoretically a considerable advantage, many things to like about it except difficulty of return to Earth (and has got potential planetary protection issues as well) - if you want to know more about why I think that, see Will We Build Colonies That Float Over Venus Like Buckminster Fuller's "Cloud Nine"?

    You may think space colonies are impractical, if you think in terms of Stanford Torus type habitats from the get go. But you would start small just as for the Moon or Mars, smaller habitats in a tether spin. As time goes on tether more and more habitats around a central hub until you get your first wheel type habitats. Then as time goes on later build larger Stanford Torus or O'Neil cylinders from scratch.

    This gives more room for civilization to expand in space than any other approach, almost limitless potential - and mean we can start building close to Earth, where the settlements are more useful to us and more valuable. That's a calculation that goes back to the 1970s and is the original motivation for those 1970s designs, why they targeted space colonies instead of planetary or lunar surfaces.

    It's amazing how much habitable space you get that way.

    Using the materials in the tiny Martian moon Deimos alone - if it is decided that it is okay to mine Deimos, you could build habitats in orbit around Mars with total surface area of Stanford Tori with about 100,000 square kilometers of living area.

    That's roughly the size of Iceland, larger than Scotland, or Norway, more than twice the size of Switzerland, which could be useful for Mars orbital colonies.

    In terms of US states, that's about the size of Oregon or Colerado. And that's just the ground floor of the colony - most of the mass is needed for cosmic radiation shielding. In some designs you then have multiple layers of habitation inside of that - and in any case certainly multiple story buildings inside. And far more spacious and congenial to humans than surface settlments because you can build big spacious regions in space like this, rotating for artificial gravity.

    Mars's moon Deimos has enough material in it to build Stanford toruses with total surface area twice the size of Switzerland or same area as the state of Oregon - and that's just the ground floor of the habitats.

    This is a "for instance". I am not saying that we should dismantle Deimos in its entirety to make habitats. hjether we should is another matter - but whether or not - Deimos is a tiny moon, so it serves to show that there is plenty of material in NEOs or the asteroid belt. It would be easy to transport materials to Mars orbits in any future with extensive space settlement, if that's what we decide to do.

    Asteroids and NEOs have plenty of material for space construction, and there are techniques (mini space elevators, asteroid belt cyclers, interplanetary superhighway gravity assists) that would make it easy to move this material to anywhere we need it, with almost no expenditure of fuel, with enough advance notice for the order. You can get fuel from the asteroids anyway if you need it.
    That's amazing when you realize how tiny Deimos is.

    It's similar in size to Easter Island - here is Easer Island shown to, very roughly, the same scale as the above photograph of Deimos.

    (The dimensions of Deimos are 15 × 12.2 × 11 km)

    Deimos has more than enough material to build many spacious habitats shielded from cosmic radiation - surprisingly - with the total ground area of them all larger than the whole of Scotland

    When you add it all up you find that the asteroid belt has enough material to make habitats with a total land area a thousand times that of the land area of the Earth. Land area in spacious habitats, to build cities on or grow trees on - not just "floor area". This is a calculation that goes back to the 1970s.

    The bulk of the weight is for cosmic radiation shielding. Many plans for these types of habitats have multiple layers of settlement within them. If you used those construction plans, there would be even more living area available than that - if we do ever build colonies in space

    For more about this see Asteroid Resources Could Create Space Habs For Trillions; Land Area Of A Thousand Earths


    Details of course have to be worked out by the lawyers and treaty negotiators. We've already seen there may be major issues there.

    So, let's look at it the other way, instead. Rather than try to figure out how to make it legal, let's just ask, what are the minimum requirements you'd need to be secure as someone living in a space habitat?

    First, after you build a habitat, you would want to keep ownership of it, so long as you continue to use it. This so far seems okay by the OST, you do own things that you make yourself.

    You would want to have a reasonable area of occupancy around it, others couldn't come and build habitats right next to yours without your permission or do things that endanger residents such as risky fly by missions.

    And - obviously want it so that others can't move your habitat back to Earth or just move it to somewhere else in space that they find more convenient if you get in their way.

    (1970s artwork for the Stanford Torus idea)

    This whole habitat, for 10,000 people, could be constructed from the material in a small NEO a few hundred meters across.

    To avoid the solar system becoming filled up with regions nobody can use because of ancient scrap from previous failed attempts - you'd need to add agreements on top of that, that if it is abandoned for some period of time then others can take it over - say after a decade, or a century, whatever just some fixed period as seems appropriate.

    Where abandoned would mean, with no habitation, or no remote control from Earth or other habitats - depending on circumstances.

    But if continually inhabited or continually operated as a normal facility of its type - then others would not be permitted to move it - or build another habitat right next to it - or indeed, to enter it either, without permission of the owners.

    This would apply both to habitats on planetary surfaces and habitats in orbit in free space.

    Similarly if you start a mine you'd own the mine, but not the asteroid you are mining, but would have some functional ownership say of the region around the mine or for small space rocks, the entire rock, that you have the right to mine it in its entirety.

    But - whether we can arrange for all that legally is another issue, as we've seen, with the Moon treaty.

    It's something that may need to be resolved in the near future, with several space mining companies already set up with plans to mine materials from space soon - Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources. First they would mine ice, for LEO, and then the precious metals. There's the Shackleton Energy Company also with plans to mine polar ice from the Moon to supply to LEO.

    It will take our best and brightest legal minds to solve this one I think.


    The earliest mention of space mining in science fiction may be Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss

    "The Precious Metal Discovered.

    I shall never forget the sight, nor the exclamations of wonder that broke forth from all of us standing around, when the yellow gleam of the precious metal appeared under the "star dust." Collected in huge masses it reflected the light of the sun from its hiding place.

    Evidently the planet was not a solid ball of gold, formed like a bullet run in a mould, but was composed of nuggets of various sizes, which had come together here under the influence of their mutual gravitation, and formed a little metallic planet.

    Judging by the test of weight which we had already tried, and which had led to the discovery of the gold, the composition of the asteroid must be the same to its very centre"

    Another early mention is Jules Verne's posthumously published book, The Chase of the Golden Meteor (originally written in 1901)

    For more about history of space mining ideas, actual and fictional, see Asteroid mining's peculiar past from the Paleofuturist (BBC).


    We will surely need some provisions regarding historical interest - so nobody could set up home in the lunar modules on the Moon for instance because of historical interest even though they have been abandoned, and you'd have preservation parks around sites of special interest. So historical landing sites would be preserved areas, even the astronauts footprints and the tracks of the first missions may be protected by international agreements.

    So again same on Mars, the rovers there, and spaceships might be protected as historical interest.

    That is, except that in the case of Mars it's possible we might need to make the whole of Mars into a space park and exclude humans from it, for some time at least.

    We might need to remove all the hardware from the surface and sterilize their surroundings. Chris McKay suggested that anyway - if it turns out to be biologically interesting and different from Earth (which I expect to happen myself, reasonably high probability once we do start to do a proper biological exploration of Mars) - to preserve the planet from Earth contamination by our microbes.

    See Mars Pathfinder

    If there is interesting life on Mars we may need to sterilize all our rovers there from early missions - in this case Sojourner, quite possibly also remove them from Mars. If that's not necessary, then they may be preserved as of historical interest in Mars parks.

    Also special areas like for instance if ice deposits at the poles of the Moon are of particular scientific interest - we might set aside some part of them to be preserved - or lunar caves also, though likely to be desirable for human colonies, they may also be of great scientific interest also. So that may need to be resolved.

    Asteroids also could be of interest - some of them more than others. There might be some requirement that any asteroid has to be opened to a scientific study before it is mined - similarly to archaeologists investigating a building site with a dig before construction goes ahead.

    Ideas for planetary parks have been discussed, in recent COSPAR workshops. With no definite conclusions or resolutions yet. See 'Planetary Parks' Could Protect Space Wilderness


    What happens if someone sets up a habitat - but then the settlers no longer want to be bound by them? Especially if they do achieve the goal of self sufficiency eventually? Of course, it's not likely that any will be self sufficient in the near future, but will rely on Earth for computers, spacesuits, many components of their system. But further in the future maybe this can happen.

    And who enforces the OST if some group decides it wants to claim territories in space for itself counter to the OST?

    Well one thought here is that in the near future space colonies will be vulnerable, as it's a harsh environment; just a crashing spaceship would destroy a colony. So they will need to co-operate to a far higher degree than we do on Earth. A space war would end quickly with all habitats of all those concerned destroyed (because a single incoming spaceship or a large piece of debris, or of construction material at the km/sec velocities easily achieved in space would quickly destroy an entire habitat).

    Destruction of ISS in Gravity. Any habitat in space would be vulnerable to destruction by an incoming spaceship or even a large piece of debris from it. So space wars in space in conventional sense would seem to be impossible - they would end quickly with all habitats of all those involved in the war destroyed.

    This is equally true for colonies in space or on planetary surfaces, or the Moon or asteroids - and even colonies floating in the upper Venusian atmosphere - though protected to some extent by the thick Venus atmosphere - and not so vulnerable as most space colonies to small fast moving objects which would burn up in the atmosphere - and small meteorites anyway would just puncture the habitats creating a slow leak since the inside is at the same pressure as the outside with the Venusian floating colonies - still they would obviously be very vulnerable to any major collisions e.g. with an incoming spaceship.


    That's where the impossibility of warfare comes in. How could you have warfare in the conventional sense with habitats so fragile?

    Either we end conventional warfare or never have it in space - or we don't succeed in space, I think those are the main possibilities.

    I am reminded here of the way that stags fight in a rut. They could easily blind each other or indeed kill each other - but do so rarely because of the ritualized combat methods, in their case by instinct, they lock antlers to fight.

    Whitetail deer bucks locking antlers during late rut in Cades Cove, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Blount County, Tennessee, United States. Image by Brian Stansberry.

    In the same way colonies in space could easily destroy each other - but they will surely not do that, and will develop other ways of resolving disputes.

    It might involve some higher authority like the UN in space, or sport - games of chance - depending on the situation, what it is you want to resolve. Even if there is no shortage of resources and nothing really to dispute about, still chances are that we will need a way of dealing with natural human competitiveness in society in space.

    Goodness knows how we'd do it - but it is hard to see warfare with weapons fired at habitats working in space. No habitat could be shielded against things moving at the kilometers per second velocites that any space settlement would be able to achieve easily with rockets or other future spaceships. Firing missiles at an incoming meteorite to explode it would just turn it into a hazardous shrapnel like meteor storm headed straight for your habitat.

    You'd be so vulnerable in space, it is hard to see anyone risking starting a war with other colonies, with near future technology at least.

    So, I imagine the OST, or something like it, continuing right through into the foreseeable future. Or if not, then something else that takes its place, to help prevent conflict and have ways of resolving issues without conventional warfare which would be impossible for them.


    I've raised many questions here, but not given much by way of answers. Nobody has the answers yet. I hope just to bring some clarity to the many internet discussions and debates on these topics, which are often carried out without this background information.

    It's not as easy and straighforward as you might think. Indeed, the whole thing is complex and it may take our brightest minds, and new ideas, to find a way forward that will be satisfactory for everyone.


    If you are interested to find out more, there are many discussions of these issues in the SpaceShow where it is a continual recurring theme every year - try their guest search for Property Rights - and Benefit Sharing and such like search terms.

    There are many talks there I haven't had a chance to listen to yet and I hope to update this article after listening to them. And if you know of any good material on these issues that I or the readers should know about - do share it in the comments also!


    What are your thoughts on all this? Do say in the comments.

    A few more links to things mentioned in this article:


    How do you mine an asteroid that is spinning fast enough to sling material to Mars or the Earth? Do you work only at the poles?


    Okay - the fastest spinning asteroids have spin rates of less than two hours, some less than a minute

    Lists of notable asteroids - fastest rotating objects

    This is the fastest one to date, I think: 2010 JL88

    Diameter 18.5 +-7.5 meters, rotation 24.5 seconds, so that's 2.44 rpm. 

    Take the 18.5 meters as its diameter, then that works out at 0.123 g - roughly lunar gravity outwards pull.

    (calculations with spincalc)

    That would be easy enough for humans to tolerate - main issue might be the fast spin rate, can humans tolerate 2.44 rpm. It's within the range that many people can tolerate on Earth based experiments for weeks on end. So I think some at least could tolerate it. 

    BTW a few people have an impairment in their vestibular system - they may not even know that they have it - and can tolerate any spin rate no problem.


    I've deleted rest of the original comment here, which was based on a misunderstanding. That's because it will confuse readers of the article who get here, no point in that!


    My confusion was that I thought that if you had something falling down a tether - then it's like continual acceleration under gravity on Earth. Yes seems like that from the tether frame of reference.

    But think of it another way - suppose someone just releases a weight from the tether half way down. Obviously it just flies away perpendicular to the tether at whatever delta v it has due to the spin of the tether, the wr. But from someone attached to the tether looking at it from their perspective, it seems to be falling, and accelerating, falling faster and faster as it falls. 

    Or - if you jump off a high place inside a rotating tethered habitat - you feel as if in freefall as on Earth. To others watching you, you seem to be accelerating downwards as on Earth -though with a slightly different trajectory because of the vertical coriolis effects. But since you feel you are in freefall - obviously  - in reality you are just moving in a straight line at constant velocity since there is no true gravity there. But as soon as you hit the ground, you are again in an accelerating frame of reference and feel gravity - in all the cells of your body, again just like on Earth.

    So upshot is - that you can get a high delta v from a spinning asteroid with a very long tether. But it has to be hundreds of kilometers long.

    That's practical with modern materials and could be a useful way to return a sample from a spinning asteroid back to Earth.


    However, another consideration is - that by doing that you are extracting a huge percentage of the rotational energy of the spinning asteroid, because that increase of delta v from meters per minute (up to meters per second for the very fastest spinning asteroids) for the surface material, to kilometers per second - that means that one tonne returned that way is equivalent to extracting all the angular momentum for a thousand tons on the surface of the asteroid. 

    Indeed another use of this is by use of a nanosatellite on a long tether to despin a very small asteroid.

    So in short it is useful for early sample returns, and for despinning a tiny asteroid.

    Also a space elevator constructed on one of the larger spinning asteroids could be useful for extracting materials from its surface.

    For the medium sized, NEOs take for example Nereus. Revolution period, 15 hours. Longest diameter 510 meters. Volume 0.02 km3, or about 20 million cubic meters, mass say 50 million tons guestimate based on typical asteroid densities.

    Then the surface delta v in meters per second is PI * 510/ (15*60*60), or about 0.03 meters per second. Delta v needed to get material to Earth of 5 km / second. So to extract one tonne of material by tether methods would use 5000/0.03  or 166,666 tonnes of the delta v. 

    Indeed, since most of the extracted material would be from the surface layers and suppose we use longer and longer tethers to extract it all - completely ignoring practicalities of strength of material here, for a rough over-estimate, then that's 50,000,000 * 0.03 /5000 = 300 tons worth at the desired delta v. That's modeling it as a dumbell with the entire mass concentrated at the two ends - over estimate of the amount of delta v available.

    In practice, you could return the first few tons from Nereus using this tether system, but it wouldn't be worth the investment involved for a mining operation unless you only want to return a few tons of some very valuable material.

    Possibly the first few tons of say Platinum could pay for an early mission to a NEO - if there were high concentrations of something valuable on Nereus - and not much by way of ice to use as fuel - just as a for instance - this could be a useful way to return it.

    Obviously could be very useful for the largest asteroids.

    Not useful though as a way of mining an entire asteroid or a significant part of completely despun it.


    Sorry, I haven't found much yet on the idea of using space elevators for returning materials from asteroid mining. There's this article on Spaceward however, Asteroid Slingshot Express - Tether-based Sample Return.

    It might be what I had in mind but thought there was more to it than that.

    One thing surprised me about it - maybe I've misunderstood something? He only considers the tangential velocity at the tip of the tether - says it makes no difference to just release the tether at the tip, or to attach it at the bottom and let it ride up to the tip and release.

    I assume he has got that right, but can't quite see how it works, how it fits with the way someone in a tethered habitat feels a constant downwards gravity - and throw a ball in the air and it will fall as if under ordinary g. So from the perspective of someone at the end of the tether watching the payload fall towards them from the asteroid, it should appear to fall towards them at a gradually increasing artificial g, as it approaches them. So why does it not end up traveling down the tether at great speed? Why does it make no difference if you just take a stationary object and release it from the end of the tether, or have one dropped from the asteroid all the way down the tether until it flies off the end?

    Anyone reading this know the answer?

    I'll need to sleep on it myself I think, seems a bit unintuitive if it is correct, but of course there are many unintuitive things about space mechanics.

    After sleeping on it, I understood why - have edited the previous comment to fix what I said!

    Thor Russell
    Interesting article, comments:1. Heat shield for asteroids etc. Do you always need to bother? Say you crash land a slow moving asteroid into a deserted area set aside by the govt for this purpose. Can you make it go slow enough not to explode into too many pieces to be useful?
    What about the maximum size you can crash land in this way before causing a nuclear war like situation?
    Enough to supply all the worlds metals for 100 years?

    2. Economic benefits:
    "I have no idea how you can resolve it. Do you have any thoughts? Do say in the comments."
    You could pass a law saying all metals brought to earth would be owned by the country/company concerned but had to be sold on the open market within 5 years. That way $1 trillion worth of metals may land but the price would crash to say $10 billion as the market would be saturated. You could forbid the owning country from bidding for more than 50% of the metals in an auction say. There would be a massive amount left for all the other countries to bid for and they would all get an excellent price for a massive amount of resources. Something like this may well happen anyway.

    3. Space war. There are other options, the first one is stalemate between colonies and earth.
    E.g. colonies develop the ability to build say 100,000 habitats but earth doesn't have that many rockets so can only threaten a small fraction of them. If earth sent rockets against them, it would destroy <10% of colonies, and then the colonies would destroy all earth orbiting satellites, hence stalemate is obviously in both parties best interests no matter how much they disliked each other. The colonies could perhaps destroy all future earth based space endeavors, which would be pretty undesirable and unusual where humans on earth could not practically visit space again and those not on earth could never go home.
    If two groups of habitats fought, I don't see why they both would get destroyed, if its was 2/3 vs 1/3 then it could end up 1/3 vs 0.
    Thor Russell

    1. Okay - on the asteroid - the problem is - that you can't have a slow moving incoming asteroid, just can't happen. If you try to slow it down through aerocapture - then as it brakes, then its orbit gets lower - but that makes its orbital velocity faster because that's how gravity works. So, as long as it is in orbit, then it's speed is over 7 km / second. When you slow it down enough to drop out of orbit, then it will hit the earth at that orbital velocity of over 7 km / second. There is no in between state, it's either fast enough to be in orbit, or it crashes into the Earth.

    So expect incoming at typically at least 7 km / second. Hard to see that being safe. That's if you do it deliberately using slow aerobraking over a period of time, probably many flybys of Earth before it hits. 

    For direct impact without gradual aerobraking, the minimum impact is 11 km/second.

    But - the ballutes and the HIAD gives an easy way to do it - and far safer. Split it up into small chunks of a ton each, say, and with that ton - just a pile of mined rubble in a container - or if pre-refined, a whole lot of say cm sized pellets -and if the HIAD fails, then it just burns up in the atmosphere anyway.

    2. The main problem there is that a commercial company, responsible to its backers and owners, would need to keep the prices high. Though they couldn't sell it all at once, they would have assets amounting to trillions and would be the richest people on Earth. They could sell their assets gradually against that capital they own. Even if you have several companies they'd form a cartel like with diamonds where prices are kept artificially high as most people know I think.

    Forcing them to import large quantities and sell at a low price to ensure that there isn't such a huge disparity of wealth between the space faring nations and the non space faring nations would be the same kind of interfering as the Moon treaty idea that they have to share their profits. The countries that blocked the Moon treaty would be unlikely to go for that also I think.

    It would also undermine entire industries on the Earth - and the countries that rely on those industries and the industries themselves I think would need compensation for that. And again hard to see those who blocked the Moon treaty from agreeing to reasonable levels of compensation.

    Maybe though it would work, if done carefully. Just pointing out some of the issues that you'd need to think about that's all.

    3. Okay a couple of things spring to mind there that you'd need to take account of. First space debris. Any war would mean lots of high velocity space debris making regions of space uninhabitable. A war in LEO would create so much space debris, it would be hard for anyone to leave Earth - including visitors from the space colonies who want to return home.

    Then - the thing is - any habitat - even something as large as a stanford torus - hard to see that being resistant to an impact by a spaceship traveling at kilometers per second. So - each habitat could be destroyed by a tiny spaceship, or even just get the space miners to make up a larger load than usual, without the normal safety - and lob some of their rocks in the wrong direction. One rogue space miner could take out all the habitats in the near vicinity with the sort of technology you'd have then.

    Of course - I'm assuming don't have totally sci fi (for us) future technology such as force fields, lasers able to totally disintegrate incoming rocks, space warp technology, ways to move habitats at multiple gs instantly without harming the residents etc.

    The wealth is shared between seller and buyer. The mutually agreed price will be higher than the cost of the producer and lower than the value to the consumer. Both benefit, or else they would not agree on a deal. This is the same for all goods regardless where or how they are produced. For example, the whole world benefits from the cheap oil in Saudi Arabia, even though king Abdullah owns it all. It would be completely worthless to him if he didn't sell it to the great benefit of the entire world.


    Okay I'm way out of my depth when it gets to discussions of economics.  I wonder if anyone else here can comment on the feasibility of your suggestion?

    All I can say is - that the drafters of the Moon treaty thought it was enough of an issue to want to include a clause about it in the treaty. Those were the developing countries mainly, but some developed countries, and the US under President Carter were going to sign and ratify it, but then when President Reagan came in those plans were shelved. So - there is some issue there to be addressed if one wants world wide agreement on the provisions.

    There's not much "depth" to it.
    It is bleeding obvious in the everyday life of all of us!


    Okay, sorry just don't see it myself. If someone controls all the platinum in the world, has sole supply of it, and keeps prices high so it is valuable, then seems to me they will become very wealthy and they wouldn't make everyone else wealthy. 

    And what's more everyone else would want to have platinum at a low price because they could make good use of it, but won't be able to because the companies in space would be acting to maximize their profits on it.

    Also, countries that relied on mining gold or platinum for wealth would no longer have that source of income. For platinum, that seems to mean, South Africa and Zimbabwe as the main countries that would be hit economically as a result.

    I don't know enough about economics to see how it would automatically work so this doesn't happen, or is not a problem, if you are correct in that. Perhaps others reading this are more knowledgeable in that area and can give more informed comments on your idea.

    Does that make sense now, why I can't see it as obvious and would like someone more expert to step in, if it is?

    It is actuallt very very simple and intuitive. The economy consists of nothing else than that which everyone of us do everyday.

    Value to you of using good X = 100.
    Cost to the one who produces goods X = 50.
    If the two of you agree upon a price between 50 and 100, say 75, then the producer earns 25 and the consumer earns 25. Both profit.

    There is no reason to believe that the producer gains more wealth than the consumer. You don't need any "knowledge" to understand this. It is plain simple logic. And it is obviously proven without exception throughout history. For example by the king of Saudi who was very poor until he started to sell oil at a price much lower than the value of it to the industrialized parts of the world who knew how to make it valuable. A monopolist of asteroids would earn nothing at all untill he shared his wealth half way with those who know how to make use of his resources. The solidary sharing rate is called "the price".


    Yes, that sounds simple - but if that's so - how do you explain disparities of wealth? Why are some countries very wealthy and others very poor? If sharing of wealth is automatic like this, then all countries should be equally wealthy or equally poor? Or if it doesn't work out that way then you do have disparities  - and that means that the wealth does not get shared out equally automatically.

    I have never studied economics and know it is a difficult subject with many different ideas and theories about how it works. So if someone says it is simple and explains why - well I'm sure someone else will have other ways of explaining things that also make it seem simple but in a different way - and I don't have the expertise to understand or compare such ideas. It's just a subject so far from anything I've studied or know about, I don't really have a bridge into it either, except maths of course, but that's of limited value.

    You have always studied economics. You ARE a part of the economy!

    Economics is that which is self evident to everyone of us. It is the simplest of all kinds of "sciences".

    Heterogenities in wealth distribution is a consequence of heterogenity in wealth creation. Monkies own almost nothing, because they produce almost nothing. The solidarity of pricing is the mutual agreement between those who create and those who value what they create. The bystanders of course get nothing out of that, nor should they. If improductivity was rewarded, then there would be no evolution, no economy, no technology and no life. Only death.


    Okay, this is the background, what little I know about economics is just that there are many many different schools of economics. What they all mean and what the various distinctions between them are about is really way beyond my speciality. 

    Here is the wikipedia article on Schools of Economics

    That's the reason I feel out of my depth and don't think I can comment. Is that clearer?

    But perhaps someone else here can, and yes I agree, that economics is important and relevant to the issue, surely must be.

    I don't see though how it would automatically mean that you get some form of benefit sharing happen automatically so that all nations on the Earth benefit from the income from the asteroids - and the poorer countries don't become even poorer because they can't either mine the materials or afford to buy them.

    If, e.g. Brazil, just to take an example but an important one because if Brazil is poor, it can't protect the Amazon rainforest which is important to us all - if Brazil can't afford to buy the platinum, and can't afford to send its own missions into space - won't it just become even poorer than it is now - while other richer countries benefit from the asteroid mining? And won't that be a problem - for everyone in Brazil - through no fault of their own, just because they happened to be born in a country that is too poor to buy into the space wealth - and then also for the rest of the world because the amazon rainforest gets cut down, and because now Brazil has many poor people who can't afford to buy things or participate in the world economy - and who may try things such as terrorist tactics to get world attention, or co-operating with drug mafia as their only source of income - or may die of starvation - or may need assistance from the rest of the world - none of which would have happened if we build in some form of benefit sharing from the get go? And - not just Brazil - wouldn't many other countries also be affected by ripple effect of all those issues and things going wrong inside of Brazil - because we are all so interconnected - and eventually be detrimental to world stability?

    But I've no idea how you would express all that in terms of economics in a way an economist would be able to work with.

    It's not a matter of "school of economics". It is a bleeding obvious fact in our everyday life! The process of buying and selling is a process of wealth sharing, both gain.

    Owning something is worthless without selling (or using) it. And by selling it the wealth is shared with the buyer.

    Introducing a political middle hand has always only caused ever more sever poverty. The seas are not property, they are instead handled as has been suggested that wealth creating in space should be handled. Politicians negotiate with each other how to loot the oceans. That which is private property is on the contrary taken well care of by its owner, because long sightedness is the most profitable thing to do. I don't know the specifics about Amazon, but I can bet that governmental regulations prohibits it from being private property and political middlemen allow their friends to loot it.

    (Fortunjately, CO2 emissions have helped greening the wild forests of the world as a compensation)


    Okay just say again, it's not obvious to me, and I see someone else has answered who obviously knows a whole lot more about economics that I do so perhaps you can have a conversation with them?

    On the Amazon rainforest - the Brazil Government has done a remarkable job of turning things around, at least according to news stories I've read about it. With international support also. Ups and downs, plenty to be concerned about but still doing well.

    I was talking about a possible future if Brazil gets destabilized through poverty because of uneven wealth from the Near Earth Asteroids, rather than the present - where there is much to be done but progress is being made.

    This article is in the Economist so may interest you, from just three days ago: Cutting down on cutting down

    The poster is creating an economic fantasyland where he can arbitrarily define things that he regards as "intuitive".

    The wealth is shared between seller and buyer. The mutually agreed price will be higher than the cost of the producer and lower than the value to the consumer. Both benefit, or else they would not agree on a deal.

    That's the first fantasy. Wealth cannot be shared between the seller and the buyer, because the seller is increasing the price beyond that which it took to produce. So that is profit. However, the seller is not acquiring any wealth. The best the seller can hope for is that his existing resources are not depleted. There is no gain, it is purely a one way transfer of wealth, while the buyer presumably gains "value" by the utility of the item purchased. This can be a legitimate perspective, until one considers all those purchases for which the buyer has no choice [i.e. food, power, etc.]. So while it is often glibly asserted that there are choices, choosing food versus choosing an iPad are radically different things.

    Value to you of using good X = 100.
    Cost to the one who produces goods X = 50.
    If the two of you agree upon a price between 50 and 100, say 75, then the producer earns 25 and the consumer earns 25. Both profit.

    Again, you can see the dodgy arithmetic here. Part of makes this a sleight of hand, is that the buyer's position is always phrased in terms of "value" not cost. Whereas the producer is phrased in terms of cost. These are two entirely different things. The buyer must operate from the premise of what he can afford and therefore his decisions are based on cost, not some nebulous perceived value. This point is to rationalize economic interactions by suggesting that all such transactions are completely "free" to where the buyer and seller have complete autonomy in electing to participate. This is clearly NOT true.

    The solidarity of pricing is the mutual agreement between those who create and those who value what they create.

    Once again, not the discrepancy in terminology. Furthermore, the discussion goes even farther awry, because it presumes that supply/demand are independent entities that allow for free negotiation. Yet, even a cursory examination will illustrate that the buyers are invariably dependent on the suppliers for their jobs. That's how modern economies work, so the buyer does NOT have the arbitrary choice of electing to participate, since it is the seller that ultimately determines whether there is even a buyer available. This is precisely what happens when businesses shift their jobs to cheaper locations, because while it allows them to operate globally, local economies can be decimated because this "balance" has been compromised.

    Robert. You understand economics well enough, but one must always be cautious at those that paint an idealistic picture of such interactions that simply doesn't exist. Their arguments are pure fantasy.

    For example, the whole world benefits from the cheap oil in Saudi Arabia, even though king Abdullah owns it all. It would be completely worthless to him if he didn't sell it to the great benefit of the entire world.

    I love how you change definitions and paint such a rosy picture. It's a complete fantasy, but that's fine.

    The whole world is dependent on oil. You make it sound as if Saudi Arabia is simply being altruistic and that the world is happily going along. Yet, somehow you fail to consider that the price of oil goes up precisely because the producers can arbitrarily elect to cut production. Why does this work? Because the producers know that the buyers have no alternatives. The only alternative, such as it is, is if any producer elects to under-cut their rivals.

    The notion that there is some "agreement" on a deal is simply laughable. Yet, its not surprising because you confuse the terms "value" and "cost". Obviously prices can be set to ruinous levels which would then create a backlash to the producer, so they can't set out explicitly to impoverish their buyers, but as long as someone is capable of paying the price, then the claim that it is a negotiated cost between buyer and seller is simply naive. All a producer needs is enough buyers to remain viable. As for the rest .... sucks to be them.

    You're a brilliant guy and I love to see discussion of these issues, but:
    The issue of ownership off-earth is not limited to or even mainly about land value. It's about sovereignty. As with the history of the earthly New World in North America, the interest of many who will come is in escaping the control of the current exclusive club of nation-state authorities. I agree it will be a while before dependence on an umbilical cord to earth will be cut, but things are moving pretty fast and the pioneers have a much higher risk tolerance than existing nation-states. The question I have is, how much effort will the existing club members (earthly nation-states) exert to keep control. I also think you underestimate the likelihood of physical conflict in space. Conflict may be irrational for the reasons you suggest but have a look around at non-state actors on earth today . . . Where in theory all territory is the responsibility of some UN member.

    Again, thanks for initiating this discussion . . .


    Martin, okay on "cutting the umbilical cord" - I think myself that the prospective "colonists" engage in a lot of hyperbole there, and it's not at all likely in the near future.

    The problem is that there is no oxygen, no breathable atmosphere, nowhere to grow crops, nowhere to build things unless they are engineered to withstand ten tons per square meter of outwards atmospheric pressure, with everything needed to be covered in some meters thickness of regolith or rock etc to protect from cosmic radiation (with possible exception of cloud colonies of Venus which only has the problem of oxygen in that list, if that was feasible)

    So - to be self sufficient in space - first you'd be self sufficient in a desert on the Earth - a far easier proposition with an Earth normal atmosphere so no need to build with the tons per square meter engineering requirement, no need for the cosmic radiation insulation and no need to make all your own oxygen.

    So - before they can be self sufficient in space, it should be easy and practical for someone to set up a colony, say in the middle of the high Arizona desert or the McMurdo dry valleys in Antarctica.

    But it would be a start to be able to set up a colony in the Gobi, Sahara or Arizona deserts.

    Then this colony has to consist of some habitats that produce everything they need, with no imports from the rest of the world. That includes all their food of course, but also, construction materials for new habitats, building repair materials, electronics, clothes, heating or cooling systems, everything they need. 

    If we had that level of technology it would be such a major game changer the world would be totally transformed.

    But that's not enough for the space colonies to be self sufficient. They also need to make their own environment control systems, their own spacesuits. The habitats need this ten tons per square meter engineering - and that incidentally also includes greenhouses.

    Some of the "space art" depictions of greenhouses on Mars are absurd, wouldn't last seconds. The only possible greenhouses are very strong structures, probably totally spherical in shape made of some very strong material, and buried into the ground. Half spheres also possible but more of an engineering challenge. But conventional back of your garden type greenhouse structures are impossible in space. 

    This sort of thing (from a Mars society article)

    Perhaps I'm missing something - but unless those panes of glass are made of some super material able to withstand about twenty or thirty tons of outward pressure - and the struts also equally strong - I don't see how this greenhouse wouldn't immediately just explode. And how on earth the far wall in this picture can just be a vertical glass structure and not be bowed outwards with the fifty or so tons of outwards pressure on it, I can't imagine at all.

    I don't intend to single out that particular article or artist at all. It's just become established artistic convention for depicting greenhouses on Mars as far as I can tell. You see that all the time in prospective colonization images especially for Mars, these flimsy structures for greenhouses, where I can't imagine how they'd last for seconds there. 

    Do correct me if I've misunderstood anything here, anyone reading this.

    Has to be much more like this, for the Moon, and Mars is no different in that respect, if it ever was decided to colonize Mars.

    where you need to imagine that those domes are immensely strong, far stronger than the materials used for Earth greenhouses, more like the sort of material you would use for windows for submersibles diving to ten meters below the sea level (but withstanding outward rather than inwards pressure).

    So you've got all that technology to make a self sufficient habitat in the middle of the Earth deserts + also able to make these super strong greenhouses + your spacesuits, environment control etc etc. And the need to engineer everything to that ten tons per square meter specification and to cover all human habitats with the meters of regolith. 

    That's why I don't see humans being self sufficient in space in the near future, or for it to make much sense to build habitats at all in space as a place to live - unless you have other very strong reasons for being there making worth the premium of all the extra costs involved - and by the time we are, then will have probably solved all present day world problems on the Earth to do with supply of food and technology - though doubtless with many new ones to solve.

    However the situation may be a bit different if you can build really large habitats. Maybe the domes in this picture are large enough for that. Also Stanford Torus, O'Neil cylinder etc.

    Then you have a big outlay building the habitat in the first place - but after that, then you can build conventional houses inside it.

    So long that is as your habitat is also long lasting and doesn't need much maintenance

    Maintenance is an issue long term. E.g. the older modules of the ISS are approaching the end of their design life due to the harsh conditions n space. If your houses can only last say 20 years and also need to be rebuilt to this ten tonnes per square meter, then that would be even more expensive building in space.

    But there - there is no layer of regolith protecting the ISS. I'm hopeful that a big Stanford Torus protected by a thick layer of cosmic radiation shielding might last a long time with not to much by way of expensive maintenance. But that would be a significant issue to think about also. Can't remember what they say about that in the Stanford Torus plans.


    Just discovered, they are looking into greenhouses with low pressures inside. They could be flimsier structures if they are not required to have a breathable atmosphere inside - and lower atmospheric pressure for plants.  See for instance plant responses to low pressure.

    Humans can survive up to about a third of atmospheric pressure. Plants do reasonably well down to a tenth - so that then would mean e.g. the far wall of the greenhouse in the picture has 5 tons instead of 50 tons of outward pressure.

    Which seems a bit more manageable - though perhaps stronger materials than you'd guess from the art work. However, if they use tenth of atmospheric pressure greenhouses, the humans inside the greenhouse wouldn't be able to breath the air  At that pressure, would be about a third of the atmosphere pressure at the summit of Mount Everest.

    See also wikipedia article Space Farming which has some links to follow up.


    Just discovered, they are looking into greenhouses with low pressures inside. They could be flimsier structures if they are not required to have a breathable atmosphere inside - and lower atmospheric pressure for plants.  See for instance plant responses to low pressure.

    Humans can survive up to about a third of atmospheric pressure. Plants do reasonably well down to a tenth - so that then would mean e.g. the far wall of the greenhouse in the picture has 5 tons instead of 50 tons of outward pressure.

    Which seems a bit more manageable - though perhaps stronger materials than you'd guess from the art work. However, if they use tenth of atmospheric pressure greenhouses, the humans inside the greenhouse wouldn't be able to breath the air  At that pressure, would be about a third of the atmosphere pressure at the summit of Mount Everest.

    See also wikipedia article Space Farming which has some links to follow up.


    BTW just a fun curiosity, this 1898 story is probably the first ever fictional account of asteroid mining, in this case, an asteroid with gold nuggets.

    Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss

    Atmospheric pressure at sea level on earth is about 15 pounds per square inch. (Surface of Mars is just 1% of that, so 0 psi for rounding . . .) Apparently people can operate reasonably at about 2/3 of that, so let's say 10 psi. That seems manageable, but granted you couldn't order your Mars greenhouse from Amazon . . . at least not yet. I suspect in fact that most Mars activity would be underground--more like Loonie society in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    I always assumed that the big toruses (tori?) I remember from Popular Science in the '50s would have a layer of dirt or concrete as "ground" for people to live on. Probably that would be good shielding. Of course that's a lot of mass, but of course it doesn't have to come from Earth or other deep gravity well...

    I am not qualified to debate tech specifics, but when I see the aggregate speed of tech advances these days I conclude that engineering (and science) will solve a lot of things that can't be done right now.

    Also, regarding the umbilical cord: I suspect that a certain amount to trade will be able to be conducted with some parties or other on Earth, even if all the big players disapprove. That applies particularly to high-tech high-value items of tiny to modest size.


    Okay yes ,10 psi is 7 tons per square meter. You can use this Psi to Tons per square meter converter.

    Not impossible to deal with indeed, but imagine getting a one meter square pane of glass and putting a seven ton weight in the middle of it, isn't going to work. So you need pretty strong materials. And - because of the distribution of forces, then it doesn't work to have sharp edges, especially things like triangles and squares so a greenhouse with a pointed roof, also obviously one with a flat end pane isn't going to work well. Instead things like spheres, or cylinders with rounded ends. Everything in space has to be built out of units like that, as I understand it.
    You can see from photos of the ISS

    Habitats are all rounded cylinder things. Same would be true of any space habitat in orbit, on the Moon, on Mars if that ever happened. Also very few windows. Because hard to make strong windows.

    Then the greenhouses - could be same construction and underground and all artificial light, sometimes shown like that.  Or else these spherical greenhouses, with some very strong material. Strong enough so that if you put ten tons (or seven tons if you went down to 10 psi) of weight onto a square meter of the material, that it wouldn't tear or break. So obviously not made of glass or normal plastic like polytunnel plastic but something far stronger.

    You also have to give thought to protection from micro-meteorites. And also, have to think about what you do when it needs to be repaired or replaced, because it will have a finite lifetime and at some point you have to rebuild or replace your habitats and have to replace the material that covers your greenhouses. That might be every 10 years, every 20 years, every 50 years but you have to take account of that obviously and be constructed in a way that permits it. They don't bother doing that with the ISS because with all the space stations so far, when modules reach the end of their design life they are simply discarded and burn up in the atmosphere.

    In the case of the ISS then the Russian modules are relatively new, newer than the others so they may be recycled when the rest of the ISS is discarded some time in the not so distant future.

    You are right about the covering - on the Moon, on Mars, they would use the regolith. In orbital colonies then you have to import it from somewhere, the two main possibilities close to Earth are the Moon - that was original plan for the Stanford Torus - and from NEOs. 

    It need not be as expensive as you might expect - because - e.g  in case of the Stanford Torus, mentioning that because they worked it out, costed it and everything (though with 1970s technology) - shielding for 10,000 people they could do it by landing one small bulldozer on the Moon, and it digs away for a year or two, send the material away into space with a mass driver, it's reasonably practical. The only up front cost is for the bulldozer and the mass driver, and then you just leave it operating away until it is all done - not much by way of operating costs as far as Earth is concerned.

    I mean still an expensive project of course, in the case of the Stanford Torus quite a bit more than the cost of Apollo, but still something the US could have paid for itself if it had had the will to do it - probably far less than you'd expect for the result since most of the mass comes from space.

     Possibly human supervision on the Moon but nowadays I think you could do it remotely without anyone on site.

    Robert-- So you DO think it's all do-able, after all!



    Martin - Oh yes, sorry to have given the wrong impression. Especially if you can build a big habitat like a Stanford Torus or a really large dome habitat on the Moon and then build inside of it - and if the big habitat is easy to maintain. So then once that habitat is in place with an Earth like environment inside - and then can maintain that for centuries at a time with reasonable running costs - then that's a whole new situation.

    It would be a big outlay and investment though. You'd need a way to pay it back. In the case of the Stanford Torus then they were going to pay it back over several decades by making solar satellites and beaming the power back to Earth. I'm not sure that model would work now because we could probably automate the manufacture more and not need humans in space for it.

    Small habitats also - surely how we start - so long as they have a reason for being there. So for habitats close to the Earth then space tourism, and mining, and perhaps something to do with solar power generation, if you need humans in space for that.

    Then also, research stations, I'm sure we'll have things like the Antarctic research stations on the Moon or in L1 / L2 positions and eventually further afield like Mars orbit.

    What I think won't work, myself, is to just go into space to colonize, for the sake of colonizing, as a place to set up home, without any clear immediate reason for being there, like the mining, tourism, or solar power satellites, or there as a research station with exploration and scientific discovery as your aim. 

    That's like trying to set up home in a desert on Earth + all those extra disadvantages of the many tonnes per square meter pressure, cosmic radiation shielding, need for artificial gravity probably, need to generate all your own oxygen, and so on. If people are looking for somewhere to live, the desert on the Earth is a much more attractive option, reversing desertification. 

    And if any disaster struck the Earth, the asteroid impacts / nuclear war etc people talk about, then even immediately afterwards, Earth would still be by far the most habitable place and best place to be to continue to survive after the disaster in the entire solar system.

    But if you could manage all the investment needed to build a Stanford Torus or O'Neil Cylinder - that could begin to be self sufficient almost in space. Whether they'd survive a disaster to the Earth I don't know - doubt it with present day technology - how do they make rockets for instance, or spacesuits - but eventually really huge Stanford Toruses, yes could be possible.

    Though again - they could also cause the problems that lead to the very disaster people worry about, if the result was a space war between the colonies and the Earth. We need to be peaceful at least in space for this to work. 

    As for asteroids, then myself I think mapping the NEOs and potential threats is the way ahead, highly unlikely first dangerous asteroid is a big civilization threatening one like the one that happen every few tens of millions of years - so we'll almost certainly get practise diverting smaller ones first. And you could survive the big ones anyway on the Earth (bound to have some warning, almost finished mapping inner solar system and anything coming from the Oort cloud we'd have many months of warning) by a simpler method of just maintaining underground shelters, like the nuclear shelters idea, to survive the firestorm that might happen during the hour or two of the impact itself, then return to the surface and rebuild as best you can.

    Is that a bit clearer?


    This is an example of the sort of thing that might work I think, if you were concerned enough to want to set up a self sustaining colony in space. Ark 1. Far better chance than a Mars colony anyway in my view :). Idea from the Lifeboat Foundation.

    There are some points in space that are/will be valuable locations. The area in space where Earth's and Moon's gravity cancle each other out for example would be an ideal spot for a mining station. Very little energy would be expended to maintain the position and NOT being in a gravity well (surface of any planet/moon) would make cost of transporting any manufactured products to any point in the solar system minimal. It's gravity that makes space travel expensive, so locations that minimize gravity's effects are space's version of 'Beach-Front' property...


    Yes there will be valuable spots Another example is geostationary orbit, which is already "filling up" with satellites.

    Other examples include the peaks of eternal light at the poles, and caves on the Moon.

    And might be particularly spectacular places for tourist resorts etc. 

    That would need to be thought through when working out what to do about it all.

    Of course there will be war (or at least full preparation for war), sovereignty, land ownership and other property rights in space. And Earthlings won’t have one jot of them. THESE are the things that promote progress and prosperity: that what’s mine is mine, and you might very well be killed, plus everyone who even looks like you, if you interfere with me or my stuff. Resort to this is essential; there is no other basis for either human cooperation or long term human activities.

    You write as if the problem is either one of injury in conflict or the plight of those denied what is scarce. First, I don’t care about war dead or the poor. Costs of doing business. Second, unmolested property for its preservation requires PREPARATION for war, but war only occurs when people let their opinions or their populations’ opinions enter into it, OR when what is at stake is truly scarce.

    As you say, in space the scarce items will be humans and their achievements, with the exception of certain ORBITAL TRAJECTORIES, such as those Low Earth Orbits easily reachable from the more developed parts of Earth, or the Lagrange points.

    But once something is done by people, other people may covet either its destruction or its impairment or its possession. War and property exist to deal with that and yes they will be in space. Develop a Space Elevator linking Earth to LEO, or a Moon Catapult, or a large cluster of L5 habitats, and you have something others will take, impair, or destroy for any number of a million reasons IF THEY CAN.

    Suppose we have space cities, one where the only children allowed to be born are GMO organisms raised in artificial wombs, and homosexuality is a capital offense. Another where abortion is a capital offense. And another like San Francisco. Odds are that they will end up in a conflict with nothing about location, land, or resources being involved.

    PERHAPS if humans not only achieve an era of essentially unlimited abundance and convenience, and also modify many of the essential characteristics of human beings, including loyalty to one’s close associates and relatives, the ability to believe in Truth with a capital “T”, jealousy and rivalry, and competition, MAYBE we could have a large number of people somewhere without conflicts including wars and without systems created almost entirely to deal with disputes, such as laws, rights, property, police, courts, governments, and military organizations But I doubt it.


    Okay - yes - the thing is, the point I was drawing attention to is - that if it does work like that, then nobody will survive long in space. Because any kind of a war, no need for any special weapons, just lobbing rocks at each other, would quickly destroy all the habitats and space structures, with no defence against  it possible.

    So if what you say is true, our only future in space - I mean not in near future - but say a century or so from now or however long it takes, possibly as soon as 50 years - would be occasionally expanding into space, until you get to the point at which there are several different factions who start a war - at that point then they mutually destroy themselves and we are back to Earth based again until the next attempt. 

    Basically it's like anything in space, just throwing a rock at a habitat at the kilometers per second velocities easily achieved, is much like firing a nuclear weapon on the Earth, or very heavy munitions. Because everything gets destroyed. And because the places themselves are not survivable by humans, there would be no survivors, no possibility of people "escaping to the hills or forests" in a war, everybody is gone.

    Except if they dig deep below the surface of the Moon or asteroids, and would have to be pretty deep to avoid multiple ton incoming at kilometers per second.

    I don't know what the answer is. But suggest that possibly we will find some other outlet not warfare in space, for resolving our issues. Or mature in some way so we find some other way even on the Earth also.

    Either that or it just doesn't happen. Those were my three options. 

    The OST would prevent this if everyone keeps to it's provisions and intent. But would need to be filled out more, and don't know how that can work, once you have whole nations worth of people, millions of people living in space.

    If you have another one do say. It's just putting forward a strong view for discussion, and interested to hear other people's ideas for possible futures in space, and how it would work!

    Common property? There is no such thing. Nothing ever happens without one person being in charge. Some are sovereign, at least de facto; most are the owner or chief of the owners of property. I suppose if a Government can levy a tax, and if there WERE a government of all mankind – which I think would be the most truly horrible idea that could be imagined, about 1,000 times worth than genocide – then I suppose such a government could tax space activities.

    But there is no such government.

    Theoretically someone could seize and maintain absolute unchallengeable control of all off-Earth resources accessible to mankind, and defend them by whatever violence might be required, including if necessary the destruction of the entire Earth. Such a person presumably would not be able to do such a thing alone. So they would end up being a government, providing defense, order, and property rights to their people (otherwise they would have no people, as long as there were other places people could be).

    Once you have the full paraphernalia of an Earth government in space, then sure what is of value could be taxed. Though it’s difficult to imagine why that authority would send a dime of it to Earth.

    Common anything of all mankind: absurd.


    Okay, yes.  I think common heritage is international law by agreement between the parties involved, not a world government thing.

    An example, the human genome, or unique works of art or monuments etc, they are also treated as common heritage of mankind.

    Also the sea bed, though the US hasn't ratified that.

    But I'm not a lawyer, take a look though at the wikipedia page on Common Heritage of Mankind.

    So treating space as a common heritage of mankind, like the seabed, or works of art, or the human genome can go along with people also owning habitats in space and functional property rights or however it is that it's done.

    And - it's in interests of everyone to have law in space and to hold to it and ensure everyone else does. Otherwise then the whole thing falls apart, and it's not safe for anyone to live in space. And we need to be co-operative in space to a far higher degree than we are on the Earth or we simply won't succeed, and will be pushed back to the Earth by ourselves, and our own warlike and competitive tendencies, until we sort something out.

    We already have that with the OST, which is international law, universally accepted by all the space faring nations, and just about everyone else, and nobody shows any sign of wanting to breach it. 

    In your example, if there was a war between space colonies and the Earth - the colonies wouldn't survive, not with present day technology. They'd be helpless with their fragile habitats, tiny precious cubic meters of life surrounded by the vacuum of space and acres of rock that nobody could live on for a minute without dying without their technology.

    And Stanford Torus and O'Neil cylinders and domed cities would be similarly helpless, far more so than the Earth.

    Agree with the vulnerability...perhaps addressed as poison gas was ....and mostly that yes the part of OST which authorizes space activities is a great and valuable thing, and I think the sorts of examples you give are all valid and in many cases more likely will occur than not.

    My points are that people won't change that fast and that ways of dealing with conflict through normative legislation do not work on Earth at all and will not work off Earth either.


    Okay - one thought is that the pace of change may be partly the issue. 

    If we had had only a couple of decades from the technology at the start of the C20 to the technology at the end of it, we'd not have had time to adapt to it. We would be still working out laws on mustard gas when the first nuclear weapons became available and not yet worked out to do that when we started to get issues with the DDT / silent spring - and the food crisis that was solved with the green revolution - and ozone layer - and the global warming issues we have now - the happened in some ways too fast, but slowly enough so we did find reasonable solutions - compared with the disastrous situation the world could have been in by now if we hadn't at least. Imagine if all that or more happened in a couple of decades instead of a century...

    Can we adapt fast enough for the likely future pace of change - in space, as well as other regions of rapid technological change on Earth?

    You got it, that is my question also!

    Great :).  
    We will never be free as long as the satanic stooges run this world. Once Jesus Christ returns, He will set us truly free when He casts the stooges into the Lake Of Fire,where they will burn forever and ever.

    The Libertarian position, maintained since 1969, is that Space is the common heritage of humanity(until where we border up with ET's) but planets,comets and asteroids should be divvied up in permanent aliquot family/clan trusts with a portion as essentially public parks. It was developed by the present head of the Libertarian International, Michael Gilson, US Attorney General William Rogers, and Space father G. Harry Stine as I recall.

    The Libertarians were very involved in the Space Treaty process and seem satisfied it works for that approach and a non-governmental or at least voluntary governance approach ( they see states and coercive governments as different things).

    As you can see from their site, they're pretty big on Space exploration and colonization. Go to


    This is really neat, cool animation of the orbits of Near Earth Asteroids according to commercial value, ease of access, cost effectiveness, etc. 

    You can click on any asteroid for a detailed account of its composition (as best estimated from the scientific data), upcoming approaches etc, and to follow it's orbit. Astrorank

    That's a great animation! Fabulous. Breath taking.

    And here is the KnightFrank report of wealth in NEOsFrom their To Infinity and Beyond for Property

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