SPACE: Property Claims and Sea Launching

GBurch1 (
Sun, 1 Mar 1998 10:30:38 EST

The subject of first or at least early space colonies has developed out of the
ocean enclave thread, with two basic issues being discussed: 1) how
will/should the first space colonies be built 2) claiming of property off
Earth and 3) where should they be situated. (I leave the last subject for
another post.)

In a message dated 98-02-28 09:35:34 EST, den Otter wrote:

> Why, yes, of course! Let's build a *spaceship*, fly to Mars and just claim
> whole damn planet. Off you go! Mmm, you'd probably still need some kind
> of island as a launch base of course...A new focus for the transhuman

Even tongue in cheek, there are a couple of basic questions here: "Claiming"
extraterrestrial territory or resources and what sort of launching platform,
physical and otherwise, would be needed here on Earth for such an enterprise.

As to "claiming" things off Earth, the only certain legal regime at this time
is the UN Outer Space Treaty, which clearly prohibits claims of sovereignty
over the territory in or zones of space. This primary function of the UNOST
is an artifact of Cold War rivalry but, in the mid- to long-term may well be
one of the most important legacies of that period, keeping terrestrial nation
states out of the business of legislating off Earth as much as we could hope
for had we set up the legal regime ourselves.

The treaty also provides for the possibility of private ownership of resources
"extracted from" extraterrestrial objects, but makes no provision for private
territorial property. If you're interested in these subjects, a good overview
of BASIC space law can be found in:

Lawrence D. Roberts, Scott Pace and Glenn H. Reynolds

The Archimedes Institute maintains a nice library of space law and space
development materials at:

Plans exist now for testing the regime of law that would govern claims that
amount to private property in the "territory" of an asteroid. The most
developed such plans appears to be SpaceDev, Inc.'s "NEAP" (Near Earth
Asteroid Prospector):

NEAP will make a claim of ownership to the rock it visits, thereby explicitly
attempting to set a precedent for such ownership claims elsewhere. In this
connection, the Archimedes Institute is attempting to establish a regime of
property claims. I recommend visiting their claim registry site, as they
propose an interesting hierarchy of claims based on physical human visitation
("Class A" claims), physical robotic visitation ("Class B" claims),
observation of a previously unknown body ("Class C" claims) and any other kind
of claim ("Class D" claims). Claims of higher class trump claims of lower
class and no claims for open space are provided for and are therefore
presumably prohibited under the regime they propose.

This seems like a well thought out, but very basic, framework for private
territorial property rights. Matters for further development would surely
include the issue of lapsing of unused claims or, as we call it here on earth
(err, I mean in the Anglo-American legal system), the law of "adverse
possession". As I think about it this morning, I can't see any reason why the
existing body of law relating to adverse possession wouldn't work on
extraterrestrial bodies, but of course that whole chain of thought leads
immediately to the need for a juridical system for resolution of conflicting
claims beyond the merest registry. Nevertheless, a registry for claims is a
vital first step.

The bottom line: If you want some dirt off Earth, you gotta find it and go

As to getting there, den Otter rightly points out that getting up out of this
gravity well is the first step and that there might be a role for the maritime
environment in that effort. Fortunately, the last few years has seen a
flowering of private development in this arena. I've collected at least some
links to such efforts in the launch systems section of my own space page, "The
Deep Black":

Boeing's Sea Launch program is premised on what has always been a natural
connection between the maritime environment and space systems:

Launch vehicles and their associated equipment are BIG machines and no better
medium exists for moving large masses of stuff on Earth than the ocean.
Likewise, boosters continue to have a nasty habit of careening off course and
blowing up, so doing things at sea or near it is also a good idea. Sea Launch
takes advantage of both factors and adds a third, offering the ability to
position their launch platform just about anywhere they can find sufficient
draft and decent weather. They will loft a Hughes satellite aboard a Russian-
built Zenit booster off of their Norwegian-built semi-submersible mobile
launch platform from the equatorial seas south of Hawaii some time this year.
The use of a mobile semi-sub employing buoyancy, stability and positioning
technology proven in the offshore drilling field is brilliant. And best of
all, although this is BIG business, it's by and large non-governmental and
will be available for hire. It's possible (but I think unlikely) that someone
else will try the same thing.

Meanwhile, more exotic land-based launch systems are moving ahead from design
to implementation. The Rotary Rocket project and a couple of innovative
spaceplanes will be making LEO much more accessible in the 2005-2015 time
period, at least for relatively small payloads.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover