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Lunar ownership laws: a future necessity?
by Boris Pavlischev
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Feb 20, 2014

The international treaty on outer space will likely have to be amended to include the activity of private entrepreneurs.

Private settlements and raw materials extraction enterprises could appear on the Moon in the future, thus leading to territorial disputes between their owners. In order to avoid that one must now register the property rights to the land plots on the Moon and other space objects and set up special preservation zones, US entrepreneur Robert Bigelow believes.

The Bigelow Aerospace Company, run by American businessman, designs inflatable housing modules. In the future they will be used to build flying hotels for tourists in the Earth's orbit. According to Bigelow's plan, a lunar base could also be built with the inflatable modules.

The businessman is now asking himself the question: is the owner of such a dwelling entitled to a special zone where others are not allowed to enter? The same question will be valid for the owner of a lunar enterprise extracting helium. In that case the lunar industry would not be able to function without exclusive rights to a specific territory.

To get an explanation the entrepreneur has turned to the department of commercial space transportation, a part of the Federal Aviation Administration.

He assumes that the institution could determine in each specific case the size of the protected territory by issuing licenses to companies engaged in space related business. Bigelow is convinced that the issue of the title to property outside the Earth's orbit does not violate the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

That intergovernmental document does carry a legal collision, explains Igor Lisov, deputy editor-in-chief of the News of Cosmonautics magazine.

"On the one hand, there is the rule of international law, according to which space objects and their surfaces cannot be claimed by any nation. On the other hand, these documents say nothing about private use of such objects".

In the past Dennis Hope, an American, used that loophole in the treaty and sent a request to the UN asking if he had the right to have property on the Moon. The officials did not bother to answer him. Having waited for half a year, Hope decided that nothing stood in his way to claim the Moon as his property, as well as other planets and stars.

In 1980 he started selling plots on the Moon. Another American Gregory Nemitz also made claims to asteroid Eros and informed various institutions of that. When in 2001 NASA landed a spacecraft on the Eros, Nemitz sent an invoice to the space agency for a rent payment in the amount of $20. NASA called his claims illegal pointing at the fact that it was based on a false interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty.

Nevertheless, what Bigelow now wants to hear from the American agency will become important as private astronautics develops and housing and enterprises are built on the surface of other space objects.

Most likely the international treaty on outer space will have to be amended to include the activity of private entrepreneurs. Below is the opinion of Alexander Zheleznyakov, a member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics.

"Private spacecraft are already flying in the unmanned mode, but soon they will be piloted. That means that people will spend more time in space. Naturally, some legal relations will occur between them as between representatives of different companies. They have to be regulated somehow".

It is better to think through these issues ahead of time and not at the last moment when everybody rushes to space and will start pushing each other, says the expert. In that sense Bigelow's addressing the Federal Agency would at least give a reason to start discussing the subject.


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