back to article Register Lecture: Is space law 'hurting' commercial exploration?

Space – the final frontier, a place for pioneers to carve out their destiny and their fortunes, free from pencil-neck officials telling them what they can't do. Right? Wrong. Space is governed by a mix of existing laws found here on Earth, but with buccaneers like Elon Musk determined to colonise Mars and commercial operators …

  1. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    Surely it's the human/alien with the biggest ray gun who is right?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget the cybernetically-modified space-sharks.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Alien

      No, it's the one who shoots first who is right :-)

    3. jmch Silver badge

      "those who can exercise violence" is pretty good approximation of whose in charge. After all, every government on earth, of whatever type, have a legal monopoly on use of violence. In modern democracies this is in theory used only to uphold the law and in any case as a last resort.

      Whether Mars et. Is ruled by earth government proxies, corporations or is independent, whoever is in charge needs to have (or be backed up by) the biggest guns.

      Incidentally with months-long round trips, whoever is in charge will be pretty independent anyway

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No taxes, no space police, fiat law. Colonists of the new world did much as they pleased when they landed, why should space be any different? It's even easier without any natives (that we know of).

    I'm mostly convinced Elon's first order as High King of Mars will be to change it to Muskworld.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "No taxes, no space police, fiat law. Colonists of the new world did much as they pleased when they landed, why should space be any different? It's even easier without any natives (that we know of)."

      Any Martian colony will be completely dependent on resupply from Earth. That gives Earth-based authorities a pressure point.

      1. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Not if the [ richer ] colonists have bought the protection of the home authorities *, or at least that of relevant bureaucracies, or inserted their own libertarian people into such --- few normal people back on earth will be caring what is done millions of miles above.

        I could see future Space-Age Kochs just as notorious as them for the sloppiness and pollution of their processes, finding the monies to have the right people regulating the laws.

        .

        * I imagine America fondly imagines this will be them. Not by any means, even with Trump's SPACE FORCE !

  3. martinusher Silver badge

    Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

    The history of earth colonization includes a lot of early settlements that just didn't work. These settlements rapidly died out, literally in many cases.

    We tend to forget that just because Botany Bay is now an upscale part of Sydney and the East Coast of the US is settled and civilized that a couple of hundred years ago things were very different, these places were barely habitable. The only time there was a fortune to be made is if there were natives to exploit (or slaves to be imported and exploited). Without that colonies often failed. Mars doesn't have any life that we could trade with or exploit -- or at least if it did we'd probably be on the losing end - and as a viable place to live it makes the Mojave Desert look positively verdant in comparison (and there's no handy freeway to get you to civilization -- its three months minimum to get anywhere). The only reason for going there is natural curiosity and even that can be handled quite effectively by machines.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

      Mars has an abundance of what is the single most pressured resource on Earth: land.

      Colonies are all about having a new place for people to live. Emphasis on "place". Earth is starting to feel pretty crowded, and if young people today are going to carve out their own patch - it's far from clear where they can do it. Old people, who are living longer than ever, tend to be reluctant to give away their remaining land. That sort of reflection, over time, leads to pressure and conflict.

      Resolving that pressure was what colonialism was all about. The USA had "the Frontier" for the first part of its existence, but when that reached its limit - within a generation, they had civil war.

      This is why "intellectual property" is so trendy - it's a way to let people feel they own something, without having to take it away from a current owner.

      1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

        Non-Earth locations, in general, are lacking a usable atmosphere. The first space explorers are going to suffer from a lot of suffocation and starvation incidents until there are standards and resources for creating a safe living environment. I'd rather have the taxes for now and send up robots for exploration and testing.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

        "Mars has an abundance of what is the single most pressured resource on Earth: land."

        That is complete bollocks that can be transformed into absolute truth by simply addìng the word 'habitable'. There is plenty of land available on earth in Sahara desert, Antarctica, siberian and Canadian far north, himalayan plateaus. All of which are much more habitable and much more easily accessible than mars.

        Poor people can't get to Mars, and if earth's governments want to find a place to export troublesome locals to, there are plenty of places to send them to

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

          Try building a town in any of those places on earth, and see how far you get. It's not the environment that'll stop you.

      3. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

        Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

        Mars has an abundance of what is the single most pressured resource on Earth: land.

        Martian soil is toxic. There's also no protection from solar wind and only enough of an atmosphere to cause problems. The only thing it has to offer is the romanticism of being a planet.

    2. swm Silver badge

      Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

      Some of the asteroids have valuable metals. Getting a viable settlement at L4 or L5 would be a great stepping stone to exploration. I believe that enough "stuff" could be found in space or the moon to cut dependencies on earth.

      Earth has lots of matter but some energy problems. Space has lots of energy but not a lot of useful matter.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Don't forget the fate of early Earth colonists

        "Space has lots of energy"

        Space has very little usable energy unless you're quite close to a star, in which case it's a lot of work to limit and control it

  4. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Worrying about something a bit prematurely

    I have serious doubts about Elon getting to Mars. Financially more than anything else. There just isn't a commercial rationale behind a manned mission to the red planet. Mars is also a destination that will need a tremendous amount of prep before humans set foot there. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson covers a bunch of the issues, but glosses over a whole bunch more. The hardware isn't a problem, humans are.

    If it becomes viable to mine asteroids, there will be some country in the third world that passes law making it all nice and legal (or at least unrestricted) with no regards to NATO, US, Russia, China regulations. A country such as Ecuador could do nicely and attract a big aerospace industry presence by giving the bird to any other country that doesn't like it. This parallels medical research and therapy. If cloning becomes mainstream (organs/body parts, not complete people) and it's banned in the first world, those with the money that would benefit would move to wherever those procedures are available. Medical travel is already a thing to save money on certain surgeries.

    It will be a long time before there is competition for specific resources/space objects between two or more companies. There will be one company that gets there first and it could be found to be too expensive or risky. Do we want politicians to be spending what little time they actually put in at work debating policies that may not be applicable for decades? Looking at the ages of the candidates in the next US presidential election, only a couple may be alive when the next person steps on the moon. Zero may be around when a private company figures out a way to mine an asteroid for a profit. Never mind two.

    1. HamsterNet

      Re: Worrying about something a bit prematurely

      Commerical is sorted.

      SpaceX is building Starlink. This will be a gloabl internet provider, offerign 1GBit internet, at low latency, connects to anywhere on earth for a subscription. This will print money, as in Billions upon billions.

      Now with infinite money and private investors who all are buought in on owning Mars or can be bought out easily, commericals just don't matter anymore. This is why starship will carry 150T per alunch and can launch 3 times per day per ship. Thats a whiole ISS per day per ship! Its sure a hell not for any kind of earth orbit payloads. Its for colonising mars in a BIG way.

    2. Brangdon

      Re: Worrying about something a bit prematurely

      The commercial value of Mars is simply that enough of us want it enough to pay. Specifically a bunch of rich guys including Musk, his Dear Moon client MZ, Bezos, and many others without the wealth or engineering drive to make it happen but willing to pay substantial amounts to someone who has.

  5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    National Geographic

    The NatGeo DocuDrama "Mars" covered some of the potential legal issues of colonising Mars, in particular the conflict between science and commercial exploitation.

  6. simonb_london

    Wild West

    I, for one, think the Wild West was exciting and therefore represents an excellent model for lawlessness and disorder in space. Can't wait!

  7. HamsterNet

    Who owns Space

    Whoever has the greatest and cheapest Lifting capacity. END OFF.

    If you can lift more mass to a plantary body, if you control access and all supplies to and from a station / planet / astroid. Its your's end off.

  8. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Spexit

    I don't care what it is but the United Kingdom will be better off out of it. We must have our own space sovereignty and we need to take back control now.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Space exploration - criminal waste of money

    When there are phenomenal problems on earth to solve that need vast sums of money thrown at them, why TF are we wasting it on space?!?

    1. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

      Because those problems are perennial, while we can actually make some form of progress on space.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

        It's kind of moot if the domestic problems result in the destruction of the planet, if they're not resolved. And if they're not solved, the earth is screwed and we might as well just eat, drink and be merry.

        So-called "statesmen" across the world appear only to be interested in preserving the status quo, especially their own.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

        Thinking humans will migrate to other worlds is "completely crazy":

        https://phys.org/news/2019-10-humans-migrate-planets-nobel-winner.html

        So why are we wasting vast sums of money on it?

        Or is it just another case of burying our heads in the sand and only addressing the problems we think we can do something about?

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

          Go back and read the opening line of the article you linked to. It said "other solar systems". Our own solar system is colonisable, it's just down to the will, the technology and the funding. Leaving our solar system would require either technology that does not exist or have any current real hope of existing, or generation ships that would have to somehow travel vast distances weighing an enormous amount and be self sufficient - both for resources and societally for a thousand years. The other option is the cryogenic suspension of humans, but that would also require technology way beyond what we can currently imagine - and the ship would still need to be entirely self-sufficient with no maintenance required.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

            Fair enough but the point still stands. And no one has justified the cost benefits, despite the down votes.

            Regardless, if we haven't solved the root causes on earth, we'll just take the problems elsewhere.

            The author of that link also stated: "We might be able to send people to Mars in the next 50 years, but I would be very surprised if humanity made it to the orbit of Jupiter within the next few centuries."

            https://www.livescience.com/will-we-ever-live-exoplanet.html

            1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

              The cost benefits are ensuring that the human race is no longer reliant on a single point of failure. Everything else is frippery.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

                That sounds a lot like how the 0.1%ers must think as they buy up property in New Zealand...

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

                @Graham Dawson

                The human race will be extinct before that comes to pass.

                WW3 is already underway.

    2. Filippo

      Re: Space exploration - criminal waste of money

      Because money does not really work that way, not on this scale. Spending money on space exploration does not detract from fighting climate change (or cancer or whatever "phenomenal problem" you were thinking about). Problems on this scale are all about collective willpower; money is only a consequence of that.

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