Do we have the right to reserve rights to the moon?
Apparently so. At least that’s the message the U.S. government appears to be sending. In an exclusive report by Reuters, “U.S. companies can stake claims to lunar territory through an existing licensing process for space launches.”
The Federal Aviation Administration, in a “previously undisclosed late-December letter to Bigelow Aerospace, said the agency intends to ‘leverage the FAA’s existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investments in space systems by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis.’ ”
Reuters is reporting that this is the first clearance of the FAA to a private sector company, Nevada-based Bigelow, to “set up one of its proposed inflatable habitats on the moon, and expect to have exclusive rights to that territory — as well as related areas that might be tapped for mining, exploration and other activities.”
Technically, no one is auctioning off moon parcels just yet — the State Department has flagged a concern under the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, which partly governs activities on the moon. That treaty requires countries to authorize and oversee activities of non-government entities in space. It also prohibits national claims to celestial bodies, and states that space exploration should benefit all nations.
Reuters reports that the letter was coordinated with “U.S. departments of State, Defense, Commerce, as well as NASA and other agencies involved in space operations,” only expanding the FAA’s scope from launch licensing to planned activities on the moon, but it also points out that more “legal and diplomatic work” will need to be done.
“We didn’t give (Bigelow Aerospace) a license to land on the moon,” the FAA letter’s author, George Nield, associate administrator for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Transportation, told Reuters. “We’re talking about a payload review that would potentially be part of a future launch license request. But it served a purpose of documenting a serious proposal for a U.S. company to engage in this activity that has high-level policy implications.”
Bigelow is set to begin testing a space habitat on the International Space Station this year, the first step toward bringing paying customers to space, and has planned a series of moon bases to be operational around 2025.
Regardless, it’s a development likely to be watched closely by the growing number of firms with a presence in the Seattle area that have an interest in space exploration, including Boeing, Planetary Resources, Blue Origin and SpaceX.
On a side note, if you haven’t seen the excellent 2009 sci-fi flick starring Sam Rockwell as the loneliest moon employee ever — and it’s directed by David Bowie’s kid Duncan Jones — give it a go.