WASHINGTON D.C. — The House of Representatives is set to vote Thursday on legislation that would recognize space property rights for the first time under Federal law. H.R. 1508, the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act, would recognize ownership of resources extracted from asteroids, and ensure that all parties are able to operate in space free of harmful interference.

Today, Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom, and James Dunstan, Principal at Mobius Legal Group, sent a letter to ranking members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee urging them to amend the bill to ensure both that it is fully consistent with the Outer Space Treaty, and that it covers space resources extracted from the Moon, planets, comets and other bodies.

The letter opens:

The technologies needed to open the space frontier to sustainable settlement will never be developed, let alone deployed, unless investors know that they have enforceable rights to the fruits of their investments and the ability to operate peacefully without interference. Without effective property rights, the vast resources of the moons, planets and asteroids of our Solar System will benefit no one.

“Centuries of common law could be based on this space property rights bill, yet this bill hasn’t even had a hearing,” objected Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “Space property rights are too important to rush. Any legislation should protect all space resource utilization: not only on asteroids but also on moons, planets, comets, and other space resources. It should also at least lay the foundations for developing effective mechanisms for resolving disputes between U.S. companies and foreign parties.”

“The United States can, and should, lead the way in establishing effective outer space property rights,” said James Dunstan, Principal at Mobius Legal Group and a TechFreedom adjunct fellow. “But it must do so consistent with the requirements of the existing international treaty regime. Although that regime was forged at the height of the Cold War, it nonetheless provides the legal building blocks for a workable system of property rights that can enable utilization of the vast resources of outer space. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. established the principle that, once moved, space resources may be owned. Congress simply needs to codify this principle.”

“Similarly, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty already secures the right to explore and use space without harmful interference — a right the bill would finally make enforceable,” concluded Szoka. “But that right must be balanced against other rights created by the Treaty, including to ‘free access to all areas of celestial bodies.’ Failing to balance these rights adequately could create overly expansive ‘bright line’ zones that could amount to land grabs strictly prohibited by the Treaty.”

Szoka and Dunstan can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. Both are long-time space lawyers; Dunstan has practiced space law for over thirty years. See more of their work on space property rights, including:

  • “Space Property Rights, the Next Frontier in Bipartisan Legislation?,” a statement from TechFreedom
  • “Space Property Rights: It’s Time, and Here’s Where to Start,” an op-ed by Berin Szoka in Space News
  • “How the U.S. Can Lead the Way to Extraterrestrial Land Deals,” an op-ed by Berin Szoka and James Dunstan in Wired
  • “Space Law: Is Asteroid Mining Legal?,” an op-ed by Berin Szoka and James Dunstan in Wired

About TechFreedom:

TechFreedom is a non-profit, non-partisan technology policy think tank. We work to chart a path forward for policymakers towards a bright future where technology enhances freedom, and freedom enhances technology.