Unilateral Space

Infect Teh Interwebs

The US has passed a bill through congress that allows US companies to claim and thus own interplanetary resources and pretty much do with these as they see fit. That means conceivably – making a profit as big as the sky. A casual reading of the High Frontier, and a few SF books 1, 2, 3, throw in the TV series Expanse and pretty much everyone with a brain will come to understand the amount of potential for humanity to commoditize space is several orders of magnitude bigger than what is available on Earth. If we make an effort, conceivably and plausibly there could be more people living in space – under conditions on par with the best lifestyles Earth currently has to offer – than currently live on Earth.

It is all about exponentials. Even though the exponentials of the 20th century were fairly impressive, nothing has been said on how much faster humanity can develop, and even though outer space poses some serious dangers and engineering hurdles, industrial growth in outer space would be significantly more and faster than anything we have seen so far, fettered in this gravity well. I have scrolled through the entire bill and it confirms some concerns I had beforehand. If you aren’t the United States or (even worse) you aren’t high on the friends ranking of the US and strategic partners (my country is fairly high up the ladder) you should be quite worried.

TITLE I—SPURRING PRIVATE AEROSPACE COMPETITIVENESS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

The bill starts with establishing that the US shall maintain some sort of orbital traffic control. It is added the department of defense plays a vital role in this regard. IT says as a final sentence the US does not claim ownership of celestial bodies, but pretty much puts the door wide open for anyone else to do so, and clearly in this missive US corporations are highly favored.

This strikes me as a unilateral act. I can full well understand the US should not be interested in a dialogue with world leaders or UN on this topic – I would fear that the majority of world leaders wouldn’t have a clue what kind of things should be in the treaty.

The biggest problem that I see is that of piracy. If commercial entities can launch structures in to space, everyone with money before long will have structures in space. It will take a while to consolidate presence in space, but with new advances in AI and robotics that may turn out to be only a 1-2 decade grace period before the gold rush starts in earnest. The biggest source of surface revenues will be a SBPS (Space based solar power) infrastructure of one sort or another (there are many angles to work from) but that kind of development is relatively near Earth orbit, and hence fully under the scrutiny of the US.

The problem is that 2-3 decades from now, some corporation invests billions in constructing stuff on a NEA (Near Earth Asteroid) and has it summarily stolen by an entity or country that in equally unilateral fashion decides that everything in space (including other people’s stuff) is the property of the greater family of humanity, or whatever legalese would be used.

That would be extremely bad. The first example of such meddling would set off the first corporate arms race in interplanetary space. Once the profits range in the trillions (all of it money reserved for bankers, shareholders and executives only) it pays to research space defense equipment or “security” for a few billions worth. That’s the road to a wild west situation, possibly as near as the Lagrange orbits.

So hearkening back to the now legendary words of Bush Senior, “…A thousand points of light…” it may very well be the bright flashes of nuclear explosions going off in the interplanetary medium, oh say somewhere the middle of this century. We can surely do better.