Big News for Space!

It’s quite a day today!  After a number of failed launchings, I’m delighted to see that the SpaceX Dragon capsule has achieved successful liftoff and as we speak (type) is en route to make a supply delivery to the International Space Station.  This is what I can only hope will be the beginning of a transformative process of privatizing space and allowing meaningful development.  On the other hand, in some way it’s also less than meets the eye.  After all, SpaceX is really a contractor providing a basic service to a state project – it’s a difference in degree rather than kind from Boeing building the Saturn V.  However, I’d argue the difference in degree between building-to-order government designs and between building your own spacecraft and planning your own missions on a cost-sensitive basis.  Of course, the Planetary Resources plan to mine asteroids is unquestionably a step beyond today’s launch in both degree and kind.  Not necessarily in an oppositional way – I would be pretty unsurprised to see the first Planetary Resources craft being lifted into orbit on a SpaceX rocket.
This does, however, raise a number of key questions about space privatization that do need to be answered in order to establish the legal grounds to do it right:
·         How are property rights established?
·         What is the prevailing legal regime for contract law? Labor law? Environmental law? Patent law? Traffic and navigational law?
·         What are the tax implications of space operations?
·         When commerce begins taking place in space, what are the tax implications of off-planet commerce?  Must all financial transactions be settled planetside?
·         Are asteroids WMD? Should they be?
·         Where is the upper boundary of territorial airspace? (This is, shockingly, not defined!)
·         What is the relevant law enforcement body for criminal law?
·         If and when we discover aliens, what is their legal status and under what legal regime?
·         What is the legal jurisdiction of craft under hyperdrive?  (Warp drive is easy…wormhole travel rather more difficult)
·         If your craft time-travels to a period before the prevailing trans-Terran legal regime, what are the jurisdictional and contractual implications?
·         Can casuality be determined in the case of murder-by-tachyon?

Unemployed lawyers, rejoice!  This should generate work like you cannot even imagine.


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