The Finance and Legalities of Business in Space

by: The Knowledge Group

December 04, 2017


There is much more to find in outer space than the possibility of life. While this is the focus of many movies, television shows, and books on the subject, the real focus for many companies are the financial benefits. Along with that come questions of legalities in space.

Governing in Space

For the past 50 years, there has been an international treaty and agreement regarding anything that happens in space. This is known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. More than 100 countries have agreed to this treaty and it is often referred to as the Outer Space Treaty, for short. While more than 100 countries have signed the treaty, the principles of it are widely accepted by those who did not sign it as well. The treaty boils down to two main ideas: The Golden Rule and avoiding doing anything stupid.

How the Focus Has Shifted

When the treaty was first created, the idea was to protect from nuclear weapons but the focus has shifted today to the financial possibilities that space has. Many companies are looking at space for the resources it holds and for financial profits. The basic ideas of the treaty leave a lot of room for interpretation and every country has the ability to interpret it as they wish. This means that while everyone understands that the idea is to not get into any else’s way in space, because there is a potential for monetary gain, the interpretations may change. One particular article in the treaty talks about how private businesses, or ones that are not affiliated with the government, can enter space for their projects as long as they have permission from their governing countries. There have been motions to update the treaty to better protect the interests of all involved. However, there has been much pushback along with acceptance for a variety of reasons. There is confusion about how to determine the rights of these celestial bodies because they have been determined to be res communis by the treaty. This can be deciphered as resources that can be used by all but not claimed, or claimed by some as long as the rules are followed. This leads to an issue when it comes to mining asteroids for their resources, a current hot topic.

As it stands now, the issue will be revisited in 2018 in the United Nations meeting. There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to outer space but for now, the Outer Space Treaty is used to govern it.