Who Owns Space?

An Introduction to Celestial Property Rights


  • Nathan William O'Brien Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering




Property Law, Space, Resource Acquisition, Outer Space Treaty


Space mining is no longer a figment of fringe science fiction. Due to the recent passage of the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 (SREU Act), U.S. domestic space companies now have a semblance of legislative backing to launch commercial resource acquisition ventures in space. Previously, such companies floundered as capital from investors was reasonably sparse. Uncertainty created by the previously untested Outer Space Treaty (OST) perpetuated worry surrounding the existence of private property rights in space. With the passage of the recent SREU Act, many domestic worries were dismissed by the definitive granting of commercial property rights to U.S. citizens, yet equally many worries continue to surround the legitimacy of the SREU Act itself, as certain legal experts both inside and outside the U.S. argue the Act to be a violation of U.S. international obligations.

In contrast to the OST, the SREU Act explicitly grants Americans the right to hold and obtain material resources from celestial bodies such as asteroids and minor planets. This paper examines the implications of such a legal gray area by examining the extent to which select clauses of the OST may or may not conflict with such definitive legislation. Ultimately, it is concluded that the issue is far from settled, as the existence of celestial property rights may not presently be as clear as investors might hope.






Social & Behavioral Sciences, Business, Education