Monday, November 16, 2009

So, How would a Space Land Rush work?

It's been pointed out that this blog's initial entry, A Bit of the 22nd Century, overstated the case on bringing bounty back from space. This is true, though the overstatement is slight. The claim was that an individual couldn't return from space with materials found there; the 1960's Treaty on Outer Space doesn't speak about individual rights, only those of signatory nations. An individual could mine the Moon without the ore being confiscated. Though, as only nations have even the remotest chance of reaching the Moon or other near-Earth destinations, it's pretty much a distinction without a difference.

All agree that without the impetus of private and national ownership, exploring space will remain stuck in low gear with precious little beyond national pride to justify manned exploration. Others have explored this idea; one, Alan Wasser, has outlined his ideas in a lot of detail. However, Alan's ideas suffer from the affliction shared with the rest of the space community: that space exploration is so natural and obvious a goal that we should immediately devote our efforts to it. I agree with this notion, but I also understand that the majority of people do not prioritize space exploration in the same way. While the majority of American feel space is important, it's a minority that place space in their top ten priorities for the US Government to pursue. Hence this notion of a Federation controlled land rush tied together with non-proliferation and technology transfer: to raise space exploration as an immediate priority for the peoples of the world.

As far as the Land Rush goes, it's important to set the prizes high enough that nations and corporations are enticed. Let's start with precedent: it's important to take into account the six US manned landings on the Moon and the three Soviet sample returns. I propose that those precedents are awarded with Lunar land grants. Russia, for its unmanned sample returns receive a plot ten kilometers in diameter, and the US for its manned landings receives a plot one hundred kilometers in diameter, each roughly centered on each landing site. The Federation won't allow gerrymandering in space, so the land grants must be as circular as possible while still respecting natural surface features. Any future manned or unmanned sample returns will be granted a similarly sized plot, with each nation, corporation or individual able to receive a maximum of ten plots. All future sample returns must be one kilogram or larger in order to qualify for a land grant.

Now for the big prizes: the Federation is in the business of promoting the settlement of space. For the first nation, corporation or individual who establishes and maintains a manned presence on the Moon for ten continuous years, they are awarded a land grant one thousand kilometers in diameter. Any subsequent ten year settlement will receive a land grant six hundred kilometers in diameter -- approximately one tenth the area of the first. Anyone who can establish a settlement continuously manned for five years will receive a land grant four hundred kilometers in size. The Federation will make land grants in this fashion until 80% of the territory set aside for settlement has been doled out. Again, up to ten such land grants may be accumulated by any nation, corporation or individual.

As Phobos is smaller, the prizes are similarly diminished:
- First 10 year settlment: 20 km diameter
- Subsequent 10 year settlments: 15 km diameter
- 5 year settlements: 10 km diameter
- Manned sample return: 5 km diameter
- Unmanned sample return: 1 km diameter

To ensure that those manning any settlements, it is also proposed that any settler who stays more than half the term of the settlement will receive a land grant out of the overall grant. So, if a settler lasts the entire five years of a five year settlement, a portion equal to the size of the unmanned sample return will be granted to them. If they don't serve the entire term of a settlement, their share is prorated based on the length of their service.

Further notes: I'm trying to come up with a third incentive to bind Federation nations together beyond non-proliferation and technology transfer. The natural direction to take is some sort of Federation Bank and financial system. My thought are rough but I'm envisioning the Federation issuing credits based on the basket of currencies of its member nations, and requiring all land sales to be conducted in these credits. One aspect of terran finance that I would like to change is its focus on short term returns; any suggestions one might have for a financial system geared towards the long term would be welcome.


  1. Making the areas roughly circular will leave a lot of small chunks of oddly shaped land between the circles. It will work much better to make the areas as rectangular as the geography makes practical.
    Overall a good start on a great idea. Of course, the Federation would need some way to enforce those property rights.

  2. Point taken. What I'm trying to say is that the point here is to avoid gerrymandering and to respect natural boundaries whenever possible. I'm just trying to say it in as few words as I can. I would stay away from strictly shaped parcels (eg rectangles), as they tend to ignore the terrain, and the experience in the American West has been generally negative about some of the consequences of arbitrary straight lines across the land.