Via AB, the FAA is dipping toes into regulating extraterrestrial flight. It'll be awfully interesting to see how property rights in space develop. Will the OST (Formally, the "Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies") of 1967 hold up? It's an active treaty, with 89 signatories ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia. Notably missing? The Neue Slowenische Kunst, or NSK, a quasi-political art project of Slovenian musical act Laibach. Here is the national anthem:
At least in the movies, the metaphor most commonly employed for space travel is maritime. Between the archipelagos of the stars is a vast ocean of nothing. And like on the terrestrial oceans, ships in space fly flags to signal their nationality. And like on the Seven Seas, it is the law of the prairie schooner, the law of the convoy, the law of the privateer—rather than the word of the king or the diktat of the parliament that is sovereign.
With the exception of warships, seagoing vessels absolutely do not have to fly the colors of their original berth. I can build a tanker at Mare Island and register it in Uzbekistan if the mood so struck me (subject to UNCLOS, of course).
You might think of the OST as a way of softly mimicking maritime or frontier law in space. Which means that the meetings at the FAA have got to be simply fascinating right now. The US lacks hegemony in space. Elon Musk could flip the FAA the double bird, register Space X with the NSK, and blaze a glorious trail into the heavens, laughing the whole while. Imagine if a weird, tongue-in-cheek art project from the early 80s would emerge as the dominant source of political authority in early extraterrestrial settlements. Just imagine.
Any would-be space sovereign is, at this point, obliged to be as gently Lockean as can be imagined. Without any rents to offer, a constitutional contract must be mutually felicitous to be adopted. Shirking is all too easy. In such a setting, all possible would-be sovereigns are on an equal footing.
Ex post? Well, I suppose we'll see if anyone regrets their arrangements.