The Consequential Frontier

The "privatization" of space has already expanded the possibilities of the cosmos for all mankind far beyond what six decades of federal bureaucracy could.


Journalist Peter Ward's book The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space provides more evidence of what's right about the privatization of space than evidence of what's wrong with it. The latter point is mostly addressed via tossed-off addendums full of leftist catch-phrase complaints about monopoly, inequality, lack of democracy, and greed stuck at the end of chapters full of good reporting about the state of the industry.

The book details how private efforts in space have dramatically lowered satellite launch costs from wasteful cost-plus government programs that would do more to maintain jobs in multiple congressional districts than get things into orbit. It tells how the private sector developed reusable rocket boosters and how private actors are making actual space living a possibility in a way NASA never did.

The old corporate guard of Lockheed Martin and Boeing are being challenged by eager, innovative startups such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origins. Given the well-documented personal obsessions motivating Musk and Bezos, it would seem to miss the point to insist, as Ward does, that a pure capitalist drive for profit is steering the new space age.

The book does remind the reader that private space tourism has been a receding target for over a decade now, which is disappointing, and that not every private space company has pulled off its most ambitious plans. But private venture capital has bet big on space companies to the tune of $4.2 billion or so, and the "privatization" of space has already expanded the possibilities of the cosmos for all mankind far beyond what six decades of federal space bureaucracy could.

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  1. Question for the lawyers out there. What law applies in space? Is it admiralty law?

    1. In space no one can here you call a lawyer.

    2. IANAL, but there’s a Holiday Inn Express just down the street…

      Mostly, it’s a critter of a few UN proclamations, and some private consortium contracts. The International Telecommunications Union is one of the big players, since their members administrate space in one of the few parts of space to currently have commercial value, geosynchronous orbit. They assign orbit spots, adjudicate problems like if one satellite interferes with the operation of another, etc…

      Stuff like moving asteroids, or truly gigantic construction projects in space, would require gigantic amounts of energy. Entities that can manipulate such amounts of energy may not be technically considered as sovereign, but they’re going to de facto be treated as such. As far as contract or tort issues, I would imagine the contract’s choice of law provision, or the tort victim’s desired forum choice of law, would govern.

  2. The bulk of “space law” is the many international treaties governing it.

  3. Bigelow Hotels tickles my fancy more than boosters.

  4. Space cannot be colonized until we unionize Space Truckin’.

  5. Don’t forget NZ company Rocket Lab. They 3D print the rocket motors!!

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