The Impact of Privatization and Commercialization of Space on the International Community

By Rebecca Bradley

“Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar examined, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked and even blasted. Still to come: Mars being stepped on.” –Buzz Aldrin


Since astronauts first stepped foot on the moon, space has been something exciting and adventurous for mankind. Many resources have been expended and lives have been lost in space exploration. The first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched on October 4, 1957 by the Soviets.[1] A brief time later, on April 12, 1961, Russian Lt. Yuri Gagarin was the first human to orbit the Earth.[2] For the United States, the first satellite, Explorer 1, was launched on January 31, 1958.[3] A day that will always be remembered in United States history was when Astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969.[4] Since that day space exploration has continued. From satellites, to manned missions, to the International Space Station, the exploration of space has been constantly growing and expanding.[5] Today, the United States government and NASA have new goals in mind: sending humans to Mars.[6] This new goal has especially gained interest among private companies who want to work with NASA to see this goal become reality.[7] While accomplishing this feat may seem like sci-fi dreams coming true, there are various implications that these developments have on the international community and international law.

Privatization and Commercialization of Space

In regards to space, the United States has a big goal: getting to Mars. President Obama announced that there are “plans to get humans to Mars in the 2030s.”[8] The US government and NASA will work closely with private space firms to accomplish their goals.[9] This will begin with these private companies sending astronauts to the International Space Station.[10] They have also been working closely with NASA to build habitation systems that can “sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.”[11] This project called NextSTEP, includes 7 companies who have already begun developing prototypes.[12] Recently, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate space travel.[13] Their focus is on safety and minimizing the risks with structures interfering with flight paths.[14] While these preliminary steps towards privatization of space travel are in the works, these companies have even bigger visions in mind.[15] They envision a commercial space-travel market with dozens of destinations in space.[16] These plans include hypersonic aircraft shuttling.[17] Other companies are looking to create space crafts that can haul at least 100 travelers at a time to Mars and include cruise like amenities including movie theaters, lecture halls and restaurants.[18] With these innovations, there is a particular focus on reusability.[19] When spaceships or parts of spaceships can be reused, it cuts costs tremendously.[20]

These private companies have been making huge strides in their collaborations with NASA. In 2008, Elon Musk’s company put a satellite into orbit with their Falcon 1 rocket.[21] The company Blue Origin, which is operated by founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos has created the New Shepherd.[22] This rocket has successfully landed after launch and has reused one of its boosters four times.[23] Also, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has restocked the International Space Station.[24] NASA’s overall program, the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), has “spurred much of the development of private spaceflight efforts.”[25] This program works with the firms and gives them guidance on parts that NASA needs to build and provides oversight on design, production, and testing.[26]

Other countries are also interested in privatizing and commercializing space, especially China. China announced that it will try and put a lander on Mars in 2020.[27] A company, called Expace, are among those interested in space endeavors.[28] The firm is one of the lead tenants of China’s commercial space industrial park.[29] This theme park is focused on space and provides tourists with a flight in a high altitude balloon.[30]

There are various benefits to working with private companies for space exploration and benefits of being able to have human life on Mars. These “companies are able to implement decisions and fund projects much faster than most governments can.”[31] In addition, they can provide more resources than the government could alone.[32] Also, if human beings can live on Mars, it will help combat overpopulation and help us survive as a species.[33] However, there is a downfall in that “governments are most likely not held accountable to the same degree as private companies are.”[34] This could be an issue if things were to go wrong.[35]

Effect on International Law

While these new designs and innovations may seem exciting, it is important to keep in mind the impact that these developments could have on the law. It was the United Nations who originally took the reins on regulating space and different countries.[36] The United Nations with the international community formed various agreements and treaties.[37] Among these are the main 5; Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Rescue Agreement of 1968, the Liability Convention of 1972, the Registration Convention of 1975, and the Moon Agreement of 1979.[38] Since, “not a single multilateral international agreement on the basic framework or on specific uses of outer space resources has been agreed upon.”[39] Most legislation in the interim has been about space debris and satellites.[40] In view of the developments discussed above, space legislation has become very important today. If space is to become “commercialized” or “privatized” new legislation will have to be negotiated and enacted among States.[41]


With privatization and commercialization of space slowly becoming a reality for the United States and now other countries, discussions will need to be had on the implications these developments have on the international community and international law. Private companies in the United States have already begun developing and testing rockets and space crafts.[42] In addition, building habitats for space is also part of the goal.[43] If we are to allow individuals to travel to space, we need to consider at least national legislation regarding citizens going into space and the implications and risks it could have. Also, if individuals are going to live in space or on another planet such as Mars, negotiations with other countries will need to occur to formulate legislation regarding where specifically people can live, what parts of the planet will be governed by which countries, etc. These discussions should take place sooner rather than later considering these private companies want to make these plans a reality as soon as possible. While the US government seem to think that sending individuals to Mars will take longer, potentially 2030 at the earliest, it’s still important to get the ball rolling on these discussions considering they could take considerable time. Overall, while there is still much work to be done, these developments and innovations are new and exciting and are making what we thought were only dreams become realities.

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[1] A Brief History of Space Exploration, Aerospace (2016), http://

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Nathan Ingrahma, President Obama Outlines Vision for Sending Humans to Mars, Engadget (Oct. 11, 2016),

[7] Bill Roberson, As Billionaires Ogle Mars the Space Race is Back On, Digital Trends (Oct. 10, 2016, 3:00AM),

[8] Ingrahma, supra note 6.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Fernando Ramirez, Congress is Getting Ready to Regulate Space Travel, Chron (Sept. 22, 2016, 6:46PM),

[14] Id.

[15] Julie Johnsson, Watch Out, Elon Musk: Boeing Looking to Space Travel, Mars, The Columbian (Oct. 10, 2016, 5:57AM),

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Mike Wall, SpaceX’s Elon Musk Unveils Interplanetary Spaceship to Colonize Mars, (Sept. 27, 2016, 7:00PM),

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Roberson, supra note 7.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Louis Brennan, New World Order in Space-Why China Stands Out, CNN (May 29, 2015, 8:22AM),

[28] Jeffrey Lin & P.W. Singer, China’s Private Space Industry Prepares to Compete with SpaceX and Blue Origin, Popular Science (Oct. 7, 2016),

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Nayef Al-Rodhan, The Privatization of Space: When Things Go Wrong, GCSP (Aug. 14, 2015),

[32] Amy-Rose Lane, The Privatization of Space Offers a New Hope for Humanity, Huffington Post Canada (Dec. 17, 2015, 3:59PM),

[33] Id.

[34] Al-Rodhan, supra note 31.

[35] Id.

[36] Stephan Hobe, The Impact of New Developments on International Space Law (New Actors, Commercialisation, Privatisation, Increase in the Number of “Space-fairing Nations”), 15 Unif. L. Rev. 869, 874 (2010).

[37] Id. at 875.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id. at 876.

[41] Id. at 879.

[42] Roberson, supra note 7.

[43] ngrahma, supra note 6.