We’re still trying to figure out all the technology and money to get some semi-permanent bases on the moon, but the FAA is already laying the groundwork to regulate those future lunar explorers.
Reuters is reporting on a letter sent from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to inflatable habitat maker Bigelow Airspace noting the agency will “leverage the FAA’s existing launch licensing authority to encourage private sector investments in space systems by ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis.” Bigelow hopes to set up a moon operation by 2025 using the company's expandable habitats.
In layman’s terms: The FAA plans to issue permission for future companies (such as Bigelow) to put down lunar bases, which should ensure other companies don’t land another habitat on top of them. The licensing would also apparently cover related areas, which might be used for surveying or mining operations.
But this is only the early discussions, and the FAA's associate administrator for the Office of Commercial Transportation George Nield clarified it does not mean the company now has a license to land on the moon:
“We didn’t give (Bigelow Aerospace) a license to land on the Moon. We’re talking about a payload review that would potentially be part of a future launch license request. But it served a purpose of documenting a serious proposal for a US company to engage in this activity that has high-level policy implications.”
This is obviously a big deal, and honestly, managing limited lunar real estate will be a major issue as we move into the next decade or two. A lot of companies are vying to be the private space exploration leader, and as the technology becomes more accessible, you’re only going to see more and more companies trying to stake out a spot.
There’s also another issue: Currently, the right to set up a potential moon base would fall under the oversight of the United Nations Outer Space treaty, which states “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” So we don’t know exactly how the FAA’s role will fit into those qualifications in the future.
Regardless, we should all get our space suits ready for the next great real estate boom.