Outer Space Real Estate

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Outer space is cool… well, cold… oh, and without oxygen. Sounds like a great place to live, right? Location, location, location!

We’ve seen movies and read books about outer space, and we’ve watched astronauts succeed and fail at missions. But is there a real possibility of having a real estate market for outer space “properties”?

Image Credit: NASA

I first heard of the actual possibility of non-astronaut people going into space (i.e. commercial space travel) when Sir Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic on September 27, 2004, and announced its pursuit toward carrying thousands of people safely into space. For more information, visit the Virgin Galactic Timeline or learn more about their Spaceport America location in southern New Mexico. If you’re ready for blast off (and have $200,000), visit Virgin Galactic Mission Control to book a trip directly or find a “local accredited space agent” (not kidding).

The National Association of REALTORS®’s (NAR) Young Professionals Network’s (YPN) blog post “The New Real Estate Niche… Space!” (June 10, 2010) brought my attention to the next level of commercial space travel–living in space. Here are some highlights of the article:

  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace are working toward transporting people and supplies. Bigelow is a real estate mogul. (The article did not mention Virgin Galactic.)
  • Bigelow Aerospace’s 6-person space station will cost $395 million per year. (By the way, it’s $20 million per person to travel there. I wonder if Virgin Galactic will agree to drop you off for an extra $1 million? Then you’d save $800,000!)
  • Quote: “Have you ever seen the advertisements for buying a deed for a parcel of land on the moon? After some research I found that 2.5 million people purchased these at $19.99. This, however, is considered a scam. You basically pay for a nice piece of paper as there is no way to validate the legality of the title.” (Click to view a sample Claim and Deed for Lunar Property.)
  • Quote: “I have boggled myself trying to imagine what life would be like for a REALTOR(R) in space. What would my mileage be like taking my clients on flights to some bubble house in space? Would it ever really become cost effective for the ‘average Joe’? What would the legal descriptions be like? ‘Lot 1, Orbit 2′” (This is my favorite text from the article!)
  • Quote: “Regardless of how ridiculous this all sounds, it’s a sign that we are all in a constantly changing business. You need to be ready for the future and be on top the next big thing in real estate!” (This is the real point of her article, and I think both professionals and consumers recognize this and agree!

If you’re still reading, you’re probably interested in the wonder and majesty of outer space. Personally, I think you’ll enjoy Google Sky and browsing NASA’s multimedia at NASA Multimedia or NASA Image eXchange (NIX). If you have an Android phone, watch the video at Google Sky Map (embedded below). If I were you, I’d download it immediately!

Now that the important stuff is out of the way, here’s some interesting information…

1) Wikipedia’s always a great place to start: Wiki Extraterrestrial Real Estate

2) “Lunar Real Estate: Buyer Beware” was written by Virgiliu Pop in 2001. It speaks to the legality (lack-thereof) of those novelty parcels of lunar land mentioned in the NAR YPN article. It’s not too difficult to follow along so go ahead and skim it. Some main points include:

  • If the lunar land certificates are sold as novelty items, they are not illegal.
  • Real property ownership in outer space had not, at that time, been sufficiently addressed. However, he states, “[…] as the 1967 Outer Space Treatyprohibits governments from making extraterrestrial property rights claims, NASAand NEAR project cannot make a superseding claim for Eros based on NEAR’s successful landing.” (Section 2.1)
  • Quote: “The astronaut Buzz Aldrin is also aware of their real value: ‘Well, if somebody wants to have a certificate that says they own a certain portion of the moon, and they’re willing to pay whatever it is, probably the only thing they’ll ever get is a certificate’. Say, it’s only a paper moon…” (Section 2.2. The “paper moon” comment is a reference to the 1933 song “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.)
  • The paper also points to the 1997 writing of attorney Wayne N. White, Jr. called “Real Property Rights in Outer Space”, which has an in-depth listing of some of Earth’s treaties regarding outer space.
  • It also mentions the Artemis Project®. Wiki the Artemis Project.

3) Did you know there was such a thing as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)? It is located in Vienna, Austria, and “[…] is the United Nations office responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.” If you visit their page, there’s a list of other acronyms in addition to OOSA to entertain you. They also have a page for International Space Law and Space Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

4) Space Law and Policy Library: This website had tons of broken links/images when I visited, but the content is there to make up for it…that is if you’re a research, public policy, or legal nerd. If you are, explore away.

5) (Mentioned in the NAR YPN article) Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was established in 2002 by Elon Musk, who was the founder of PayPal and the Zip2 Corporation. Here’s some of the company’s information and links:

Q: What are the markets for the family of SpaceX launch vehicles?
A: SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles: Falcon1, Falcon 9, and Falcon 9 Heavy, each designed and built for high reliability and cost-efficiency. By incorporating hundreds of innovations in technical design and launch operations, together with a low overhead corporate environment, SpaceX is able to offer unmatched cost savings to customers.

Falcon 1 is the first orbital rocket developed in the 21st century, taking advantage of the latest and most advanced technologies. Falcon 1 serves the small satellite market and is the world’s lowest cost per flight to orbit of any production rocket. Falcon 1 is capable of carrying up to 420 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO); Falcon 1e can carry up to 1,010 kg to LEO.

Falcon 9 serves the medium to large satellite market and has been designed for manned spaceflight. Like Falcon 1, Falcon 9 offers the lowest cost per pound/kilogram to orbit in its class. Falcon 9 is capable of carrying up to 10,450 kg to LEO and 4,540 kg to GTO.

Falcon Heavy will be capable of carrying up to 29,610 kg to LEO and up to 15,010 kg to GTO. Falcon Heavy could have important implications for Mars exploration and even settlement.

SpaceX currently is not pursuing a Falcon 5, but rather upgraded this initial vehicle design to the Falcon 9, largely due to customer requirements for a larger vehicle. Falcon 9 half-bay (dual manifest) missions are available to accommodate payloads that would have been well-suited for Falcon 5.

Q: How many employees work at SpaceX and what is it like to work there?
A: The SpaceX team now numbers more than 900, principally located at our Hawthorne, California facilities, with a large team in McGregor, TX, where SpaceX conducts large structural and propulsion testing. SpaceX has smaller teams in Washington, DC; Cape Canaveral, Florida; and the Kwajalein Atoll (Reagan Test Site) in the Marshall Islands. We work in a highly collaborative environment, which permits us to integrate decisions from design to production, strategy to business development in real time. Our staff is highly educated and shares the passion of creating the world’s premiere space services company.

6) (Mentioned in the NAR YPN article) Bigelow Aerospace is located in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Here’s some information from the Bigelow Aerospace Introduction page:

With over ten years of research and development, we are dedicated to providing affordable options for spaceflight to national space agencies and corporate clients. In 2006 and 2007, we launched our orbiting prototypes Genesis I and Genesis II, and we are currently working on new-generation spacecraft. Using our patented expandable habitats, our plan is to greatly exceed the usable space of the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost.

Bigelow Aerospace’s founder and President, Robert T. Bigelow, is a Las Vegas native who for nearly forty years has operated as a general contractor and developer in the Southwestern United States. Mr. Bigelow’s primary activities have been in real estate development, as well as banking and finance. Mr. Bigelow created Bigelow Aerospace with the express purpose of revolutionizing space commerce via the development of affordable, reliable, and robust expandable space habitats.

Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the potential for far out real estate. I know I did. Did you learn anything, or do you have something to share? Feel free to comment below.

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