Can American businesses now stake their claim on the moon? That's the indication from an FAA letter to Bigelow Aerospace, in which the agency reveals plans to "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." What does that mean? Well, Reuters summarizes it like this: Bigelow, which is scheduled to test inflatable space habitats aboard the International Space Station this year, "could set up one of its proposed inflatable habitats on the moon, and expect to have exclusive rights to that territory." The letter was coordinated with NASA, as well as the State, Defense, and Commerce departments.
But it "doesn't mean that there's ownership of the moon," Bigelow Aerospace's founder says. "It just means that somebody else isn't licensed to land on top of you or land on top of where exploration and prospecting activities are going on." However, the FAA points out "the national regulatory framework, in its present form, is ill-equipped to enable the US government to fulfill its obligations" under the 1967 United Nations Outer Space treaty, which requires countries to authorize and monitor the activities of non-government bodies in space. It also bans national claims on celestial bodies like the moon. For now, "it's very much a wild west kind of mentality and approach," the CEO of lunar transportation startup Astrobotic says. (Read more space stories.)