Friday, February 3, 2017

Leasing the Moon

The near side of the Moon

by Marcel F. Williams

At the bottom of the world lies an icy continent larger than Europe-- but with only 5000-- temporary-- residents. While the continent of Antarctica can be explored, this polar condominium cannot be  colonized or commercially exploited. It is argued that this is the only way to protect Antarctica's pristine environment.

Of course, the same environmental philosophy could also be argued for Earth's other continents: North America, South America, Africa, Australia, and Eurasia.

And some have advocated that the Moon should also be under the same environmental protection as Antarctica. This, of course,  would prevent the colonization of the Moon and the commercial exploitation of lunar resources.

On the Earth's surface, only about 3% of the land area is urbanized with cities, towns, and suburban areas.  But the human utilization of the Earth's surface grows to 43% if we include the amount of land used for agriculture.

I happen to be  a strong advocate for preserving the Earth's environment and the environment and natural beauty of the other major worlds in our solar system. Trying to convert Mars into an Earth-like world would be an abomination, in my opinion.  But I don't believe that people should object to a reasonable level of commercial exploitation and colonization of other worlds -- if it proves to be possible to do so under a lower gravity environments.

And this should also apply to Antarctica, in my opinion.

The 1% Rule

What if the nations of the world passed an international law that allowed up to 1%  of the terrestrial environment in Antarctica to be commercially exploited and even colonized (up to 140,000 square kilometers of territory) by the other nations of the world while also preventing at least  99% of the rest of the continent from being settled or commercially exploited? That would mean that up to 140,000 square kilometers of land could be colonized or commercially exploited on the Antarctican continent.

Under this scenario, individual nations would be   allowed to lease territory in Antarctica for $1 million  per year for one square kilometer of land (100 hectares).  While probably only the wealthiest nations would be able to afford to lease and exploit territory in Antarctica,   the  revenue-- from the leases-- would be equally divided amongst every nation on Earth. Because of the need to administer the leases, the UN (the United Nations) as an entity would also a receive a share of the revenue equal to that of the individual nations.  So, in theory,  as much as $140 billion in annual revenue could be annual generated from the leasing of 1% of the territory on Antarctica.

I'd also charge-- a  renewal fee-- of $1 million per square kilometer of leased territory  every 20 years.

Nations leasing territory in Antarctica would have the right to sublease some or all of its territory to private entities. If governments subleased territory for  perhaps $100,000 a year per hectare, each square kilometer of territory could potentially be worth up to $10 million per year.

Antarctica (Credit: Wikipedia)
To prevent enormous blocks of land from being leased in a single region by a single government, I'd limit the amount of continuous land that can be leased in Antarctica by a single nation to just 25 square kilometers within a radius of five kilometers. I'd also forbid a nation from leasing  land in Antarctica that is less than 100 kilometers away from other lands that they are leasing in Antarctica. I'd also forbid other nations from leasing land that is within 5 kilometers of land being leased by another nation. This would allow potentially valuable regions in Antarctica to be colonized or exploited by multiple nations within a particular region. 


Surface area: 14 million square kilometers

Maximum leasable land area (1%): 140,000 square kilometers ($140 billion per year)

Maximum continuous area allowed to be leased by a single nation: 25 square kilometers within a 5 kilometer radius

Minimum gap between leased areas among different nations: 5 kilometers

Minimum gap between  areas leased by the same nation: 100 kilometers

The Lunar Territories

I would also advocate a similar international law for  the exploitation and colonization of the lunar surface and the preservation of at least 99% of the lunar environment on the lunar surface. A maximum of 1% of the lunar surface could be leased to national governments who would be allowed sublease parts of their leased territories to private individuals and commercial companies.  

I do believe, however,  that there are some areas on the lunar surface that need to be more carefully managed and even banned from potential commercialization and colonization.  I think it should be internationally agreed that territory  on the far side of the Moon below 70˚ north or south (well beyond the polar regions) should be banned from commercial exploitation and colonization.

Positions of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Points (Credit: Maccone)
Because the far side of the Moon is blocked from electromagnetic noise emanating from the surface of the Earth, this region of the lunar surface has always been viewed as the perfect location for future radio telescopes and phased array detectors. However, the prospect of outpost and colonies located at the EML4 and EML5 Earth-Moon Lagrange points would shrink the radio shielded areas on the backside of the Moon to a territorial radius of 910 kilometers extending from the lunar equator at a 180˚ longitude. Again, forbidding nearly all of the territory on the far side of the Moon from being leased would prevent it from being explored or used as an astronomical observatory. But it would prohibit the permanent deployment of spacecraft and potential habitats at EML2.

Protected Antipode circle on the farside of the Moon (Credit: Maccone)

 I'd also prevent the ice at the lunar poles from being-- over exploited--  by limiting the maximum leased area within the polar regions to 1%. Since it is estimated the north and south poles of the Moon may contain as much as 6.6 billion tonnes of water ice. Assuming that areas in the polar regions that don't contain significant amounts of ice are avoided, perhaps up to 10% (660 million tonnes) of the ice in the polar regions could eventually be exploited under these rules.   Over a 200 year period of maximum legal exploitation, up to 3.3 million tonnes of water ice could be mined each year.  About 1000 tonnes of water per year would be required for NASA's human cis-lunar and Mars operations during the next 25 years. A lunar population of more than 450,000 people could probably be supported over a 200 year span, a lot more if a significant portion of the water is recycled and oxygen from the lunar regolith is exploited for air.

Probable ice deposits in the lunar south pole (Credit: NASA)

While such a large and growing lunar population might put intense political pressure on allowing even more polar ice to be exploited, it might be more sustainable for future Lunarians to start importing hydrogen from other regions of the solar system: the NEO asteroids, Mars, Mercury, Callisto, Jupiter's atmosphere, the asteroid belt, the Greek and Trojan asteroids of Jupiter's orbital arc. Water and energy could be produced  By using the Moon's almost limitless oxygen resources, hydrogen can be converted into  water and energy.   The import of substantial amounts extraterrestrial hydrogen into cis-lunar space could also give the Moon the economic advantage of exporting its  oxygen resources to LEO and the Earth-Moon Lagrange points for propellant and to produce water and energy.


Surface area: 38 million square kilometers

Maximum leasable land area (1%): 380,000 square kilometers ($380 billion per year)

Maximum leasable area in polar regions (1%)

Regions not available for leasing: Regions on the far side of the Moon below 75 degrees latitude (north and south) including the Protected Antipode Circle,  a circular piece of land 1820 kilometers in diameter on the far side of the Moon shielded from potential radio signals from orbital habitats and colonies located at EML4 and EML5. 

Maximum continuous area allowed to be leased by a single nation: 25 square kilometers within a 5 kilometer radius

Maximum continuous area allowed to be leased in the polar regions by an individual nation: 16 square kilometers within a 3 kilometer radius 

Minimum gap between leased areas among different nations: 5 kilometers

Minimum gap between  areas leased by the same nation: 100 kilometers

Minimum gap between  areas leased by the same nation in the polar regions: 50 kilometers

Under these rules,  the 51km in diameter Shoemaker crater alone would have enough area to legally exploitable area to accommodate ice mining by  more than a dozen countries. Even with the 100 km gap between leased regions, the US could still lease several ice rich areas in the lunar south pole.

The Martian Territories

With a surface area of nearly 145 million square kilometers, nearly 1.45 million square kilometers of land could be exploited or colonized by the nations of the Earth with a potential revenues of nearly $1.45 trillion a year if all the territories legally allowed to be occupied were leased. But because Mars is much larger world, I'd allow up to 100 square kilometers of continuous land to be leased by an individual nation within a radius of 10 kilometers.

Map of the martian surface (Credit: NASA)


Surface area: 145 million square kilometers

Maximum leasable land area (1%): 1.45 million  square kilometers ($1.45 trillion per year)

Maximum continuous area allowed to be leased by a single nation: 100 square kilometers within a 10 kilometer radius

Minimum gap between leased areas among different nations: 5 kilometers

Minimum gap between  areas leased by the same nation: 100 kilometers

I think its obvious, under these rules, that far less than 1% of the land area on these extraterrestrial worlds would ever have to be leased in order to sustain human civilization in the solar system over the next 1000 years.


Links and References

Antarctica - Wikipedia

“Protected antipode circle on the Farside of the Moon,” Acta Astronautica 63 (2008), pp. 110-118. 


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