While we have been focusing on our practices for the last couple of years, monumental changes have been made in the law. These changes will affect us; our clients will want to know about them, and we need to be ready.

Until just over a year ago, the entire body of the law governing outer space was only a few pages long. It employed hopeful and utopian concepts. The seminal Outer Space Treaty of 1967 stated:

INSPIRED by the great prospects opening up before mankind as a result of man’s entry into outer space,

RECOGNIZING the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,

BELIEVING that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development,

DESIRING to contribute to broad international co-operation in the scientific as well as the legal aspects of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,

BELIEVING that such co-operation will contribute to the development of mutual understanding and to the strengthening of friendly relations between States and peoples, . . .

The Outer Space Treaty and subsequent corollaries, such as the Moon Treaty of 1979, are easily summarized to their essence. Essentially, the governing law of outer space did not allow ownership of any space resources and did not allow the non-peaceful use of space. There was not a lot to learn, legally speaking. And almost no one needed to learn space law because no one was really exploring and utilizing outer space. That era has come to an end.

Everything changed in November 2015, when President Obama signed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law with very little media attention. The Act is monumental in scope and importance, but almost no one noticed it. The Act allows companies for the first time in history to claim ownership of resources extracted from space, such as water, ice and even gold from asteroids. Google-backed asteroid mining company Planetary Resources lobbied hard for the legislation and celebrated, saying “the market in space is ripe to bloom.”

Not to be left behind, just a couple of months ago, on November 11, 2016, Luxembourg became the first European country to pass a law allowing the taking of space resources by private companies. Deep Space Industries, another major player in the asteroid mining industry, congratulated Luxembourg – the country where DSI maintains its headquarters – on the new law. DSI’s Chairman of the Board, Rick Tumlinson said “We applaud Luxembourg for taking this bold and visionary step to create the needed framework for private citizens and companies to operate in space.” It is no coincidence that Luxembourg both is the home of DSI and was quick to follow the U.S. in completely reversing the principles of outer space law existing since the 1960s.

The rest of Europe can be expected to follow suit, so as not to fall behind the curve. Planetary Resources says “A hundred years from now, humanity will look at this period in time as the point in which we were able to establish a permanent foothold in space. In history, there has never been a more rapid rate of progress than right now.”

Recognizing that the monumental changes to outer space law were made at the request of the private industries that the laws will enable, we can conclude that the time to master space law is now. A complete reversal of the philosophical basis of outer space law has taken place right under our noses. The politicians did not just one day decide to abandon utopian ideals and commercialize space; the politicians are changing the laws because private companies are now ready to commercialize space and are demanding the changes.

The monumental legal changes are the strongest indicators we have that the commercialization and colonization of space can now be expected to proceed with all due speed. The future is now. Are you prepared?