Wrapping up my exploration into the affect of ITAR on the work of open source engineering, maybe it’s interesting to attempt a comparison of internet business models with space business models.
The main parallel is that the development of internet business models has been slow, for reasons similar to those underlying opposition to the prohibition against property under space law.
In both cases, we need to work the problem and develop our thinking beyond what we thought we knew.
A first example in the internet domain is the commercial open source business model. Typically in this case, software source code is freely available for fairly unconstrained use and distribution. The usual examples include the Linux operating system, Apache web server, or MySQL database. Many businesses are founded on these software products.
Building or developing open source software as a commercial business model was and remains a contentious idea. And rightly so, it’s a lot more complicated than selling widgets. Well known in the business community is the question from investors, “what do we own?” Entrepreneurs may need more than a year to get the homework done to answer this question to the satisfaction of even the most avant garde of participants. The answer lies in the income stream, and the answer becomes “profit”.
Likewise in space.
Space flight is an extremely challenging business in an extremely hostile environment, and space law reflects that reality. There are many reasons one can readily imagine for not defining property on natural space objects, and it follows that there are a million more reasons beyond immediate imagination.
For example, one can imagine a land rush to the moon being fatal in most cases. But the situation is a lot more interesting than that. It goes to the heart of commercial markets.
The only reason in favor is to apply terrestrial economic concepts to space. Which is a rather self evident falacy, given some earnest and intuitive reflection.
Terrestrial enterprise is supported by the life sustaining environment. This is so basic to the history of economy that it’s invisible until compared to space economy.
Without a life sustaining environment, an individual human actor has no sustainable presence. In this environment, there is no fundamental human place or necessity for sustained presence.
As a result, a heretofore invisible characteristic of markets in the basic character of possession is not present in space.
And without this component of possession, markets for possession (commercially viable property) fail to exist.
Another example. There’s millions of asteroids. In a world where Company XYZ owns one and records its value of $10T on the books, what has it recorded? Can it sell it? Why would I buy your asteroid for $10T when I can go land on the next one for free? There’s no “there”, there. There’s no market. There’s no finitude. There’s no possession.
The situation is analogous to a world in which all software is open source — given some external reason. The conventional commercial software widgets business model does not exist in this world, Microsoft for example evaporates like water in a vacuum — as a simple illustration.
Caveat Emptor. These illustrations bely the nature of the problem when they accommodate a limited number of its aspects with terrestrial metaphors.
So, could we play the usual entry- exit capital games and get somewhere against each others accounts? My confidence in human creativity is unbounded. (i.e. Probably). Is this a rational way for society to organize itself? No.
We need to do the math, work the problem, and find solutions. There’s entire worlds of new business models out there, waiting to be discovered. As in all things, we simply need to understand the constraints, devices and systems that make them work.