Davos WEF

Wilbur Ross fears 'Wild West situation' as international space race gathers steam

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump's administration has previously pledged to help get Americans back on the moon.
  • Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $738 billion defense policy bill, paving the way for the creation of a Space Force — a top military priority for Trump.
  • "Space is not a vacuum really, it is actually full of opportunities," Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, sherpa to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Wednesday.
United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross attends during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 22, 2020.
FABRICE COFFRINI | AFP via Getty Images

DAVOS, Switzerland — U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has questioned whether a lack of agreed international rules concerning space exploration could inadvertently trigger a lawless "Wild West situation."

His comments come as a new era of space discovery gathers pace, with an ever-growing list of space agencies forming around the world.

President Donald Trump's administration has previously pledged to help get Americans back on the moon. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $738 billion defense policy bill, paving the way for the creation of a Space Force — a top military priority for Trump.

"Who owns space? Who owns whatever we find? If you are the first one to the asteroid, does that mean you have a claim on all of the minerals in that asteroid?" Ross said during a session at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.

"How does it work? Are we getting into kind of a Wild West situation of claim jumpers or will there be some methodology?"

Ross, a former private-equity investor with more than five decades of experience, said the U.S. would work with its allies to "establish best practices and standards" both for existing space capabilities and for encouraging the new emerging ones.

"Space is not a vacuum really, it is actually full of opportunities," Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, sherpa to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said at the same event.

"The great achievement of this is that we are due some technological breakthroughs at the lowest of the cost," Prabhu said, before adding: "I think we can obviously look into working with all of the countries in the world to make space a safe haven."

Space tourism

The forum is set to welcome more than 3,000 participants to the Swiss Alpine town of Davos this week, with those in attendance poised to focus on the intensifying climate crisis.

Alice Bunn, international director of the U.K. Space Agency, said Wednesday that more than 50% of measurements used to understand climate change originated from space.

Both Ross and Prabhu agreed Wednesday that "cost-cutting" was critical to future space discovery projects.

The U.S. commerce secretary argued this should help get the world to a point where it is "economical" to think about new activities, "such as space tourism, space mining, space manufacturing and space colonization — as well as journeys to remote planets."

"And we think, as a result of all of those things, projections appropriately place 2040 global space activity somewhere between $1 trillion and $3 trillion — huge, huge increments from where we are."