THIS IS HUGE, IF TRUE: Exclusive – The FAA: regulating business on the moon.

The United States government has taken a new, though preliminary, step to encourage commercial development of the moon.

According to documents obtained by Reuters, U.S. companies can stake claims to lunar territory through an existing licensing process for space launches.

The Federal Aviation Administration, in a previously undisclosed late-December letter to Bigelow Aerospace, said the agency intends 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.”

In other words, experts said, Bigelow could set up one of its proposed inflatable habitats on the moon, and expect to have exclusive rights to that territory – as well as related areas that might be tapped for mining, exploration and other activities.

That’s precisely the sort of thing that I, and other space development proponents, have been calling for for a couple of decades now. Here’s something that Rob Merges and I wrote for the NYU Environmental Law Journal some years ago. And here’s a shorter piece I wrote for Popular Mechanics on the subject. And here’s some background on the current initiative from The Economist. It’s interesting that space policy — a subject in which, as far as I know, Obama has no particular interest — has been one of the brighter spots of his presidency.