Fears have now been raised that space, once the final frontier, could become the new wild west unless new intergalactic property laws are drawn up and agreed.

Advocates of space development – who have long fought for clarity on the issue of who owns what – have been buoyed by a recommendation on the subject by the Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond, set up by George Bush, the United States president.

The commission says 37 years of legal limbo is limiting the incentive for extraterrestrial enterprise, exploration and the quest for cleaner forms of energy. “Potentially, this uncertainty could strangle a nascent space-based industry in its cradle,” it warned.

The declaration has animated those arguing for regulation of extraterrestrial property.

George Whitesides, the director of the National Space Society, said yesterday: “The right to own property has historically underpinned the exploration and opening of many other frontiers, so there is ample empirical evidence that property rights will be one of the critical enablers to doing the same in space.”

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