With technology changing the face of industry, commerce, and communication at lightning fast speeds, it is no surprise that ecommerce in space is under consideration. In fact, PayPal recently announced the launch of PayPal Galactic, a project that will ask some questions in advance of off-earth commerce becoming a reality.
PayPal Galactic is a collaboration with the SETI Institute, “to help make universal space payments a reality,” according to PayPal and also involves space hero, Buzz Aldrin. The endeavor hopes to answer some questions regarding commerce in space before the first Earth-orbiting hotel is scheduled for opening in the next few years.
“Within five to 10 years the earliest types of ‘space hotels’ and orbital and lunar commerce will be operational and in need of a payment system,” says John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society, which is also involved in the research. The company recently sent out a release listing science fiction currency such as Star Trek’s Federation credits, Battlestar Galactica’s cubits, and V’s mice.
PayPal President David Marcus says—in a video that went along with the recent announcement—that “Space tourism is opening up to all of us in the next decade or so, and we want to make sure that PayPal is the preferred way to pay from space and in space.”
PayPal Galactic seeks to answer questions concerning how today’s banking systems will have to adapt to space commerce, including potential regulations and management of risk and fraud; how to pay bills on Earth when not earth-bound, whether as an astronaut or space tourist; and “What will our standard currency look like in a truly cash-free interplanetary society?” PayPal also anticipates consumers will want to shop for items such as ebooks and music in space.
Frans von der Dunk, a professor of space law at the University of Nebraska College of Law noted that a treaty is in place that prohibits any one nation from imposing its currency on space. “If a U.S. astronaut wants to sell something on Mars to a Russian, if the latter accepts dollars, the deal could be made,” Von der Dunk said. “If not, the former might have to come up with rubles or another currency the latter finds acceptable—but existing currencies for the time being would certainly suffice.” Von der Dunk did note that should colonies divest from earth’s governments, those colonies might create their own legal and regulatory processes.
“Only once real colonization of outer space would start taking place, as a corollary of the question whether this would give rise to non-terrestrial new states (a bit like the U.S. pried itself loose from the motherland on the other side of the ocean once loyalties had worn too much and simple power could no longer enforce such loyalty), might the question arise in earnest whether a new (space) currency would be necessary—and doable,” Von der Dunk pointed out.
“Someone with an M-Pesa balance on SMS in Kenya cannot buy something online from a merchant in the United States,” Chris Larsen, who founded Ripple, a virtual currency system here on earth, said. Ripple utilizes a ledger that enables cleaner inter-currency transactions and, according to Larsen, there is no reason why inter-galactic transactions could not be successfully made.
“We wanted to bring the experience we’ve learned over the last 15 years to help the industry answer the difficult questions that an interplanetary commerce system brings,” says PayPal’s senior communications director, Anuj Nayar. “PayPal envisions exploring possibilities in space the way that we do, breaking boundaries to make real progress,” SETI astronomer Jill Tarter says. “When the SETI Institute succeeds in its exploration of the universe, and as we find our place among the stars, PayPal will be there to facilitate commerce, so people can get what they need, and want, to live outside of our planet.”
Brustein, Joshua. “Don’t Worry, We’re Ready for Commerce in Space“; Bloomberg Businessweek. June 27, 2013.
Chappell, Bill. “As People Head Into Space, PayPal Says It Will Follow Them“; NPR. June 27, 2013.