There are a plethora of companies currently aiming for asteroid mining. As the resources on Earth run dry, it is only a matter of time until space mining becomes essential for the continuation of the human race. As for the private companies targeting this emerging industry, this is potentially their gateway into unprecedented levels of future riches. The main question they face is, is it legal?
The “Space Act of 2015” bill has now officially passed in the US senate with a unanimous vote in its favour. This will give the spacecraft companies more power and cause them to be subjected to far less government oversight. They will be able to conduct spacecraft trials along with develop both their companies and their technologies further with next to no government interference. That is just the tip of the iceberg however, once this bill is signed by US President Barack Obama, it will give companies the right to own all of the resources they extract from asteroids, this includes platinum and even water. Quoting Planetary Resources Co-Chairman Eric Anderson, “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species”.
The bill states: “A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States. The term ‘space resource’ means an abiotic resource in situ in outer space."
This is quite interesting since with this, private companies can essentially own asteroids whilst due to the “Outer Space Treaty”, most nations including the US, Russia, China and even the UK cannot themselves legally own celestial bodies in space, this includes asteroids. This is expected to cause severe controversy, since the US itself isn't allowed to own any celestial body, can they give private companies the right to own them? The Outer Space Treaty was both signed and made effective in 1967 however due to the significant advances in both technology and our knowledge of space since then, it has become quite outdated. This leaves many ambiguities such as whether any of the laws apply to private companies, the US seems to be using these ambiguities to its favour since they can pass this bill without technically breaking the treaty.
There are many questions left to answer in regards to the extent of the power being handed to these private companies however at the very least we can all rest assured that if any private company happens to find any alien life form, they cannot legally claim or own them and will be forced to pass them on to the government. What the government will do with them or whether the government can legally keep the alien presenting it to other nations remains unknown.
For now there are two main companies to keep an eye on in the space mining sector, “Deep Space Industries” and “Planetary Resources” since the sole purpose of the existence of the companies is to mine asteroids. Both of these have several spacecraft trials planned in the years to come with Planetary Resources having a trial underway right now. Earlier this year, they launched a trial vehicle from the International Space Station to test their avionics and control systems which they hope will one day be used in the first spacecraft to venture into the depths of the solar system to mine an asteroid.
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