President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) into law on Wednesday which grants proprietary rights to companies that endeavor to mine asteroids in outer space.
“This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., an asteroid mining company that deployed a test demonstration spacecraft from the International Space Station this past summer. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space.”
Although harvesting rare metals are a long term goal of asteroid mining, water extraction is a near-term goal for asteroid mining because it is costly to launch water from Earth into outer space. In addition to human consumption, water found in space can also be converted into rocket fuel without expending the resources to launch the fuel from Earth.
The passage of the bill was hailed by Florida lawmakers as a jobs creator for Florida’s Space Coast where many of the commercial mining rocket launches are expected to take place.
“The reforms included here make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space and will help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said. “I’m proud the final bill includes proposals I had previously introduced in the Senate, including one related to commercial recovery of space resources. This bill is an important win for Florida’s space coast and the entire space exploration community.”
“Recognizing basic legal protections in space will help pave the way for exciting future commercial space endeavors,” said U.S. Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL), who represents Brevard County on Florida’s Space Coast. “Asteroids and other objects in space are excellent potential sources of rare minerals and other resources that can be used to manufacture a wide range of products here on Earth and to support future space exploration missions. Americans willing to invest in space mining operations need legal certainty that they can keep the fruits of their labor, and this bill provides that certainty.”
Conflict With International Law
Although the law was enacted to clarify that resources mined from an asteroid or other celestial objects are the property of the U.S. entity that obtained them, the law appears to be in direct conflict with the Outer Space Treaty which was approved by the United Nation General Assembly in 1966 and signed by the United States and Russia in 1967. The international law states, in relevant part, that:
– the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
– outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
– outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
– States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities; and
– States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.
Image Credit: NASA