Last month, the Trump administration signed an executive order that establishes the administration's official policy regarding mining resources in outer space. The order noted that outer space was not “global commons” but a place of resources for commercial endeavors. To entice companies to join, the administration is believed to be working on an international agreement.
As reported by Reuters, the draft plan is called the Artemis Accords, a reference to NASA’s Artemis program – the ambitious plan to have humans back on the Moon by 2024. The draft has not been formally shared with US allies yet and it is unclear who the administration is planning to involve in the pact.
Countries such as Canada, Japan, and members of the European Union will likely be involved in the pact. The United Arab Emirates is also likely to be on the administration's list of “like-minded” countries. The two notable exclusions in the early talks are Russia, current partner on the International Space Station, and China who already sport an extensive Moon exploration program.
“NASA’s all about science and technology and discovery, which are critically important, but I think less salient is the idea that NASA is a tool of diplomacy,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said as reported by Reuters. “The important thing is, countries all around the world want to be a part of this. That’s the element of national power.”
Historian Tom Ellis disagrees with Bridenstine’s comments, saying NASA has been a tool of diplomacy since its inception. In a Twitter thread, he provides several past instances where this was the case.
A question that won't be answered in the accord is if mining in outer space is worth the money. From the point of view of using resources in-situ, like building permanent bases, it is more convenient using local materials. Extracting water and silicon from the surface of the Moon certainly might be cheaper than bringing such resources from Earth. However, scarcer materials like helium-3 (used in nuclear fusion reactors) might instead be collected from the Moon and brought back to our home planet.
The pact and in particular the terms of commercial utilization of celestial bodies will have to be reconciled with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which reads: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."