The legalities of space mining have previously been somewhat of a minefield (sorry). Several companies have announced ambitions to bring chunks of asteroids back to Earth, selling their metals onto the market, but under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty it had seemed that they weren't allowed to actually own any resources they extracted.
"Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means," the treaty famously states. But what does that really mean?
Well, the ambiguity is now gone, in the U.S. at least. The Senate has just passed a bill stating that any company that can actually get to an asteroid is free to take and own whatever resources it can grab. This new legislation supersedes existing international law for U.S. companies – including the Outer Space Treaty.
"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 bill states.
This is good news for companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, who want to start mining asteroids in the foreseeable future, although whether their lofty goals are achievable is up for debate. Nonetheless, the law at least opens the door to companies like this bringing back resources from space, with no legal ramifications.
Deep Space Industries has its own ambitions to mine asteroids. DSI
The new U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, H.R. 2262, isn’t just good news for asteroid miners, though. It has also ratified the use of private companies for launches to the International Space Station (ISS), namely SpaceX and Boeing, while also cementing NASA’s commitment to the ISS up to 2024.
"This will help bolster an already thriving U.S. commercial space industry, especially in Florida where we are seeing an amazing transformation of the Kennedy Space Center into a bustling space port," said senator Bill Nelson in a statement.