The U.S. Congress’ passage of a bill that allows American companies to own and sell materials they extract from the moon, asteroids or other celestial bodies should help spur the development of off-Earth mining, representatives of the nascent industry say.
“It sets up a firm foundation for the next phase of our business,” said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, which plans to mine water and metals from near-Earth asteroids.
The US government has now thrown out that understanding so that it can get rid of “unnecessary regulations” and make it easier for private American companies to explore space resources commercially. While people won’t actually be able to claim the rock or “celestial body” itself, they will be able to keep everything that they mine out of it.
It is hoped that the new rules will allow people to harvest the often vast amounts of expensive resources that are inside of the asteroids that fly near our planet. In July, a rock with a platinum core passed that was worth £3.5 trillion passed by Earth.
The new law is called the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. As well as giving the right to mine asteroids, it extends America’s commitment to the International Space Station and makes it easier for to run a private space startup company.
In a statement released on November 10, Planetary Resources, the self-identified asteroid mining company, lauded the efforts of Congress. Planetary Resources President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki said:
Throughout history, governments have spurred growth in new frontiers by instituting sensible legislation. Long ago, The Homestead Act of 1862 advocated for the search for gold and timber, and today, H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity. This off-planet economy will forever change our lives for the better here on Earth.
But the legislation has not been met with global praise. In 1967, the United States signed the international Outer Space Treaty, which states that a “celestial body” cannot be subject to “national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” It seems like a fair question, then, as to whether Congress can allow companies to extract resources from a celestial body when that body itself cannot be claimed as a country’s territory.
To address this, Congress included a “Disclaimer of Extraterritorial Sovereignty” in the bill which reads:
It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.
The measure has returned to the House for a final vote of approval, and then President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.