Monday, November 30, 2015

Space mining is now part of American law

The Commercial Space Launch Act of 2015, recently passed by both the House and Senate, is unique because the legislation covers a subject that is not directly related to space launches and was once the stuff of science fiction. An entire title of the bill covers the subject of mining resources from asteroids and other celestial bodies.  The crucial paragraph in the title concerning space resources 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 language of the act is a clever way of getting around a provision of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states, in Article II, “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.” In general, property rights are secured by a state for its citizens by the exercise of national sovereignty. A mining operation in the United States owns the minerals it unearths because the government grants it the right of ownership by exercising its power of sovereignty. The language of the act by implication acknowledges the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty. The United States is not going to claim the moon or an asteroid as its national territory. But it is granting the right of American citizens to own minerals that they extract from celestial bodies...more

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