Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Pivot to Space

President Obama signed the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.  This act allows for the mining of asteroids by US commercial interests. It reads, 

"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." 

Basically, if you go to space, take a chunk out of a rock, and bring it home, it is yours. But only if you are an American. Obviously, there are those who believe this may contradict international law. Primarily, international law is governed by UN treaties. The US has signed 1967 Outer Space Treaty. However, this treaty is more intended to promote peaceful and cooperative relations in outer space. It prevents the use of nuclear weapons in space, and does not allow a nation to claim sovereignty over any bodies. America may be able to mine the moon, but it will never own it, regardless of where we plant the flag. 

Yet, the new act makes it clear, US commercial interests will not be making any ownership claims. While the Moon Agreement goes into more detail about exploiting space resources, the US and several nations have not ratified it. To be clear, the US is really the closest nation capable of exploiting space resources, but when other nations reach the capabilities needed to mine asteroids, it will be imperative for an international agreement. By being the first to act, the US places itself in a position to greatly influence future agreements. 

The law also provides a greater incentive for US commercial interests to pursue mining opportunities in space. By guaranteeing any rights to resources, it clears up any ambiguities or questions, commercial interests may have had prior. The law will gauge international reactions and provide an engaging topic in the upcoming April meeting by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs legal subcommittee. Until then, companies already established in the field can rejoice in this first step. What could be a trillion dollar industry, getting ahead of the game both in technical capabilities and legal concerns can be a strong advantage for US interests. 

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