The commercial space industry in the United States has a reason to celebrate: President Barack Obama has just signed into law the bill that allows resources from the Moon, Mars, asteroids and other heavenly bodies to be extracted, used and sold for commercial exploration and utilization.
Some experts believe that this is the dawn of a new space age, but we have yet to see.
Known as the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 or H.R. 2262, the law permits asteroid mining companies to keep whatever resources they have collected. Odds of these resources being confiscated by officials are now unlikely.
"This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history," said Eric Anderson of Planetary Resources, Inc. "This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space."
The law also addresses several nearer-term issues. The learning period for the regulation of two private-sector spaceships, Blue Origin's New Shepard and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, will be extended up to 2023; the International Space Station will continue to operate until at least 2024; and indemnification, or the security against any possible damage, of commercial space launches will be continued up until 2025.
Previous legislation, known as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, prohibits nations to claim appropriation to the Moon and other celestial bodies. The new law, then, permits citizens of the U.S. not to claim ownership to the Moon or asteroids, but to own the minerals they extract from them. This implication regarding space property rights has stirred up attention among entrepreneurs and lawmakers.
Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, explained that the natural resources in our solar system can help support the endeavors of humans, both on Earth and in outer space.
"Commercial space companies in the United States are making significant investments to develop technical capabilities that will allow us to explore and use outer space resources," said Smith. He added the new law enables the commercial space industry to flourish and provides guidance for future entrepreneurs.
Space entrepreneurs said that with the new law, the commercial space industry, particularly asteroid mining, will likely grow to trillions of dollars annually. To sustain future space colonies, scientists said that ice in outer space can be mine. Ice can also be turned into rocket fuel for space voyages.
Meanwhile, the new law calls upon President Obama to outline how the government plans to handle space resource rights. The report will be submitted to Congress within 180 days.