The space mining legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on Wednesday – which gives U.S. space firms the right to own and sell natural resources mined from asteroids and other space bodies – is considered dangerous and potentially illegal by some experts.
Particularly happy with the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act is Planetary Resources, a 2010-founded firm seeking to extract water, important materials, and minerals from asteroids and profit from them.
Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairperson of Planetary Resources, called the U.S. Space Act “the single greatest recognition of property rights in history.”
“This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space,” he said.
Deep Space Industries, another firm with stakes in asteroid mining, also lauded the new law.
But some lawyers and experts voiced potential conflict between the Act and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which declares points such as “states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies,” and that celestial bodies and outer space in general are “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
Planetary Resources President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki himself said a number of investors expressed concerns about the issue.
Professor Ram Jakhu from the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University thought of the U.S. Space Act as directly violating the treaty, as it allows states, private firms, or international organizations to appropriate natural space resources.
Dr. Gbenga Oduntan of University of Kent, an international commercial law expert, said that it can be assumed that the list of states with access to outer space will grow from the current dozen or so, and institute their own space mining programs.
“That means that the pristine conditions of the cradle of nature from which our own Earth was born may become irrevocably altered forever - making it harder to trace how we came into being,” he wrote, warning that once celestial bodies are contaminated with earthly microbes, humans’ chances of discovering alien life could be ruined.
Dr. Oduntan added that space mining could also potentially damage the environment surrounding Earth and eventually result in resource-centered conflict.
Some voices, however, thought there was not anything particularly illegal or wrong with the space mining law – and that mining does not equate to appropriation.
The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, for instance, denied any violation of the country’s international obligations, although its statement currently does not have any particular reference to international law, said Dr. Oduntan.
The U.S. and private entities such as the space mining firms have been pushing for space resource extraction for decades now.