President Barack Obama managed to sign into law a fairly big step forward in terms of space mining while most folks were more concerned with turkey and all the fixings last week. The Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015 has a specific provision in it that's likely to prove contentious.
The Space Act of 2015's been kicking around since May when the House of Representatives first introduced it, and it passed the Senate with a single amendment. The president received it Nov. 19, and signed it into law Nov. 25. But there's one very interesting aspect to the new United States law, which is summarized by the following:
Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained them, which shall be entitled to all property rights to them, consistent with applicable federal law and existing international obligations.
In short, companies that go out and mine asteroids will now officially own those resources. This is a big deal due to the fact that ownership in space is kind of a complicated issue due to previous international agreements—specifically the Outer Space Treaty of 1967—that space doesn't really belong to any specific nation. To make matters potentially worse, this is something the United States got behind at the time.
It's unclear whether there will be any specific ramifications on the international stage at the moment given the private sector's technological state. It'll still be some time before any company's truly ready to go out and start trying to monetize asteroids, after all, and it's possible that having this law on the books in the United States will encourage this development while remaining mostly useless for years. As the act's name implies, it could "spur" it on.
Source: Popular Science