In 1963, the United Nations passed the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which states that outer space is free for all nation states to explore and is not subject to claims of national sovereignty – in other words, space resources could not be owned or sold.
However, the industry of commercial space travel has grown a lot since the sixties – and the idea of collecting and selling resources from space is gradually becoming a reality. With that in mind, the U.S. Senate took advantage of the door opened by the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 and passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R.2262) in late 2015.
The bill states that “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.” In other words, companies can bring back resources from space without legal ramifications. The bill also has other key provisions that:
- Extend the operation of the International Space Station until at least 2024
- Extend the regulatory learning period for the commercial space sector through September 30, 2023 (after that, the Department of Transportation takes to a regulatory approach to the industry)
- Extends the Indemnification for Commercial Launches through September 30, 2025
- Identifies appropriate oversight for the commercial development of space (the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with the Department of Transportation, Secretary of State, NASA and other relevant Federal agencies)
With this groundwork laid out, we may start seeing successful asteroid mining operations in the near future.