New debates have sparked, regarding the fact that space mining could be dangerous and is probably illegal even though the United States congress passed a law that approves it. It’s perhaps an issue that some believe might be nothing but philosophical. However, the U.S. has been preparing to look for resources outside our planet for decades. This means it might be put in practice.
Conflict with the ‘Outer Space Treaty’ of 1967
The decision of the congress to approve it has been met with controversy, due to an already existing international act that prohibited it. The ‘Outer Space Treaty’ became effective in October, 1967, which stated that all explorations made and resources found outside Earth should benefit mankind as a whole. It should benefit all countries, not just one.
This means that no nation, organization, or company may mine space bodies for materials and then sell them. Furthermore, the treaty also states that all “should avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies”. The U.S. was among the many nations who signed the treaty around three decades ago, but has recently made a decision that could be in direct violation of what they agreed to before.
‘Space Act of 2015’ allows mining regardless
The ‘Space Act of 2015’ has been passed on November 18th, 2015, which allows space companies to mine, own, and sell any natural resources found on astral bodies, such as asteroids. They will not be allowed to own the actual celestial body itself though, just the resources.
As pointed out by Gbenga Oduntan, at the International Commercial Law, this means that private companies have been given free rein in outer space for 8 years without international regulation. Given that space does not belong to anyone, Oduntan states that it requires these highly important regulations. Even more, he claimed that the now approved mining programs could potentially pollute or contaminate celestial bodies, or even our very own planet.
According to Oduntan, this offers several companies, such as Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries, liberty to conduct their business on asteroids without regulation and in direct conflict with the ‘Outer Space Treaty’ from 1967. The two companies, however, are understandably glad that the U.S. law allows them to reach their goals. One 150 feet wide asteroid can have $150 billion worth of materials.
According to Planetary resources co-founder, Eric Anderson, the new legislation will show the same support that led to great economies in the past. It will also encourage further development of exploring outer space and its resources. The problem with most, however, seems to be that it’s condoned strictly under U.S. law and supervision, and yet it affects all nations.
That is why, several attorneys have drawn attention to the treaty the U.S. signed, which stated that no celestial bodies, including the moon, may be owned, claimed, used, or occupied by one nation. It strictly refers to outer space resources as being used “for the benefit of mankind and in the interest of all countries”.
Other attorneys disagree, by stating that asteroids don’t qualify as “celestial bodies”, and that mining the resources does not mean they’re staking claim or ownership.
Resources used for private profit or the good of mankind?
Oduntan, however, claimed that quibbling over definitions is a distraction from the main point of the matter. American law now allows systematic exploitation of outer space resources, in spite of the “huge environmental risks”. The new legislation is reportedly in direct violation of the international agreement, but the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has denied there is any conflict between the two acts.
Regardless, the passed law now allows the U.S. to conduct operations of space mining. And there are very few ways international communities could oversee, regulate, or police these activities.
Image source: minestories.com