The United States Senate has recently confirmed that a bill designed to facilitate commercial space exploration has passed. The bill contains several provisions that limit the amount of regulations that the government can legally impose on commercial space launches until September of 2023.
Perhaps the most interesting provision is that private companies will be able to mine asteroids for their natural resources. The bill establishes the rule that companies will take ownership of whatever they mine from an asteroid.
The bill reads, “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.”
The language of the bill is designed to work around provisions that are outlined in the Outer Space Treaty. Under that treaty, countries are prohibited from establishing sovereign territory in outer space. However, the recent bill still does not allow companies to own asteroids, but rather they can legally own the material that they mine from the asteroids. Additionally, companies will be able to sue any company that tries to interfere with these rights in a court of law.
The legal precedent for this bill was established during the Apollo moon landing missions. In the missions, astronauts obtained a large amount of rock and soil samples from the moon. Now, this principle also applies to private companies who mine asteroids for rare metals.
Companies that are planning to mine asteroids in the future are extremely happy with this new bill.
One company called Planetary Resources said in a statement, “This legislation creates a pro-growth environment for the development of the commercial space industry by encouraging private sector investment and ensuring a more stable and predictable regulatory regime. This law is important for the industry and is integral to protecting and supporting U.S. interests as the commercial space sector continues to expand.”
Next week, the bill should be passed by the United States House of Representatives. After that, it is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. Both Democrats and Republicans that have been asked about the bill have been largely supportive.