Barack Obama recently signed off a law that allows U.S. companies to gain ownership over the materials mined from space boulders, but the U.S.’ move to legalize asteroids mining was met with skepticism. Critics argued that the U.S. doesn’t have the authority to grant such right.
The new law called The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act clearly states that any resource mined from an asteroid belong to the ‘entity’ that mined them. According to the act, U.S. companies would be conferred all property rights according to U.S. laws and “international obligations.”
The new rules, which replaced the term of ‘asteroid mining’ with the more complex ‘asteroid resource utilization,’ also state that the entity should refrain from ‘causing harmful interference’ outside our planet’s boundaries. Moreover, asteroid mining companies can initiate civil action in U.S. courts against other companies that fall under the U.S. jurisdiction if those companies interfere with their actions.
But critics are not at peace with the new rules. For instance, Sa’id Mosteshar, head of a London-based non-profit concerned with space policy and law, believes that any U.S. company that gain any rights over space resources would break international law and so would be the country that allows it.
Mosteshar explained that international treaties which the U.S. signed do not grant it that right. As a result, Obama administration cannot give U.S. companies rights that it doesn’t have.
One of those treaties, The Outer Space Treaty (1967), clearly states that space objects and their resources are “not subject to national appropriation.” The treaty also says that states should refrain from contaminating space bodies.
But other law experts claim that President Obama’s act is not at odds with international treaties. Julian Ku, an expert in international law at a U.S. university, explained that the Outer Space Treaty says nothing about private property rights.
As a result, the U.S. government is allowed to assign to private companies and citizens the right to exploit space resources, use, and monetize if they are abiding by the U.S. law, Mr. Ku wrote in a recent blogpost.
Ku also believes that other countries are entitled to assign similar rights to their citizens as long as they don’t claim sovereignty. This is possible because there isn’t any international treaty focused on space resource exploitation. As a result, the domain can now only be regulated via national regulations.
Several U.S. space companies such as Planetary Resources pledged to start asteroid mining operations in ten years’ time.
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