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Congress Just Passed a Historic Law Legalizing Commercial Mining… In Outer Space

Why the Space Act of 2015 is a pivotal moment for what could be one of the future’s biggest industries.

image via (cc) flickr user nasa2explore

If space, as Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry postulated way back in 1966, is truly “the final frontier,” then it stands to reason that there will inevitably be frontiersmen and women eager to tame the uncharted wilds of the cosmos, not just in the spirit of adventure and exploration, but for profit as well. This week, the budding space-trepreneurial industry got a major boost with the passage of H.R. 2262, the Space Act of 2015, a little-reported bill with potentially huge implications for the future. In short, the Space Act helps pave the way for what could become a massive (and massively lucrative) business: Asteroid mining.

Until recently, the prospect of large scale extraction of minerals from other planets or cosmic bodies has been both technologically and legally questionable, with starry-eyed entrepreneurs hard at work on the first part, but without much guidance on the second. Enter H.R. 2262, which directs the president to “promote the right of U.S. commercial entities to explore outer space and utilize space resources, in accordance with such obligations, free from harmful interference, and to transfer or sell such resources.” It also clarifies that “[a]ny 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.”

Essentially, explains, this lays the legal groundwork for private businesses to own extra-planetary resources, as well as sell their goods back on Earth. It’s a move welcomed by Eric Anderson, co-founder of asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources Inc. “Many years from now we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species,” says Anderson, in a statement on his company’s website. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

Companies like Anderson’s, such as California-based Deep Space Industries, see huge potential for space mining. Asteroids are known to contain deposits of rare metals like gold and platinum, as well as more commonly found ones like nickel and iron. What’s more, mining asteroids could solve one of the more vexing challenges of space exploration—fuel scarcity, as this Planetary Resources video explains:

While the Space Act of 2015 is far from complete, it is an indication that asteroid mining is not just a science fiction fantasy, but something being taken seriously at the highest levels of government. As Planetary Resources’ President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki explains:

“We are proud to have the support of Congress. Throughout history, governments have spurred growth in new frontiers by instituting sensible legislation. Long ago, The Homestead Act of 1862 advocated for the search for gold and timber, and today, H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity. This off-planet economy will forever change our lives for the better here on Earth”

It’s worth nothing that the Homestead act was, in fact, followed by the General Mining Law of 1872, which was what actually laid the groundwork for how the government regulates and tracks mineral claims on public lands. Similarly, it is likely that the Space Act of 2015 will also be followed by more specific legislation, designed to more fully address this as-of-yet largely theoretical industry.

Still, with Presidential approval expected shortly, H.R. 2262 is an important beginning for the dreamers, builders, and entrepreneurs who look up into the sky and see opportunity in the inky blackness of space


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