Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Space Law!

Slate covers the burgeoning field of mining rights in outer space:

Current efforts to clarify the legal status of asteroid-mined resources, if approached the wrong way, she says, could guarantee Arctic-like international disputes over future space activities. The reverse is also a concern: Disagreements over space could influence disputes on Earth. It might be fun to imagine Battlestar Galactica–type conflicts over resources in space, but why spend millions on space weapons when you can hurt your competitor at home and on the cheap?

The foundational document that governs doing stuff in space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, on which the United States, Russia, China, and more than 100 other countries are signatories. It reads with an optimism that seems strange today in the era of the mothballed space shuttle. The treaty bans nuclear weapons in space, forbids nations to make claims to celestial real estate, and clearly allows for private space enterprise. According to Gabrynowicz, “Non-state actors … are authorized to be in space, that’s what Article 6 of the Outer Space Treaty is all about.” In fact, it’s apparent that the drafters of the treaty expected that resources would be extracted from space at some point, she says, “But we’ve just never reached agreement on what happens to extracted resources. … So what is happening is you have companies that are chomping at the bit to clarify the rules.

On Sept. 10, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the Asteroid Act, a refreshingly short and readable five-page bill that would recognize the ownership by companies of resources they have extracted from asteroids and would also prohibit companies from interfering with the operations of competitors. Planetary Resources sent a letter to the committee in support of the bill.

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