Less than a week ago, Planetary Resources made headlines (Planetary Resources: WIll They Succeed?) when the startup firm declared its strategy to survey and mine asteroids for water and precious metals.
Basically, their position can be summarized as: if we can reach it, we own it. As reported by Discovery News, Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson stated:
“We as a US company certainly have the right to go an asteroid and make use of its resources. It is a stated goal of the US government to enable and promote commercial activities and economic activity in space.”
However, logical this may sound — no one else is bothering to undertake the risk to robotically mine an asteroid — it may run counter to an existing international treaty. The architecture of space law is the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty; more than 100 countries are signers, including the US. The treaty outlines that:
“Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
Basically, under the UN treaty, any object in space cannot be privately owned. This is explicitly stated in the case of nations, but attorneys in the commercial space industry are concerned that the broader implication is for private companies as well.
Of course, it’s possible that the United States — in support of Planetary Resources’ economic objectives — could pull out of the treaty ahead of time. Or conversely, international law may be rewritten to take into account the new realities of exploiting the natural resources in nearby asteroids.
Either way, Planetary Resources has plenty of time to ponder the possibilities — sending a spacecraft to prospect an asteroid is still decades away.
Feel free to comment! We welcome open and honest discourse regarding any article. But, you better bring your A-game with some real perspective, if you want to spark a dialogue. Rude, mean-spirited comments will be deleted! Thanks for visiting and becoming a part of our community!