Is asteroid mining legal? Congress wants to make it so...
J Thoendell stashed this in Space
The House Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Technology recently discussed the proposed ASTEROIDS Act (the cute acronym stands for American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities In Deep Space). The most important line of the proposed bill is "Any resources obtained in outer space from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained such resources."
The language of the bill as a whole, experts say, was written to coexist with the international treaty. It relies on the distinction between "appropriation" and "use" to make asteroid mining legal. Again, there's healthy disagreement over the validity of this distinction.
But for all the logic involved in these sorts of arguments, if the bill became law, the real test might be a practical one. Would the UN and other countries actually object to asteroid mining if it began?
One reason they might is that the current bill only applies to American companies — it doesn't make the same assurances for other nations'. One possible fix, Adam Minter at Bloomberg notes, would be to put a "reciprocal recognition" provision into the act.
This would compel the US to sign treaties with other countries interested in asteroid mining, and the treaties would specify that each country recognizes the other's property claims in space. There's precedent for this: since the early 80s, the US has followed this sort of protocol when it comes to mining rights on the ocean floor.