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back to article Read the proposed US ASTEROIDS Act to green-light mining IN SPAAAACE

A pair of US Representatives are pushing legislation that would remove some of the legal hurdles to commercial space mining. HR 5063, the adorably named American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities In Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act, would define when resources mined from an asteroid could be considered private …

The first space mining freighter needs to be named the Nostromo... because that worked out so well for another crew :)

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You don't need an alien for the mining corporations to screw things up in space ... it made me immediately think of Peter Hyams's Outland. :-)

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re: Nostromo

Red Dwarf would also be acceptable.

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Made me think of

Heavy Time by C J Cherryh. Just like the Gold Rush, the ones that supply the miners really make the money.

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Happy

Re: Made me think of

4ecks,

What time is it?

I love Cherryh's books. And of course this law suggests exactly the problem that she covered in that book. If you can't steal the stuff before it's mined, you can beat people to the asteroid. It would be a shame if you crashed into them first…

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"The mined materials would then be considered private property under US laws"

And exactly how do US laws apply in space?

Especially when they are so emphatic that US laws do NOT apply outside the US in places such as Guantanamo Bay.

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But they DO apply to any other country if the USA says they do, but no international law applies to anyone in the US Government... Geez. Wish the US would make up their minds on what laws apply to whom and when.

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MrT
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ASTEROIDS...

..."If you're gonna claim a comet, stick a flag on it. If you're after space resources stick a flag on it..." it's Destiny, Spacechild.

And the bacronym writers were having a field day there: ASTEROIDS Act, named by the same department that brought you the study into Ballistic Objects Launched Locally over Conflict Zones (bulk quantities, aged stock preferred)...

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Law doesn't enable, it recognises ownership

Blame a badly written article. There is no law stopping anyone from mining asteroids at the moment. And this new law doesn't enable people to mine asteroids. What it does do is recognise the legality of the ownership of the mined materials when they are brought to earth. Without the law material could be taken from the miners and there wouldn't be any law that said it was theft as no country would have recognised the ownership.

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Happy

Re: Law doesn't enable, it recognises ownership

Without the law material could be taken from the miners and there wouldn't be any law that said it was theft as no country would have recognised the ownership.

This all assumes the material and/or perpetrator is brought to Earth. Personally I think it's better to use the material to build an off-Earth civilisation. Still it's probably best for now not to let Earthly governments know that. Let them pass their laws if it keeps them happy and encourages them to provide funding and assistance ;)

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Shirley this is something for the UN rather than the US?

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Why the UN?

I don't think it's a very good idea that it should be decided by the UN. You then have an awful lot of nations who aren't spacefaring and have no plans to go in to space deciding on the legislation. Added to that - what democratic mandate is there to have the legislation repealed at the global level?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why the UN?

Interesting. So if you go into the forest to burn down the trees, all those who don't follow you have no decision in what you do?

Just because others cannot get to space, does it mean they have no say (or polite discussion even, come on) in what anyone does and what the laws may be?

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Re: Why the UN?

The analogy doesn't work because, on Earth, someone will own or live in the forest. There is no analogy for what we're seeing here.

And if you can't get in to space, why should you have ANY say in what US companies under US jurisdiction do with resources they exploit out there? Why should we go around asking Burkina Faso or Bhutan what they feel about mineral extraction in space?

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Re: Why the UN?

> The analogy doesn't work because, on Earth, someone will own or live in the forest. There is no analogy for what we're seeing here.

People are only capable of "owning" a forest due to the laws of man. Beside the relative difficulty in access, the only reason asteroids are treated differently are because of the laws of man (the outer space treaty).

> And if you can't get in to space, why should you have ANY say in what US companies under US jurisdiction do with resources they exploit out there?

Just because you can't go somewhere, does not mean that activities in that place do not affect you. I personally can't fly up into LEO, but I'm certainly affected by what might go on up there (hello, GPS).

What about someone going out into the middle of the Atlantic (international waters), and dumping a thousand tonnes of highly radioactive waste? Should Switzerland, a land-locked nation, not have a right to complain about such activity? They may not have an Atlantic coastline, but I'm sure they have dealings involving the Atlantic (importing fish, for example).

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Re: Why the UN?

There's no comparison between the two situations. In your hypothetical toxic waste dump Switzerland would be affected.

Countries who aren't mining in space won't be affected by laws affecting ownership of stuff mined in space. There are no byproducts which might affect them. There are no labour laws which will affect them. Their ownership of resources on Earth won't change. This really doesn't affect most countries, and it really never will. I don't see why they should have a say in something which can not, does not and probably never will affect them.

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Re: Why the UN?

They'll be effected the first time a "returned roid" hits the wrong landing zone...

If anything comes back here, others are effected. It's a small effect, but no need to tread people as a minus on the landscape.

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Headmaster

Re: Why the UN?

I'm not quite sure why these others you speak of will come into being when an asteroid lands.

Maybe you meant "affected". See icon.

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Right, and of course the US has decided their laws apply to the whole Universe (literally this time) again. What about when another country passes a law that says the opposite and steals said mined products from the US private space craft? hey are obeying their law and US law does not apply, they are not in the US.

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War of Independence! In SPAAACEE!!

Seriously, fuck you, groundhuggers.

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jai
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and steals said mined products from the US private space

well, that's just plain stealing. doesn't matter if you're on the ground or in space, whether you're american or more sophisticated. you'd have to intercept, board, probably overcome-if-not-kill the crew, make off with the booty. we'll be bringing back the old piracy laws and setting up a Eastern Galaxy Trading Company to patrol the murky depths of the starry skies. Pirates of the Capricon Cluster......

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Happy

Seriously, fuck you, groundhuggers.

I prefer the term flatlander :)

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""you'd have to intercept, board, probably overcome-if-not-kill the crew, make off with the booty."

Very unlikely. Most space mining that returned metals to Earth would be bulk metals like iron. Gold and other rare metals would be very minor, because for asteroids the processes that concentrate rare metals (gravity, weathering, bio) are absent.

Rather, picture a stream of metal chunks or something similar, routinely aero-braking and dropping onto a bare patch of desert. Not much booty to be had there, but plenty of room for government to step in and do what they do best, namely screw things up.

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Pirate

Space Pirates?

I'm in!

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quote: "well, that's just plain stealing. doesn't matter if you're on the ground or in space, whether you're american or more sophisticated. you'd have to intercept, board, probably overcome-if-not-kill the crew, make off with the booty."

None of which is technically illegal, as it has happened in a location where there are (literally) no laws that apply, thanks to there being no jurisdiction or sovereignty over anywhere outside Earth's gravity well. "International waters" is not the same thing as "interplanetary space".

All the US are saying is that they will honour any claims of ownership over extraterrestrial material brought onto US soil.

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Has no one made a story about land grabs in space? And people claiming their own lands, laws and zones?

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Mushroom

It takes a lot less to destroy asteroid mining ships than it does to make them, so this could get rather interesting.

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Nothing to worry about here....

Take a quick look not just at the House, but also the denizens of the Senate. Most seem not to have a clue about space. The few that have spoken are so far out there in their beliefs that they all qualify as space cadets.

On second thought..... we should all be worried.

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There are so many problems.

1. The asteroids are not near earth. Occasionally one ventures nearish, but at tremendious velocity.

2. The delta-m required to bring even a small asteroid into earth orbit is tremendous.

3. Any large, steerable body in orbit or above is potentially a hyperweapon. That is, the type of thing that makes regular WMDs look like toys. The last time a major body impacted, there were dinosaurs roaming the earth. There aren't any more. Do you want to see that in the hands of private industry?

4. No-one has the faintest idea how to do zero-G refining, with only energy as an input.

5. Most asteroids, and all comets, are crap-grade ore.

6. The only way it might be at all economical would be to keep the minerals in space, and use for space-based manufacturing of more ships - there's no point bringing most of them down, as only a few minerals (Platinum, gold) are expensive enough to justify the reentry cost. So you'd be mining minerals for an industry that doesn't exist.

It's a nice idea, but what we have here is the basic chicken and egg situation. For space industry like this to be practical requires great advances in very specific fields of technology that aren't going to advance without space industry, and a space economy to purchase the goods which can't take form until there is an established industry beyond geostationary orbit. Asteroid mining remains a pipe dream unless either someone makes a breakthrough in technology (perhaps a space elevator) or else many trillions (Yes, with a T) of dollars are thrown away on mega-projects in the hope of maybe setting up favorable economic conditions for someone else to profit from.

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Re: There are so many problems.

Not sure I get your point in re-entry costs. Once braked into a stable orbit the additional costs for re-entry should be minimal.

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FAIL

Re: Once braked into a stable orbit...

So what are they going to use to slow it down?

A parachute?

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Re: Once braked into a stable orbit...

In peter hamiltons nights dawn trilogy he explains this exact thing, basically the asterioids are moved into orbit, the ore is liquidized and foamed, then launched down onto the planet using aerobrake and lands into the sea. I will admit it is weaponised 30 seconds later but its something.

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jai
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Re: There are so many problems.

i think the point of this Act is that it attempts to remove one of the other problems that will occur down the line, once all those other problems you list are overcome.

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Re: There are so many problems.

Wouldn't the economic argument for space mining depend entirely on human need for the particular resource, and how much of it (if any) was left on this planet?

e.g. If oxygen began to run out .......?

No doubt quintizillions of dollars would be a small price to pay.

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Re: There are so many problems.

Depends if you want to aim where it's coming down. It's a lump of rock, not an aerodynamic ship, and even if it does get down right it'll lost of of the mass to atmospheric burnup. Each 'delivery' would need to be hooked up to some equipment to carefully control reentry and fitted into a heat shield.

The alternative is in-space refining, but see the other points for that.

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Re: There are so many problems.

We've plenty of most mineral resources left. The cheap reserves may be running out, but there are pricier ones left - and still a lot cheaper than space mining.

Maybe if you can find an asteroid of largely gold or another precious metal it might be halfway viable. But those are proper asteroids - as in 'belt.' Far, far away in delta-V terms, and very massive. The delta-M would be ridiculous. You're not bringing one of those to earth with conventional rocketry.

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Re: There are so many problems.

Oxygen is not running out any time soon. As a hint, it helps make up 70% of the surface area...

There is a stupid amount of material on our earth let alone in space.

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Re: There are so many problems.

In theory the problem is one of getting to the asteroid belts to mine in the first place as having the fuel to return to earth shouldn't be a problem as soon as you find a few Ice bearing asteroids. Of course you need to work out how to refine the fuel from the water in the first place, but that's something that can be perfected fairly close to earth.

What's the betting that the first structure built outside earths gravitational field is a fuel depot/station with massive solar panels for the refining.

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Re: "Refine the fuel from ice".

The reality is more amazing than we realise, but sadly our imaginations are just that, and rarely do they become real...

You cannot just make fuel from ice. That's not how thermodynamics works. "Water" is an energy store here, from which we make rocket fuel (ox and hydrogen) with the assistance of a power source.

You have solar in space, but much less in the asteroid belt. So your looking at decades to return something that way. Taking your own fuel is again problematic as you hit the rocket equation and fuel becomes a payload you cannot afford to carry (basically a reducing return of investment problem).

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Re: "Refine the fuel from ice".

You can brute force fuel by electrolysis using just solar electricity. If you take up a nuclear power source you can do it faster. If you have some carbon around you can then turn the hydrogen into a safer and more portable fuel using electricity and a catalyst.

It doesn't matter if it's slow as long as it's not too slow.

As a side thought though, once you've got your momentum going wouldn't you be using ion engines to move through the solar system anyway? At which point you need fairly small amounts of actual fuel, and would be using the hydrogen/oxygen for escaping gravity wells that are stronger than your ion engines only.

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Coat

Watch it, asteroid pirates...

... I've got Military Lasers on my Mark III Cobra...

... Right on, Commander!

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Re: Watch it, asteroid pirates...

You have been offered an assassination contract. Will you accept it?

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Mushroom

@frank ly - Re: Watch it, asteroid pirates...

ITYM "We want [Name]'s career to have a fitting end in the [name] system..."

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Re: Watch it, asteroid pirates...

Lol.

Just picked up my nice shiny new Mark III Cobra yesterday *, although not done any pirate hunting yet with it. Too busy shooting down Federal fighters :-)

* Elite Dangerous

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OK, now, how about actually funding NASA, you twats!

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meanwhile:

Captain Eugene Cernan turned 80 this year, no closer to his dream of losing the title 'Last man on The Moon', While Congress babbles inanely about how their corporate overlords get to divide the riches of the solar system.

NASA has to beg for crumbs to study the mysteries of creation while the NSA and US military get billions to spread fear and mistrust of the US around the world.

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As pointed out above

There is no great reason - or indeed need - to search for any other than extremely rare and extremely important minerals in the asteroids and ship them home; it's economically unviable.

There *may* be reasons why it's worthwhile doing refining[1] of more common metals in earth orbit rather than on the surface and shipping the results to ground, but there are still a lot of reasons why not.

There are eight billion reasons, on the other hand, why we should be out there mining, refining, and building ships and places to live - we have all those eight billion eggs in one basket at present. A dinosaur killer only has to be lucky once.

However... like it or not, the writ of the US does not and cannot extend beyond this planet. There is no sense, no point, in writing laws which cannot be enforced; any exploitation of the asteroids is going to be a free-for-all which will make the California gold rush look like an afternoon stroll in the park - simply because there are too many people for whom the attitude is 'see it, grab it' irrespective of prior claims or rights.

Nonetheless, I do believe that the sheer size of the asteroid resource is beneficial; things are a long way apart and even a thorough freeloading pirate has to do an estimate of whether the dv to get somewhere outweighs the benefit he can expect upon arrival. I think also, as happened in California and other gold-rush locations, that the citizenry will act together against bandits and organise rules and regulations which work for them - but they won't be controlled by anyone on earth. (Alternatively, the bandits control everything and then discover that if they want to benefit from this control they have to become governments in an of themselves - look at the drug lords in South/Central America for examples.)

It annoys the hell out of me that forty-five years (almost to the week) since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, we're not already all over the asteroid belt, the rings of Saturn (all those lovely volatiles!), the surface of Mars and the Jovian moons. Make no mistake - the USA has no right to be ruling on what is possible out there (nor the UK - the only country ever to have abandoned a working space technology - how embarrassing is that?).

[1] a post earlier suggested there was no known way refining metals using just energy. There are no deep-space *tested* methods... but here's one thought: find a small metal target, spin it gently, if it's not doing it already, build a large mylar or similar reflector, leave the target at the focus of the reflector and wait until it melts. The heavy stuff ends up in the middle.

A favourite way of getting refined metal to the ground from orbit involves a similar process: make a hole in the middle of the refined metal, fill it with ice, and heat again until the metal softens and the ice melts and flashes to steam. This leaves you with a nice big bubble of metal. Now let the water out and seal some vacuum in (you don't want to waste the water) and if you got your sums right, you have a lighter-than-air (at some height to be determined) vessel that's strong enough to survive the trip to earth. A nice gentle float as you let air back in... sounds like a job for the SPB!

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Black Helicopters

Re: As pointed out above

like it or not, the writ of the US does not and cannot extend beyond this planet.

Are you sure you're not some sort of stinkin-commie-subversive-hippie-fag?

I am quite sure many Americans believe their laws and rule should extend, not just across the whole earth, but across the whole universe and that, one day, God will provide. Hallelujah! USA! USA! USA!

In the meantime it provides America with a legal pretext for military conflict with anyone who disagrees with America's dictating of how things will be should that be needed.

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