back to article Who owns space? Looking at the US asteroid-mining act

An event of cosmic proportions occurred on 18 November when the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 into law. The legislation will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids. Although the act, passed with bipartisan support, still requires President …

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Childcatcher

"The conversation"

Is it some kind of online "New Statesman"?

Edit, I went and had a quick look. It's more like an online bastard child of the "New Statesman" and "New Scientist".

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Re: "The conversation"

And the original article reads exactly the same as it does in ElReg. Is this the new business model following the sad loss of Lewis Page? Instead of paying real journalists and experts like Tim Worstall for revealing or provoking articles we get cut and paste from 'seen on the web'? Or (for entire weekends recently) no articles at all?

I fear some kind of death spiral is taking place.

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Re: "The conversation"

"Instead of paying real journalists and experts like Tim Worstall for revealing or provoking articles we get cut and paste from 'seen on the web'? Or (for entire weekends recently) no articles at all?"

Just to correct a misconception here:

The Conversation is a free, CC-licensed news source provided primarily by the UK university sector. There are a couple of editing 'journalists', but the content of the articles is provided solely by experts, in that they are all university academics in their respective fields. People moan about academics, but I think calling Lewis Page an expert (especially on climate matters) and, to quote from the article

"Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent"

not an expert in international commercial law, seems bizarre.

In the tradition of The Conversation, which requires every contributor to produce a conflict of interest statement, which I don't remember seeing anywhere around here or other news websites:

I have written two articles for The Conversation, at least one of which was serialized in many newspapers around the world with no payment to me.

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Re: "The conversation"

I've no wish to question Mr Oduntan's legal expertise, though I don't think it extends to mining or space exploration, subjects which The Register used to have real hands-on experts they could call on. Lewis is a journalist and not a subject matter expert, though possession of a STEM degree equips him to comment on environmental matters with somewhat more insight than 90% of the journos out there.

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Re: "The conversation"

"s this the new business model following the sad loss of Lewis Page?"

Sorry - I haven't been reading El Reg as much, recently, because work was hectic, but have I missed something?

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@m0rt

No more Page or Worstall.

Their hooks got slung

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Re: @m0rt

Oh man. I enjoyed both their articles.

Im stopping my subscription.

Oh wait...

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Re: @m0rt

You can catch up with Lewis on his (occasional) defence beat at the Torygraph.

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Re: @m0rt

Their hooks got slung

As, apparently did Dominic Connor's, more's the pity for all of those losses. And instead the Reg ply us with endless dull-as-ditchwater articles about containerisation and flash-in-the-datacentre, read and and understood by about 10% of the Reg's readers, and of actual interest to about 2% or less*.

* Yes, yes, I made them up. But prove me wrong.

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Meh

Re: @m0rt

Not to worry- theres still AO to look forward to.

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@Ledswinger

Dominic Connor, like Tim Worstall, wasn't Reg staff (I think), but a freelance contributor - he has a proper day-job. When Editors change, the freelance talent they hire often (usually) changes with them.

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Re: "The conversation"

"I've no wish to question Mr Oduntan's legal expertise, though I don't think it extends to mining or space exploration, subjects which The Register used to have real hands-on experts they could call on. Lewis is a journalist and not a subject matter expert, though possession of a STEM degree equips him to comment on environmental matters with somewhat more insight than 90% of the journos out there."

The mechanics of mining aren't really important when discussing whether the US government has the legal authority to allow companies to mine asteroids.

And Lewis Page has a STEM degree. OK, I have two of them, so presumably I'm twice as qualified as he is to talk about environmental matters than he is. If I tell you I think he's wrong about quite a bit of it, then what?

Possession of a STEM degree unfortunately doesn't make us oracles of wisdom about all kinds of things, much as we like to think so.

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@DavCrav

What a clever little sausage you must be, award yourself a biscuit.

But I'm not comparing Lewis Page's expertise with yours, I'm just pointing out that it was nice to have a journalist with some actual scientific knowledge, rather than (say) the BBC's ubiquitous environment correspondent, Roger Harrabin, also the possessor of a Cambridge degree, but in English.

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Re: @Ledswinger

That is indeed exactly how it works.

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Re: @m0rt

Did some pencil sketch numbers about running a Kickstarter to produce an alt-mag. Just couldn't see 10k people chipping in $100 each to give a two year run at doing it properly. Just not on. And as for trying to do it commercially.....have you seen ad rates these days?

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Re: @m0rt

I'm, on a kinda/sorta good night, a member of the 2% and I'm seeing too much of this. Tim and, yes, even Lewis made a definite mental change from Ars Technica. Damn. The rest I can get from people who, mostly, speak American (with a ton of French & Spanish loan words). Double damn.

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Alert

Well...

As long as they sling nukes at each other out there, as opposed to down here, at least that's a plus side.

Only an utter moron would begin a war down here, based on what's up there.

Ah... I've just spotted a flaw in my statement.

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Re: Well...

Ah... I've just spotted a flaw in my statement.

Exactly. We have started wars for much less than that.

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Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

The treaty also states that outer space shall be the “province of all mankind … and that states shall avoid harmful contamination of space".

You mean with the amount of satellite housings, dead comms birds, spent stages, spent geosynchronous orbit boosters and floating radioactive material that is ALREADY up there in sufficient quantities to present a not-insignificant hazard to further spaceflight that we *HAVEN'T* contaminated space? Or at least near-Earth space?

http://ota.fas.org/reports/9033.pdf

Also - if i'm totally honest, I don't have a problem with the story at all. If some company wants to spend a fortune to massively push forwards human spaceflight capabilities to the extent we can not only REACH other (sub-)planetoids, but be able to mine them (either by advanced robotics, or by sending humans there a la 'Armageddon'), potentially sustaining life in space for an indefinite period, developing the technology that can be used to send humans to other 'proper' planets (think Mars) and all the rest of the stuff they'd need to develop to be able to exploit the practically infinite resources in the asteroid belt alone, meaning we don't need to carry on doing it on this planet - then you know what?

I'm perfectly happy for a company to be able to "lay claim" to a particular asteroid they've reached, and to then be able to exploit that asteroid for profit. It's when the USA starts planting flags on Mars and pretending it belongs to them and them alone; or claiming the entire asteroid belt just because they've landed on a single rock; or anything like that I'd have a problem with.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

"Space contamination" is more like a green meme transposed into utterly inappropriate settings.

Sure, keep LEO free and maybe keep radio silence, but apart from that ...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

I'm all for space contamination.

Right now this mud ball is the only place where life exists, if e-coli hitches a ride and colonises any lump it can, good for it!

Anything that can survive being repeatedly boiled and deep frozen deserves life.

Who knows what might evolve from our leavings?

Sentient socks?

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

Exactly. But that's also exactly the reason why the space treaties need updating. So that it's possible to "lay claim" to a particular asteroid, without being able to "lay claim" to entire planets. At the moment, everything is forbidden, but if we just break that without replacing it with something else, we'd end up with everything being allowed instead. That's even worse.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

Well, quite. Wiping out Martian microbes and replacing them with earth microbes really doesn't matter. Once we've looked at them and analysed them, who cares? Let's get on and exploit the solar system.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

Wiping out Martian microbes and replacing them with earth microbes really doesn't matter.

Why WOULD it matter?

If Earth Life can do it, Earth Life Strong!

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

Puzzled by the downvoting. Who gave Mars Microbes accounts on El Reg? Can't see why anyone else would think that microbes were more important than the future of the human race, unless there's unaccountably an educated IT worker who's also a member of the green party. Pretty sure the Venn diagram for that would be two circles a bazillion miles apart. IT - requires logical thought. Green Party membership - flowers, trees, singing, tie-dyed clothing, loathing of all humankind, love of frogs.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

I'm bemused that anyone could seriously believe that space mining would be done by sending people plus a full life support system. Anyone with the technical know-how to get there (and bring the stuff back, for less than a terrestrial mine (and Tim has written a whole book on how implausible *that* is)) will certainly be able to automate the actual mining.

I'm slightly surprised that we still use them for mining on Earth, but I suppose in some places life is cheap enough to make that pay.

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Re: Martian microbes

It is believed by those who have studied it that the two planets have been exchanging meteorites for the past few billion years, so it would be rather surprising if there weren't microbes on Mars or if they were significantly different from the more hardy of terrestrial varieties.

That said, the emptiness of space increases with the square of the distance from the sun, so it is quite possible that the moons of the outer planets might be different. It would be sad if we never found out because some jerk on Kickstarter had watched too many episodes of Red Dwarf.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Martian microbes

Hippy mantra taken to the absurd extremes.

"Won't somebody think of the microbes!?!"

Prove they exist and then they'll be worth considering.

We've had 50 years of looking for signs, sifting samples and coming up with ever more creative reasons why we've not spotted anything.

What if we're it for this solar system?

How long will we delay?

The most time consuming and wasted effort is searching for something that isn't there.

Our best chance of spotting extraterrestrial life is getting as many eyes up there as possible.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

Regarding your concern about overreach of sovereign claims, it looks like the legislators over here have already taken steps to keep that in check. Based on the text of the bill it seems that private individuals and corporations can only lay claim to resources that they can gather and bring back. So technically even if, say, Elon Musk sticks a US flag into an asteroid alongside a mining machine, the asteroid itself does not belong to us or him - the only things he can claim are the rocks dug up, and only if he can get them planetside. Furthermore, there's a clause that explicitly states that nothing in the bill is intended to lay claim of sovereign rights over any extraterritorial body.

Now keep in mind I'm American, so this could be bias on my part, but I think the idea behind the Space Act in an international context isn't necessarily to supercede international regulation of extraterrestrial resource exploration and exploitation, but rather to drive it forward. Keep in mind that the private sector is what is driving the space exploration industry at this time, and a good majority of the companies making plans to move beyond Earth are either of American origin or based in America. Amazon, SpaceX, Boeing, et cetera.

I agree there needs to be international regulation regarding the rights of both sovereign states and private individuals to explore outside of our planet, but the international treaties that currently exist are outdated and somewhat archaic. Ideally, what we're trying to do here is get the ball rolling. By passing the legislation America is trying to encourage people to actually do the thing and get out there, and prove to the world that you can make a profit from space rock. Once they do, other companies and nations will follow, and this will motivate everyone to update the existing international regulations to match the times and the technology. In the end I think extraterrestrial resource mining is something that is going to benefit everyone on the planet - it's a new frontier that will cause a rapid advance in our scientific, industrial, and technological prowess as a species. But someone has to take the first step.

Then again, I am American and therefore may have a colored viewpoint compared to the rest of the world - and also, the scenario I described above is assuming our government is acting with benevolent interests. Which I really hope they are, but given their track record...

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

"Once we've looked at them and analysed them"... Assuming that Martian microbes exist, that should keep us occupied for a very long time; we haven't analysed most of the types of microbe down here yet.

Two possibilities concerning life on Mars: it has the same basis as life on Earth (DNA, amino acids...) or it has a completely different basis. In the first case, we could find that some Martian microbes out-compete Earth microbes and bringing them back with exploited minerals is a really bad idea (someone should write a book about that, and call it, "War of the Worlds"). In the second case, it suggests that life can arise very easily, the Universe is teeming with alien civilisations, and we should trend carefully, or we could be crushed for stealing their resources.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

yeah if you wanted to own things in space you had to really do it before international laws against owning space things came into force. haley managed to get a comet this way, but unfortunately she didn't think to establish a mining company to reap the benefits.

In some ways I think the catholic church has a good argument for ownership of the entire universe given it was all made originally by god.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

But that's also exactly the reason why the space treaties need updating. So that it's possible to "lay claim" to a particular asteroid, without being able to "lay claim" to entire planets.

Classification of space rocks into discreet groups is problematic. Pluto used to be called a planet but now it is only a "dwarf planet", Ceres is an asteroid and is also in the same "dwarf planet" classification as Pluto. If you update space treaties to allow mining of certain classifications I'd be willing to bet that we'll see pressure to have many space rocks reclassified so they become mine-able. First on the hit-list will be the Moon.

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Re: Lay Claim

I have great objection to anyone 'laying claim' to a planet, bit of a planet, an asteroid or even a some part of empty space. They don't own it; shouting that they own it or plonking a spaceship near it does nothing to change the fact that they don't own it, never have and never will. Even if you change the meaning to laying claim to a priority right concerning said planet asteroid or bit of space it is not up to any one country to administer such rights.

That US Bill is a bit of bipartisan navel fluff .

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

See Fermi's Paradox for the whole Universe teeming with alien civilizations nonsense.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

I expect there's been contamination already. Microbes are much hardier than we thought when this treaty was first created. Interplanetary space isn't an absolute quarantine. And if we explore Mars in person, eventually our germs will make it out, likely in the form of stealth extremeophiles we may not even be aware cane along for the ride.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

@ PaulFrederick - Fermi's paradox and the Drake equation are fascinating ways of speculating about alien life and civilisations, but they are not proven laws that can justify your dismissal of the whole Universe teeming with alien civilizations as 'nonsense'. The wikipedia page on Fermi's paradox lists 20 hypothetical explanations. Extrapolation from a single data point is very uncertain, I'm just saying that, if we found a second data point on Mars, it would make a big change to the extrapolation.

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Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

Extrapolation from a single data point is very uncertain, I'm just saying that, if we found a second data point on Mars, it would make a big change to the extrapolation.

You can draw a 2D curve of any shape through two given points just as easily as you can through one point. A second point does nothing for extrapolation unless you also have some assumptions about the shape of the curve.

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FAIL

Yippee!

So it looks like the plot of land on the Moon that I bought will be worth $$$$$$$$$$!

</sarc>

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I am surprised

that the author of the article seems surprised that something done by the US Congress doesn't make sense, or flouts international law, and is mainly aimed at supporting US business interests. Sounds like business as usual for US Congress

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Re: I am surprised

Exactly! And here I thought "Team America: World Police" was just a comedy. They are not extending that to "Universe Police".

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TRT
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Re: I am surprised

Fantastic Four.

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Holmes

Re: I am surprised

My thoughts exactly. When I saw the headline my immediate thought was:

****Newsflash******

US Congress passes law in defiance of international law

*****Other top stories******

Pope still Catholic

Bears still going into forest for fecal deposition....

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Happy

Re: I am surprised

"Fantastic Four."

The IQ of congress?

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Re: I am surprised

> "Sounds like business as usual for US Congress"

Yeah, not like every other government. They are all highly ethical!

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Unleash The Greenfly!

"plunder outer space"

Woah there. How exactly is that supposed to happen? Someone is seriously overestimating the difficulty and current ability of humanity to perform anything of consequence out there.

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Re: Unleash The Greenfly!

Especially since there is no "outer" space. All we have is "here" and "there", and most of the really important stuff is "here". But I have no problem with plundering "there", whatever we call it. It's not like we'll run out any time soon.

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Trollface

Re: Unleash The Greenfly!

As I have said before:

Earth First!

We can strip mine the other planets later!

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Let's get real

I don't appreciate how the US basically considers that anything it does is, by virtue of being done in America, legal and acceptable.

But concerning space, that is neither here nor there. In the long term we, as a species, will have to expand to other planets. In the shorter term we will need to mine asteroids to sustain our population's needs on Earth. Doing that implies industrial activity in space, it is unavoidable.

I read the act as the US saying that it will not pursue US companies or dispute a company's claim to having mined stuff. Well fine, where's the problem ? The act does not say that it does not allow other country's companies that right, nor does it say that only US companies are allowed to mine space. At no point does it declare US ownership of space.

Event of cosmic proportions ? More a storm in a teacup, as far as I'm concerned.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Let's get real

Because they assume US companies will be there first. Wait until a Chinese team starts looking at an asteroid, and suddenly the US will start lecturing everybody about the respect due to international laws.

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