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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    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Let's get real

      It doesn't specify who gets to claim what or if you have to land on it to claim it.

      So a US company now starts claiming asteroids by the 1000 and when China or Korea or India actually send some robot thingy to them - the US company can sue.

      1. Steve Knox
        Facepalm

        Re: Let's get real

        It doesn't specify who gets to claim what or if you have to land on it to claim it.

        I suppose I can't blame you entirely for getting that entirely wrong, because the original article didn't bother linking to the proposed act properly. Instead they link to a NASA page which contains an overview of the previous space acts.

        For reference, here's the actual act we're talking about: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2262/text, straight from the horse's mouth.

        And here's the relevant section which has got all your knickers in a twist:

        Ҥ 51303. Asteroid resource and space resource rights

        “A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”.

        Notice two key points: "...entitletd to any asteroid or space resource obtained..." and "... in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States."

        So 1) they have to obtain the resource before claiming ownership of it, and 2) this does not supersede any international law.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Let's get real

          "So 1) they have to obtain the resource before claiming ownership of it, and 2) this does not supersede any international law."

          In addition, I read it as meaning that they own the resources they return to Earth but there's no mention of anyone being able to claim ownership of a celestial body. I get the feeling this is a way to by-pass the current rules/laws which IIRC basically say that anything brought back from space belongs to the Government/Humanity because that was drafted before anyone thought that commercial enterprises could ever afford to go to space.

          1. CarbonLifeForm

            Re: Let's get real

            Good point.

            I fail to understand the gratuitous hand wringing in the article. If we are going to commercialize space, then filthy lucre will be part of the deal. It would seem extremely unfair to me for a private entity to spend a fortune to wrest value from space, only to be told when the hardware is done well done. It belongs to "humanity", and by humanity I mean Not You.

        2. The_Idiot

          Re: Let's get real

          Perhaps I spend too much time under the eyes and whips of Editors, but to me there's a difference between:

          “A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”.

          and

          “A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained by that citizen, or an agent of that citizen, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”.

          Of course, I'm sure nobody would ever use such a literal translation of a legal statement to imply that because:

          a) Someone else has gone out and mined it it is 'obtained'

          and therefore

          b) Because I am in fact 'engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource', even though that mostly means I have a very nice letterhead with the words 'Asteroid Mining' in, Under US law it's bloody mine (no pun intended) I tell you!

        3. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Let's get real

          Excellent points Steve. It doesn't supersede treaties, laws, etc. Only tells US companies the US Government will not do an about face and claim ownership, etc. This is something that I think the author didn't read, or didn't want to bring up for whatever reason.

        4. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Let's get real

          Pesky facts!

      2. CarbonLifeForm

        Re: Let's get real

        The act requires that you land there. Can't just do a patent storm type legal thing.

    2. PaulFrederick

      Re: Let's get real

      It is Manifest Destiny. USA from here to Pluto! When I am elected Emperor of the USA every pioneer will get five asteroids, and a missile.

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ".. the audacity of greed."

    True, but I guess greed is going to be the only serious driver for getting people out in the solar system in serious numbers.

    However, the US should bear in mind that all nations will play the same game, and it is quite possible that their companies will find, when they get to that prime piece of real-estate that they're after, a Chinese or Indian automatic processing facility already operational.

    No matter what Congress thinks, International agreements will still be needed.

  2. John 110

    As a microbiologist and SF fan...

    "Similarly, if we started contaminating celestial bodies with microbes from Earth, it could ruin our chances of ever finding alien life there."

    Similarly, if we started contaminating Earth with microbes from celestial bodies, it could ruin our chances of ever surviving the alien life there.

    There fixed that for you...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: As a microbiologist and SF fan...

      Cross-contamination would seriously rock. I don't think it is really possible. It's more likely that a human gets tobacco virus.

      1. John 110

        Re: As a microbiologist and SF fan...

        @destroy "Cross-contamination would seriously rock. I don't think it is really possible. It's more likely that a human gets tobacco virus."

        So we're not going to wipe out all the BEMs with measles or the common cold then? We're doomed, doomed!!!

    2. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: As a microbiologist and SF fan...

      Ah, so you have seen that documentary called 'Evolution' as well

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_%282001_film%29

  3. RIBrsiq

    Audacity

    "It goes against a number of treaties and international customary law which already apply to the entire universe".

    I don't know about that, really.

    Maybe I've been watching/reading too much science fiction, but it seems to *me* that the only audacious thing going on is the author's assumption that any laws in existence today apply, in any meaningful sense of the word, to any part of the universe past Earth orbit... Akin to, say, a Pharaoh deeding the sun to his favourite son, etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Audacity

      Treaties can be unilaterally withdrawn from.

      Given the number of other problems in the world, somehow I don't think any other countries will bother to take any action should the USA do so.

    2. Anonymous Blowhard

      Re: Audacity

      "Akin to, say, a Pharaoh deeding the sun to his favourite son"

      He can't; a Spanish woman already owns it:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/05/ebat_sun_lawsuit/

    3. annodomini2

      Re: Audacity

      The argument boils down to is a state a company and vice versa?

      The rules are that a state cannot lay claim to non-earth territory etc.

  4. Your alien overlord - fear me

    This is similar to the moron who 'owns' the moon. Just because you're American actually means nothing to anyone else in the world (let alone the existing Intergalatic Federation of Asteroid Mining Consortium).

    If I decide to mine an asteroid, I don't want anyone else muscling in so lasers on standby....

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "If I decide to mine an asteroid, I don't want anyone else muscling in so lasers on standby...."

      Which is why we shouldn't necessarily let private companies do this.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Your alien overlord - fear me

        Just wait until I genetically mutate my space sharks to have frikken lasers on their heads.....

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > "Which is why we shouldn't necessarily let private companies do this."

        Why not? So what if asteroid mining companies might shoot at each other? That kind of behavior is frowned upon by stockholders everywhere. After a couple of incidents the industry will get together and formulate rules to prevent such things, on pain of a gang-up attack on the violator.

        The real danger (to the current power holders) is that those companies will grow, and so will the off-planet population. Sooner or later there will be new nations out there who have no stake in Earth, other than as a dwindling market share.

  5. kmac499

    Gold Rush Economics

    I shall mostly be buying shares in the shovel makers.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Gold Rush Economics

      I'm kitting out with mining lasers and a couple of ore processing pods.

      Mine's the one that plays the Blue Danube when I dock.

  6. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face
    Thumb Up

    Excellent news. We're running short of unobtainium. Where's Sigourney Weaver?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well then, material defender ... your contract says you must take this mission

      She's plotting to bomb this site from orbit because it's the only way to be sure.

      Meanwhile, slimy mega-space corps Weyland-Yutani is planning on sending slave-wage/no healthcare/20 years contract terraforming colonists to the other side of Acheron because they need to revive a parasitic xenomorph that they have more info about than anyone can suspecta because reasons and the space government is ready to pay big taxpayer bucks for any weaponazible stuff that will come out that particular experiment.

  7. Elmer Phud

    Aliens

    I feel sorry for anyone/thing already living out there.

    Our history tends to be rather nasty when it comes to locals getting in the way of 'our ' resources.

    1. Anonymous Blowhard

      Re: Aliens

      If any aliens turn up in our solar system, then it will be us with the "Outside Context Problem".

  8. maffski

    What did the Romans ever do for us...

    "The Romans had this all correctly figured out in their legal maxim: “What concerns all must be decided upon by all.”"

    It might be useful to remember that the Roman definition of 'all' was 'Roman citizen' - I don't remember ever reading that the Britains, Gauls etc. asked to join the empire.

    1. JEDIDIAH
      Devil

      Re: What did the Romans ever do for us...

      Also, most Romans were slaves and not citizens and thus had no say regarding anything at all.

      Besides, Rome was a republic. So this mob rule idea that the OP is pushing flies straight in the face of actual Roman practice. Some "legal expert".

  9. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Manifest Destiny

    "America don't need no goddamn permission slip to do anything she goddamn pleases".

    And that's it. Period.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Manifest Destiny

      Those space colonies sure will pledge alliagnce to the bald eagle in the long run, will they?

      Inb4: "Sieg Zion"

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: Manifest Destiny

        I guess I should have stated that I was not personally supporting such an opinion.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Manifest Destiny

        Those space colonies sure will pledge alliagnce to the bald eagle in the long run, will they

        Depends on the bald eagle taxing their tea.

  10. Eclectic Man

    Ownership issue

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that life is discovered on one of the Galilean moons. Who then owns the resources of that moon?

    The requirement not to contaminate outer space, is all very well, but does that include not killing extra-terrestrial life? Would that life have 'ownership' of the entire moon, or just the part it lives on/in? And what if the resources which sustain that extra-terrestrial life are exactly what the corporation wants to mine?

    On a more mischievous note, does the new legislation apply to Guantanamo Bay? It is, after all outside the scope of the Constitution of the USA.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Ownership issue

      Depends if the alien life form's evolutionary path has taken the same sick and twisted one our did, producing an offshoot of slime molds that have evolved into lawyers.

      1. oldcoder

        Re: Ownership issue

        That is not evolving... That is just a diploma. They are still slime molds.

        :-)

    2. tony2heads
      Alien

      Re: Ownership issue

      I presume you are referring to Europa

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Ownership issue

        "All these worlds are yours except for America. You guys stay away!"

        1. PaulFrederick

          Re: Ownership issue

          Your comment is funny in light of the fact that the USA is the only nation that has visited all of the worlds now. No one else even comes close to our achievements in space. Which is even more humorous considering we barely care about space. So we did all of that without even actually trying.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Ownership issue

        I look forwards to the Exobiological Lifeforms Gaming Regulatory Act of 2088

    4. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Ownership issue

      It would just be history repeating itself; Make someone unimportant the new boss of the locals, make sure he understands he is boss only as long as he toes the line. Sign a treaty with him that you have no intention of keeping to and finally give him blankets infected with smallpox, or an ET equivalent.

      East India company made money that way as did the US government.

      1. Eclectic Man

        Re: Ownership issue

        @ Chris G

        I thought is was Mr Amherst (after whom Amherst College is named), a Brit (probably English too lazy to look him up), who suggested or used smallpox infested blankets to kill off those inconveniently stubborn aboriginal Americans. Hence the reason there has been a bit of a 'to do recently' about his image at Amherst College, I believe.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. IHateWearingATie

    No problem for a long time to come

    The economics of mining asteroids and other bodies will suck royally for a very long time to come. There are a few idiots who think it will work financially and are planning to waste their money on it. Good luck to them.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: No problem for a long time to come

      Mining is not that bad (if you can get nuclear power into orbit). If you do not have a BIG power source it becomes pointless.

      The difficulty is the delivery of the mined product. There is very little difference between the tech needed to hit an opponent with a E.L.E and the tech to launch a refined slab of metal foam to a suitable sea landing area so it can be towed and smelted. In fact they are pretty much the same.

      No Earth government will tolerate having the biggest sling every invented in somebody's else hands.

      1. Flatpackhamster

        Re: No problem for a long time to come

        That's what I was thinking over a couple of days ago. How can you get the resources, once mined, to a place where they can be refined and turned in to something. Parachutes from 100km up I suppose, but that's not very accurate.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: No problem for a long time to come

          Parachutes from 100km up I suppose, but that's not very accurate.

          Read Volume 2 of NIght's Dawn, "The Neutronium Alchemist". It is the only place I have seen so far which describes a technically achievable and economically feasible method to ship metal and other crude commodities from orbit to earth. It also describes what else can you use it for.

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