The Legality Of Mining An Asteroid

June 13, 2012 in Daily Bulletin

The plan to mine asteroids for minerals might face a slight hitch: under current international law it’s illegal. Paul Marks explains:

  • The United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space treaty prohibits entities from making territorial claims in space. It is not legal to ‘own’ an asteroid.
  • Therefore if gold was ever brought back from an asteroid to earth, it’s not clear who would legally own it.
  • Yet this might be a legal distinction that doesn’t have any operational realities. Meteorites are fallen asteroids and there’s a vibrant market for those.
  • Future laws related to space mining may be based upon the laws of the sea. Nobody ‘owns’ the fish in the sea but anybody has the right to fish for them. Similarly nobody would own the asteroids but people could mine them.
  • Another question to deal with is who would bear the liability is an asteroid that was being mined were to, for example, crash to earth killing people. The law states that it would be the government of the country that is responsible, yet space exploration is no longer exclusively the domain of countries and now involves the private sector.

To read more about another initiative to mine platinum from the moon, why asteroids might not even be covered under the UN treaty, how it’s fairly easy to pull out of the treaty, why the Moon Agreement doesn’t apply, how one man with an asteroid named after him would feel if it was mined, and why hitting the earth is actually fairly difficult, click here.

Source: Slate