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Asterioid mining bill introduced in Congress to protect private property rights

Asteroid passes by Earth
Asteroid passes by Earth
NASA (public domain)

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida announced on Thursday that he was introducing a bill along with Rep, Derek Kilmer, D-WA called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014. The act is designed to protect the private property rights for entities mining asteroids and to otherwise encourage asteroid mining. The bill is in apparent reaction to efforts by companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries to locate and mine Earth approaching asteroids for their resources.

The crucial part of the short piece of legislation states that the resources mined from an asteroid would be the property of the entity undertaking the operation. This language gets around the provision of the Outer Space Treaty that states that states are forbidden to establish national sovereignty over celestial bodies, which would be a perquisite to the United States allowing a private entity to own an asteroid. It rather grants mineral rights to the asteroid, something that the treaty does not mention. This is no enforcement mechanism in the event of a dispute with another country, however.

Asteroid mining is in its infancy and may not become a going concern for decades. Planetary Resources has not even conducted the first stage of its business plan, which is to launch a series of small telescopes to detect and categorize Earth approaching asteroids for further examination. The next step would be to send space probes to scan candidate asteroids more closely. Only after this step would a mining operation, likely by robots, be undertaken.

The stakes are rather high. Some asteroids have water ice trapped within them, which could be used for rocket fuel and other purposes by future space explorers. Others contain rare minerals such as platinum group metals that have become increasingly crucial for high tech industries.

The bill, which would also protect asteroid mining companies from interference and direct the president of the United States to help encourage asteroid mining, faces long odds for passage in the House and Senate in the current Congress. Doubtless Posey and Kilmer are introducing the legislation now to garner discussion and comment and will reintroduce a revised version in the next legislative year.