The US Senate approved the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act [HR 2262] on Tuesday, granting US citizens the right to legally claim natural resources mined in space. The Act is intended to facilitate a pro-growth environment for the developing commercial space industry by encouraging private sector investment and creating more stable and predictable regulatory conditions, and for other purposes. The Act provides that [text], “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.” The language that defines property rights is designed to get around the provision of the Outer Space Treaty [text], which prohibits countries from establishing sovereign claims on celestial bodies. The Act does not permit private companies to “own” the asteroids they mine, but allows them the right to claim the material they mine from it. The House of Representatives must give final approval to the bill, which will then be sent to President Barack Obama for signature.
The passage of this Act is a boon for companies that have already invested millions of dollars into the concept of deep space mining. These companies are particularly focused on asteroids that consist of metals that are rare on Earth or asteroids that contain large amounts of water, which, with the right technology, can be converted to rocket fuel and oxygen. Asteroids could one day be a vast new source of scarce material if the financial and technological obstacles can be overcome. According to NASA [text] there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, ranging in size from a few yards to hundreds of miles across. Small asteroids are much more numerous than large ones, but even a small, house-sized asteroid could contain metals worth millions of dollars.