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. Chris Miller

      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.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        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.

        1. Chris Miller

          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.

          1. m0rt

            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?

            1. Thecowking

              @m0rt

              No more Page or Worstall.

              Their hooks got slung

              1. m0rt

                Re: @m0rt

                Oh man. I enjoyed both their articles.

                Im stopping my subscription.

                Oh wait...

                1. Chris Miller

                  Re: @m0rt

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

                2. Tim Worstal

                  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?

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                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.

                1. Chris Miller

                  @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.

                  1. Tim Worstal

                    Re: @Ledswinger

                    That is indeed exactly how it works.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  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.

              3. hplasm
                Meh

                Re: @m0rt

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

          2. DavCrav Silver badge

            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.

            1. Chris Miller

              @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.

  2. msknight Silver badge
    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.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Well...

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

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

  3. BenR

    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.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      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 ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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?

      2. Flatpackhamster

        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.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          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!

          1. CarbonLifeForm

            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.

        2. Flatpackhamster

          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.

        3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            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.

        4. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

          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.

          1. PaulFrederick

            Re: Really? Harmful contamination? Really?

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

            1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

              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.

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                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.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Filippo Silver badge

      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.

      1. Martin Budden Silver badge

        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.

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      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.

    5. AurigaNexus

      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...

    6. NomNomNom

      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.

    7. Uffish

      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 .

  4. Mystic Megabyte
    FAIL

    Yippee!

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

    </sarc>

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    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

    1. Dr. Mouse

      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".

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: I am surprised

        Fantastic Four.

        1. hplasm
          Happy

          Re: I am surprised

          "Fantastic Four."

          The IQ of congress?

    2. Vinyl-Junkie
      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....

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I am surprised

      > "Sounds like business as usual for US Congress"

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

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

      1. Omgwtfbbqtime
        Trollface

        Re: Unleash The Greenfly!

        As I have said before:

        Earth First!

        We can strip mine the other planets later!

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

      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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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".

  15. 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".

  16. Jason Bloomberg
    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

        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.

  17. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    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 Silver badge

        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

  18. 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.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: No problem for a long time to come

            Given the cost of getting metal into orbit the principle advantage of space mined stuff is that it's already up there. If you have a couple of million tons of Ti in orbit it is a lot easier to use it build something to go to mars than land it on earth and then launch it again.

      2. John 110

        Re: No problem for a long time to come

        I think there's a big shiny power source already up there....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No problem for a long time to come

          But you need to be near it or have big shiny mylar mirrors for some harvesting. Why not?

  19. Haku

    Who owns space?

    Isn't that like two fleas on a dog arguing over who owns it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who owns space?

      And the dog is standing on a bigger dog, and it's dogs all the way down...

    2. Mikel

      Re: Who owns space?

      Shocker: everything on Earth is also "in space".

  20. TRT Silver badge

    Wasn't something like this tried before?

    When individual prospectors were encouraged financially to travel into the great continental interior at their own expense to explore and exploit, creating their own infrastructure on the way?

    Space. The final frontier town.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wasn't something like this tried before?

      "at their own expense"

      'twas a racket. I think the "civil-war" "hardened" cavalry did the ethnic suppression to have a suitably pristine place. You will also find that railroads and telegraphs where heavily subsidized (leading to the usual "milk the taxpayer" / "ear near the government" shenanigans - I hear even Abe Lincoln was big in "predicting" what lands would soon appreciate as a railroad would pass nearby).

      Space will be not much like that. I hope.

      But I also saw "Outland" when I was a kid.

  21. NBCanuck

    Home Delivery

    Ok. Say a private company successfully mines an asteroid, that there are no other claims to property, and the material is deemed devoid of life. What happens should there be a small "issue" when attempting to bring the material back to earth. Who's going to underwrite THAT insurance policy?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Happy

      Re: Home Delivery

      The one that isn't in a smouldering crater?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Home Delivery

        The one that isn't in a smouldering crater?

        That may be even more interesting than you think.

        Second law of Newton is a b***. If you start mounting an en engine on every package the economic case for any bulk goods from orbit to Earth disappears in a jiffie. Even a tug is likely to be too expensive. So you have to calculate the whole thing for slinging the packages out of a "slingshot" launch catapult and only adjust the package final trajectory during reentry.

        That ends up in quite an interesting orbital mechanics problem as launching every package from a rather large (several km at least) asteroid in Earth orbit will push that asteroid out of its parking position. The difference between a crater made by a small 1-2 tons delivery package and the crater done by an asteroid multiple km in size is quite substantial. Underwriting _THAT_ risk will be the really interesting part.

        1. Vinyl-Junkie

          Re: Home Delivery

          Time to mention the space elevator? Of course as that would terminate in territory outside US jurisdiction US companies will have to conform to international law.

          1. JeffyPoooh
            Pint

            Re: Home Delivery

            Space elevator.

            Put a pulley at the top and loop the cable around an electric motor on the ground. Makes the whole concept much easier to implement.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Home Delivery

          Space freight elevators, full auto manufacture, moon base terminals, interplanetary travel.

          All of the dreams from the 60's revisited.

          We just need space suits with flares and my life will be complete.

          .

          (Edit: beaten to it by seconds!)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Home Delivery

            Oo! OO!

            .

            And a real Nostromo transport and refinery!!

            .

            (think I need to dial back the coffee, getting a little over-excited over a bunch of maybes)

            1. Vinyl-Junkie

              Re: Home Delivery

              of course the moon base will need Eagle Transporters!

              1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
                Alien

                Re: Home Delivery

                So what you do, right (with apologies to the author who first thought of this) is you make your metal into a globe sufficiently thin to withstand atmospheric pressure, but large enough to float at around 30,000 feet. Fill it full of vacuum; there's loads out there.

                Then you park it over a convenient lawmaker and drill a small hole...

    2. Vinyl-Junkie
      Mushroom

      Re: Home Delivery

      Especially when you consider the size of payload needed to make this economically viable. Even for the more expensive elements you would have to be talking about payloads in the tens of tonnes. A far cry from the ISS resupply capsules etc. A fraction out in the re-entry burn and Washington DC might get upclose and personal with a returning ore-carrier....

      There's probably a downside, too....

    3. John G Imrie

      Re: Home Delivery

      Simple you don't bring it back. You use it to build manufacturing plants to create much smaller and more valuable things, like drugs.

      1. Vinyl-Junkie

        Re: Home Delivery

        Doesn't matter; de-orbiting ten tonnes of anything is still cheaper per tonne than de-orbiting it in ten one-tonne packages.

        Only if your end market is entirely space-based (currently unlikely) does final delivery cease to be an issue.

  22. Red Bren
    Mushroom

    Environmental Consequences

    Has no one considered the obvious eventual* consequence of bringing 1000s of metric tonnes of space materials down to earth every year? The earth's mass will increase, boosting the gravitational forces until the moon is pulled down from the sky and we won't have rockets powerful enough to allow our escape!

    * I'm not making the same mistake as those crazy end-of-the-world merchants by giving a date when this will happen. But when it does, don't say I didn't warn you...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Environmental Consequences

      "Has no one considered the obvious eventual* consequence of bringing 1000s of metric tonnes of space materials down to earth every year?"

      Yes. Depending on who you believe and the measurements used, it's estimated that anything from 5 to 300 tonnes per DAY arrives in our atmosphere.

      Estimated mass of the Earth is 5.972 × 10^24 kg, so a few million tonnes won't make much difference. Especially since the Earths mass may be growing by as much as 110,000 tonnes per year or over 10 million tonnes every century. Or as little as 182,000 tonnes per century.

    2. DropBear
      Trollface

      Re: Environmental Consequences

      "The earth's mass will increase, boosting the gravitational forces until the moon is pulled down from the sky"

      Uhhh, ignoring certain slight problems of scale and concentrating only on the principle of the thing - you ARE aware that currently the Moon is literally inch-ing _away_ each year from the Earth, yes...? Two stones with one bird perhaps...?

      1. hplasm
        Happy

        Re: Environmental Consequences

        Whoosh!

        The sound of the moon being pulled down to the earth.

        By Gru!

      2. Red Bren

        Re: Environmental Consequences

        Oh yes, that reminds me, I can teach you an ancient* moon repelling chant that's been passed down from generation to generation** for a very reasonable fee. Thank you DropBear for the link to prove it works...

        * from a few minutes ago

        ** well it will be when I teach it to my kids. It's not my fault my ancestors failed to pass on secrets of the universe...

  23. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Creative/Destructive Memes. They be the tools and weapons of spooky entangling forces and sources.

    The cyber environment is an altogether alien space and it has no mass or matter to command and control with remote anonymous input/autonomous virtual machine output and fly a rad rag flag over. And when IT's a wonderfully enterprising hearts and minds capturing place, is it free from the folly of fools which be as myriad ancient tools in earthed pedestrian systems of executive administration and program operation.

    Claiming it to be yours in order to deny it being theirs is one of those typically pointless politically incorrect exercises which destroy regimes with the evidence of a lack of necessary future relative intelligence on open display.

  24. Joe Gurman

    I don't even play a lawyer on TV

    ....and Mr. Oduntan c;early knows far more about law than I ever will, but even Wikipedia considers the Moon Treaty as "a failed treaty because it has not been ratified by any state that engages in self-launched manned space exploration or has plans to do so." India is a signatory, and it might change its collective mind if it decides to start a manned programme, but right now, excepting India, it is only nations that feel they will be left out of the economic exploitation of bodies in space that have signed on. I urge readers to consult Wikipedia on this, if only for the sake of the large red (non-parties) part of the globe on the "ratification and signatories" map.

    Instead of complaining and pointing to a failed international law, perhaps the best route for countries concerned about the behavior of the few and the wealthy in mining space objects, other governments could encourage public investment in those efforts, so as to have a shareholder's say in how it was done, and with what safeguards to the earth. ("Oops, missed our re-entry target. Sorry, Copenhagen.")

    I'm not an economist either, so I have no idea if any such scheme is likely to be profitable this century, but even as a wettish leftie, I like the idea of capitalists rather than governments leading us farther into space. No waste of tax revenues if the whole things goes pear-shaped.

  25. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I think I get it

    once you are a US citizen you pay tax on your earnings wherever you are (unless some inter country agreement....) So now you get to own some space and they get to tax you on it?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is not a problem for asteroids

    There are apparently a lot of them up there, so if someone goes to all the expense to send a vehicle out to one and they can find something worth commercially mining, they deserve the profit from exploiting that one asteroid. I suspect it won't turn out to be profitable in my lifetime, unless someone with a really good telescope has spotted an asteroid that's 50% platinum by weight.

    But people will try, and that will push the economics of space launching forward. And maybe I'm wrong (or eventually wrong) and we'll end all the pollution from wasteful gold mining on Earth as it becomes much more profitable to look for gold in the asteroid belt due to the volumes of it and Earth based miners are priced out. That would be a good outcome for our planet.

    The only thing I'm really worried about is leaving space junk or rocks or whatever in Earth orbit where they will be a hazard. That needs to be very carefully policed - insurance should be required to cover this eventuality for any commercial enterprise going into space. We all know about the tragedy of the commons, so we need to prevent that from day one when it comes to space.

    1. Mikel

      Re: This is not a problem for asteroids

      Ceres is an asteroid. It is 1000km diameter, mostly water by volume, and completely covered in high grade ore.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is not a problem for asteroids

        A 1000km asteroid would have a significant gravity well compared to smaller ones. You need to economically get your material off it, especially if you aren't actually processing it in situ but are moving it elsewhere for easier processing (i.e. somewhere closer to the Sun where solar panels will work better than on Ceres)

        Maybe you'd need to establish some rules about the sizes, or named bodies or whatever that can't be so claimed, but I think it is unlikely anyone would want to claim Ceres if it meant they had to actually mine it for real, not just stick a lander on it and claim they are "exploring". There's no reason to expect that Ceres is unique in the quality of its ore, and its size/gravity makes it likely the best ores are deep under the crust as they are with Earth (but unlike Earth, volcanoes aren't going to bring the gold from the deeps to the surface) Ceres is probably the wrong rock to set up on.

  27. Tim Brown 1
    Happy

    I own a bit of the moon

    and I have a piece of paper to prove it!

    Anyone else remember the fad for 'selling' bits of space several years ago? Someone gave me a certificate of land ownership from MoonEstates as a xmas pressy. I shall pass it down to my heirs and one day one of them may be very rich... (or not)!

  28. Brian Allan 1

    Colonization by any other work...

    "What right has the second highest polluter of the Earth’s environment got to proceed with some of the same corporations in a bid to plunder outer space?"

    Colonization is still alive and well in the USofA! :(

  29. David Roberts
    Go

    Ownership before re-entry?

    If the results of mining in space are to be returned to earth (noting the discussions above) then ownership has to be clearly established both in space and on the ground.

    Otherwise the metal is likely to be classed as a meteorite and claimed by whoever owns the landing spot (or first gets to the object if it is in International waters).

    This goes with clear legal responsibility for any damage caused during arrival at the Earth's surface.

    So there does have to be a framework beyond "everyone/no-one owns everything" which we seem to have at the moment.

    Looking forward with SF for guidance, more interesting legal issues may arise once fully independent space habitats are developed, which require no legal presence on Earth because Earth has nothing that they want or need.

    So first steps in defining the legal interaction between space and Earth are necessary and I see them as a very positive thing. This implies that someone sees the prospect of future profit from space colonisation. Which implies space colonisation.

  30. Mikel

    Earth

    The Earth is also the province of all mankind. The rule on Earth is the same as in space: If you can take it, it's yours for as long as you can hold it.

  31. Chris G Silver badge

    The Question

    The article asks 'Who owns Space?'

    Of course it's obvious, Pindar and his acolytes own all of Earth and the Space surrounding it.

    If you don't have scales you are never going to own anything in Space.

  32. bjr

    It's science fiction but maybe it will help to get things moving forward again

    Nobody is going to be mining anything in space in our life times so the details of this law are irrelevant. However it is a statement that it's time to try a private approach to space exploration because governments have failed utterly. It's been 46 years since the moon landing and 60 years since Sputnik and where are we? America can't even repeat Alan Shepard's sub orbital flight let alone go to the moon again. The Russians can still put men in orbit using their space jalopy's, the 50 year old Soyuz, but they have nothing new. In 2017 if all goes well Space X will return America to 1965 where we can put a capsule in orbit. But Space X and Blue Origin are breaking no new ground, they are just building updated V2s like everyone else. Until something radical happens like space elevators, rail guns launchers, Bussard ram jets or some other sci-fi technology nobody is going to be doing any asteroid mining nothing in the solar system is worth millions of dollars per gram. which is what it would cost you to bring something back from an asteroid.

  33. Gary Bickford

    No space faring nation has signed the Moon treaty

    AFAIK no nation with the actual capability to go to Space has ever signed the Moon treaty. The wording of the Outer Space treaty is a subject of intense debate among experts. Iow the author knows not whereof he speaks, gas no dog in this fighg., and us I St trying to enable those the extreme greenies. I expect he will probably try to ban all human exploration to preserve the universe from "evil mankind". It appears he also is ignorant of biology. Humans exploring and populating Space, (and taking all of Earth Life along) to propagate across the solar system and beyond are doing nothing different than every species has always done, only the distance are larger. We are an expression of Life, carrying Life with us as we go.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    By passing this bill in the US it forces other nations to sit up and take action.

    If they haven't done it then nothing g would have moved forwards.

    They are provoking a reaction which will lead to improvement. From this starting g point, where at least they have put some thought into it, the real final Intl agreement can begin to develop.

  35. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Be Bold.

    The various space acts have not been revisited for quite some time and were written mostly when the US and the USSR were dominating the space race. Not that there wasn't justified concerns from other countries about getting no piece of the space pie if the two divvied up everything visible between them. With more countries and private companies getting into the space transportation business, it makes sense to strike out limitations such as not being able to mine off-Terra objects for a profit. Companies won't be able to sell space mining to their stockholders if there won't be any profit in it. The US's move might get parties interested in discussing the topics again, but in reality, they don't really mean anything and won't for quite some time.

    The prospect of prospecting off planet anytime soon shouldn't worry anybody. There's a load of hardware development and learning that needs to be done to start. Going to space and bringing materials back to the surface of Earth is massively expensive and as a space junkie and former rocket scientist, I have not seen any rational proposals that would lower the cost. It would be far easier and more profitable to reprocess old landfill sites for metals and other materials.

    Where space mining will come into it's own will be for off-planet orbital facilities and for bringing heavy(ier) metals to the moon since Earth's large gravity well is a major hinderance in developing industry in Luna. Will the UN send out a police force to arrest people harvesting materials from the astroids and using them to construct the Golden Rule Habitat circum-Luna?

  36. johnwerneken

    Excellent news!

    There IS no 'international law' as there is no enforcer.

    Commerce is an over-riding objective.

    Who dares, should win.

    The Romans also held that the purpose of the State was to be a tool in the hands of the most able - one of their few contentions based on evidence and backed up by their own behavior.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Excellent news! New Romans in the Hood

      And that is what is terrifying elitists, fiat capital executive systems, johnwerneken, for they are fronted by wannabes who are not worthy and representative of pretenders who are not able, and not able to future command and control virtually enable.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clear and Pave

    Quite a few "Strip It, Clear it, pave it" types here.

    It is clear multinationals are now setting space policy and no longer answer to the citizens.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When mankind is extinguished from it's presence on earth,all that will be left that signifies his mark,will be the mess that is left behind.

    ALL that has ever been done by mankind is to re-arrange the atoms of matter on this planet in the way that mankind deemed it necessary to survive in the short term.

    This 're-arrangement' of atoms from matter, is like the Andre PREVIN TV sketch on the Morecambe & Wise show.

    When playing the piano, Eric Morecambe says,"I am playing ALL the 'right' notes, just in the 'wrong' order".

    So too with mankind,the time was once, when all matter on earth was atomically speaking, in the 'right' order,no longer so,it is is 're-arranged' in the 'wrong' order by mankind,polluting the planet & all living things thereon.

    There is no such thing as a 'free lunch', the price will have to be paid in full,eventually & a high price it will be too.

    It is the arrogance of American capitalism, that NOTHING matters but 'risk' & 'reward' for a few Americans.

    It's time the world woke up to the game & changed it forever.

  39. earl grey
    Trollface

    And yet you've missed the obvious

    Will you still be bending over when they probe Uranus and clean up those rings!

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Left Leaning Lament...

    ...Oh, boo-hoo! Those damned Yanks are at it again. They're going to get all the good pieces for themselves while we fiddle about and get nothing. Boo hoo hoo!

    El Reg has made a disastrous turn to the left.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Left Leaning Lament...

      Only in your dreams, Billy C, and as such is weird entertainment.

  41. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    If contamination of celestial bodies is right out - doesn't that mean terraforming, say, Mars is off the table as well?

  42. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    "...without regulatory oversight during an eight-year period..."

    Eight years?

    Might as well be eight minutes.

    Eight years is the blink of an eye, unless someone has got 24 billion 1969-dollars to spend.

  43. kyza

    The funniest thing about this article is that the writer, for all his expertise, thinks earth laws will have any bearing on what private companies do outside of our gravity well once privste companies start building space habitats and factories in orbit around Earth and elsewhere...

    'We won't let you bring your asteroids to earth!' say the U.N. or whomever

    'If you don't allow us to bring them to earth slowly and make money from them, we'll bring them to earth via a mass accelerator and start flattening your cities, how about them apples?' say the Orbital conglomerates.

    The issue of extra-planetary sovereignty has been discussed to death in so many SF novels, and the general upshot is if you're at the bottom of a gravity well you're in no position to order anyone about.

    1. Boothy Silver badge

      Orbital conglomerates threaten Earth Govs....

      Earth Govs, cease all assets of said Orbital conglomerates, including all launch facilities.

      Orbital conglomerates attack.

      Missile takes out Orbital conglomerates station.

      1. lforsley

        Who needs a missile? A handful of bbs will do the trick. Sort of a new version of people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

  44. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Hmm

    It reminds me of the old Guano Islands law, which allowed the US to claim any old guano covered rock in the high seas that nobody else had yet claimed.

    On the other hand, I think that the immediate mining work will be on the pockets of speculators hoping for the next Facebook/Twitter/Whatever. There's gold in them there seams.

  45. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Patentents (pending?)

    The ESA landed Philae on a comet. Whoever owns the (universal) patents for a viable asteroid landing system will be in the money.

    As for what mineral might be sufficiently valuable to be worth mining, palladium would be my guess. Platinum is quite cheap in comparison, on a par with gold. Definitely not diamonds: de Beers keeps the price of 'natural' diamonds artificially high, and artificial diamonds can be bought for as little as £5.

    Possibly the only thing that would actually be worth bringing back to Earth would be a microbe or catalyst which took in atmospheric CO2 and exhaled ethanol or long chain hydrocarbons

  46. kbutler.toledo
    Trollface

    Hubris and pomposity

    This @#$% is reminiscent of the actions when, on May 4, 1493, the Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI, generously divided the entire world between the Spanish and the Portuguese.

    For those who slept through world history in the fourth-grade primary schools, please use the following shortcut:

    http://libweb5.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/pacific/spice-islands/demarcation-lines.html

    Lets just wait and see what The Flying Spaghetti Monster has to say about this.

  47. lforsley

    Not to worry. There's room for all in Hilbert Space. What? Wrong space?

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