WASHINGTON – U.S. Space firms are now enabled to extract, own and sell space natural resources through the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

Those natural resources include water in celestial bodies and asteroids, as well as chemical elements such as iron and platinum. Experts affirm the legislation could be potentially harmful to outer space’s nature and also illegal, as it might violate international agreements like the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Photo: NASA.
The Outer Space Treaty was opened for signature in the US, the UK, and the USSR on 27 January 1967, and entered into force on 10 October 1967. Photo: NASA.

Given that the new bill encourages space exploration and exploitation for economical purposes, international commercial law expert Dr. Gbenga Oduntan, from the University of Kent, suggested that the current list of states with access to outer space would expand and soon there will be an increasingly large number of different mining programs.

“That means that the pristine conditions of the cradle of nature from which our own Earth was born may become irrevocably altered forever – making it harder to trace how we came into being,” he declared. Oduntan warned that celestial bodies could be contaminated with earthly microbes, which would certainly reduce the probabilities of alien life discovery.

Ram Jakhu, a professor at McGill University’s institute of air and space law, is one of the several experts who point out that the Space Act of 2015 violates international treaties, beginning with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, it entered in force in October 1967 after the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America reached the agreement earlier that year.

The treaty reads that states must avoid harmful practices that could lead to contamination of space and celestial bodies. It clearly calls attention to the fact that nations are not allowed to claim appropriation or sovereignty of the moon and other celestial bodies by any means. Instead, it specifies that space mining must be done “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.”

Nevertheless, the law is an undeniable fact. Space mining firms have been for decades pushing for space resource extraction and it has finally been approved by the Congress and signed by Obama. The U.S House Committee on Science, Space and Technology reject the idea that the bill violates international agreements.

To defend their cause, lawyers in favor of the bill argue that asteroids do not qualify as ‘celestial bodies’ and that mining does not mean ‘appropriation’, since the legislation only allows them to own the mined resources and not the celestial bodies themselves. Senator Rubio (R-FL) expressed that unnecessary regulations should be eliminated in order to help the American space industry to secure further innovations and create jobs.

One of the firms happiest with the Space Act of 2015 is Planetary Resources, a company founded in 2010 that seeks to extract and profit from water, materials and minerals from asteroids. Co-founder and co-chairperson Eric Anderson said that the act represented an open door to increase the growth of national economy and the sustained development of space.

Source: Tech Times