Space is under the threat of becoming a battleground for mining companies

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Giant asteroid vesta
NASA undated handout image obtained by the framing camera on the Dawn spacecraft shows the south pole of the giant asteroid Vesta. Scientists are discussing whether the circular structure that covers most of this image originated by a collision with another asteroid, or by internal processes early in the asteroid's history. The image was recorded from a distance of about 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers). The image resolution is about 260 meters per pixel. Reuters

With extraterrestrial mining set to become a reality, aspiring space mining companies could end fighting for the huge profits it could give them.

Billions and trillions of dollars could be at stake under such a scenario. A single asteroid, called Davida, has been estimated at more than US$100 trillion by space mining company Planetary Resources. This amount is more than five times America’s GDP, reports wired.com.

Space mining is likely to become big business in the coming years. Already, Planetary Resources, and other companies like it, are launching satellites in search of valuable asteroids. Planetary Resources is backed by Googlers Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, among others.

Though existing laws prohibit anyone from “appropriating” territory in space, extraction does not seem to be excluded from the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which is ratified by 103 nations. The US is known to have brought 842 pounds of rocks from the moon and the same is considered as the country’s property.  Russia has even sold some such rocks commercially, says James Dunstan, a space law expert with the Mobius Legal Group.

A new US law is now in the making which will allow its citizens to “possess, own, transport, use, and sell” an asteroid resource once they obtain it. However, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 does not provide for the issuance of licenses for this purpose. There could, however, be a problem if other nations come up with different, conflicting laws. It could even lead to a star war.

According to space.com, Planetary Resources has already 3D-printed an object with the help of a metal powder extracted from a space rock. A Planetary Resources representative described it as the first part ever 3D-printed with material from outer space. He said it was reminiscent of a design that could originate from a 3D printer in the zero-gravity environment of space.