US Congress passes space mining bill, American corporations eye outer space resources

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The moon goes into eclipse as seen from Rainham in Essex, September 28, 2015. The eclipse coincided with the moon being at it's closest point to earth on it's eliptical orbit. Reuters/Tony O'Brien

At a time when terrestrial mining and the hunt for oil has been of some significance, recent legislation in the US Congress has brought the country one step closer to space mining. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has passed a bill called H.R. 2262 – US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, also known as the SPACE Act, that provides companies or individuals the ownership of any material mined by them in outer space.

The bill would turn into law after the approval of President Barack Obama, allowing commercial space development by American space companies through mining and explorations of celestial bodies such as asteroids and the moon. According to Eurekalert, an estimate places the future of asteroid mining as a trillion-dollar industry.

However, the move has prompted concerns that the SPACE Act may counter the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that has 104 countries, including the US, as its parties. The treaty includes provisions related to preventing outer space pollution and contamination, claims of sovereignty of objects in outer space and space exploration for peaceful purposes, among others.

According to TechTimes, the SPACE Act is an attempted workaround on the regulations of the treaty by claiming that the ownership, jurisdiction or sovereignty of any celestial body is not asserted by the US. One of the provisions of the bill is “to facilitate the commercial exploration and utilization of space resources to meet national needs.”

However, one of the companies vying for space mining rights, Moon Express, has said that their main interest lies in the water found on the surface of the moon. Bob Richards, CEO of MoonEx has compared the rights provided under the SPACE Act to those of commercial fishers operating in international waters, according to TechTimes. He said that peacefully catching fish in international waters is one of the fishers’ rights.

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