A historic law passed by both houses of the US Congress is likely to pave the way for commercial mining of the Moon, asteroids and other celestial bodies.
Officially titled the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), the legislation will permit companies to own and sell resources they extract from objects in space.
In accord with the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967, which prohibits any countries or individuals from claiming ownership of celestial bodies, the new law specifies that only resources obtained from these objects, not the worlds themselves, can be privately owned.
Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, a company that plans to sell metals and water mined from asteroids, compared the law’s provisions with international law governing fishing in international waters.
The ability to extract water from celestial bodies could play a major role in space exploration because water can be used to make rocket propellant.
This means “fueling stations” could be placed on various celestial bodies, providing spacecraft on long journeys opportunities to refuel.
While Planetary Resources always believed their mining plans did not violate the Outer Space Treaty, others were uncertain. The new law should successfully address those concerns, Lewicki said.
“There are many investors who had questions about this issue. Now, with this milestone behind us, we can continue those conversations with the support of United States law. That, again, is a very solid framework on which to talk about what we can do next to continue to grow the industry and the opportunity,” he emphasized.
Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express, another company with plans to mine celestial objects, said he believes the law will provide new momentum for both space mining and commercial space exploration.
The law also pledges US support for the International Space Station (ISS) through 2024 and possibly beyond.
It mandates private spaceflight companies meet standards safety standards for manned spaceflight by 2023.
CSLCA now goes to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.