Space cowboys? International lawyers are trying to agree on what legislation will be needed to control the exploration of mineral resources in space to avoid a new ‘Wild West’.
Credit: James Vaughan

A new report, Commercial Space Mining: Economic and Legal Implications, is a scholarly assessment of commercial space mining activities in the broader context of the emerging space economy.

The paper finds that entrepreneurs are increasingly looking at outer space for providing terrestrial solutions, and Western entrepreneurs in particular are working towards setting up basic infrastructure enabling a new industrial age based in outer space.

Commercial space mining is part of this vision, which also has the added advantage of reducing dependency on terrestrial resources and thus limiting environmental degradation.

Backbone

The paper also identifies specific NewSpace companies working on affordable, frequent access to outer space, as well as space manufacturing technologies. Together, these activities form the backbone of the space economy.

“However, the future of this vision is uncertain, as existing international space law has not evolved beyond Cold War concerns,” observes Vidya Sagar Reddy Avuthu, a Junior Fellow with India’s Observer Research Foundation within the group’s Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative.

Business plan for asteroid mining.
Credit: Joel Sercel/ICS Associates Inc. and TransAstra

International norms

The ORF analyst reports that existing international norms and space law has not evolved to support this commercial space mining vision. The Outer Space Treaty that established basic international space law was a response to Cold War concerns and did not take into consideration the prospect of commercial space mining.

“The space mining companies could conduct a preliminary mining expedition on an asteroid and sell those resources on earth, thus leading to the establishment of a new set of international norms. This could propel states to draft a comprehensive law to govern space mining, and thus enabling the space

This ORF Occasional Paper #122 is available at:

http://cf.orfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ORF_Occasional_Paper_122_Space_Mining.pdf

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