Up for grabs? Future use of asteroids. Credit: Texas A&M

Up for grabs? Future use of asteroids.
Credit: Texas A&M

By now the surprises under the tree have been unwrapped…but here’s a gift that is sure to keep on giving – the Solar System.

Comets and asteroids, the Moon and Mars and other distant destinations – all are rife with resources for the taking – or are they?

Economic adventurism

Back in November of this year, U.S. President Obama signed a law supporting entrepreneurs with aspirations of economic ventures beyond Earth orbit.

The Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 is part of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. It provides that U.S. companies engaging in commercial recovery of space resources are entitled to possess, own, transport, use and sell the space resources obtained.

The U.S.-passed new law makes it legal for American firms to own resources obtained in outer space. Will this lead to a “gold rush” by U.S. companies. If so, how does this square with the global state of space?

Reason and retorts

In the give and take, yin and yang of the Universe, there is rising interest in mining extraterrestrial resources for a variety of reason and retorts.

girl blowing solar system bubbles

Enter the space law experts!

Since the dawn of the Space Age, space lawyers have been debating the weaponization of outer space…even where Earth’s air stops and space begins.

“Space law is an area of the law that encompasses national and international law governing activities in outer space,” explains the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), founded in 1960.

But now there’s a fast-growing debate in space law circles involving the who, what, when, where, and why delicacies of space resource mining.

Indeed, the IISL has just issued a position paper on that topic.

Open question, starting point

The paper concludes with a classic scale of justice adjudication – a well-oiled, balancing act of concrete conclusion:

“It is an open question whether this legal situation is satisfactory,” concludes the IISL document.

Moon mining base. Credit: Anna Nesterova

Moon mining base.
Credit: Anna Nesterova


“Whether the United States’ interpretation of Art. II of the Outer Space Treaty is followed by other states will be central to the future understanding and development of the non-appropriation principle. It can be a starting point for the development of international rules to be evaluated by means of an international dialogue in order to coordinate the free exploration and use of outer space, including resource extraction, for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.”

Who rules?

Will the United States rule space resource mining?

That’s the question recently tackled by Tanja Masson-Zwaan and Bob Richards in their posting on the University of Leiden’s Leiden Law Blog from The Netherlands.

Tanja Masson-Zwaan is assistant professor and deputy director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Bob Richards is a founder of the International Space University, Singularity University, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, the Space Generation Foundation and the commercial lunar resources company Moon Express, where he serves as chief executive.

— Check out their article at:


— For the IISL Position Paper on Space Resource Mining, December 20, 2015, go to:


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