Space rocks are chock full of raw materials we can use on earth. But if you figure out how to mine an asteroid, will you own what you get?
Where are we going? To outer space property rights.
Space Property Rights
Congress has decided it is time to describe our property rights in space. The last cosmos related legal document that they approved was the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty. At the time, because military proliferation was the concern, the document emphasized no weapons in outer space, international cooperation and “free access to celestial bodies.” They did not detail economic issues because, as they expressed it, the possibility was too remote.
Congress has proposed the Space Resource Exploration and Resource Act of 2015. Specifically dealing with asteroids, the law says that any entity that obtains asteroid resources has the same property rights as federal and international law guarantees it on earth.
According to space lawyer and University of Mississippi Law School professor Joanne Gabrynowicz, the proposed law has huge gaps. Congress mentioned no regulatory bodies to license and regulate asteroid mining and ignored the need for international agreements.
Meanwhile, among the firms with an asteroid mining agenda, Planetary Resources lists James Cameron and Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt as investors. Its plans? Stated very simply, they hope to profit from resources in outer space. As a beginning, this year they successfully launched a satellite and, in 2016, their Arkyd-100 scope is supposed to analyze a selected asteroid as it orbits the earth.
In this captivating 2 minute video, Planetary Resources redefines the traditional image of an asteroid as they explain what they hope to do.
Our Bottom Line: Property Rights
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton realized that the sanctity of contracts was essential for U.S. economic development. As a result, when he had to decide who owned Revolutionary War bonds, the benevolent patriots who had sold the bonds at a discount or the ruthless speculators who bought them, he chose the speculators. Why? Government has to enforce a legal contract.
So, whether on earth or in outer space, economic development requires secure property rights. After all, if we invest the time and money to secure water and platinum from an asteroid, we need to know that contract law guarantees our ownership rights.