|A 22-mile wide asteroid, 433 Erros could contain trillions of dollars of precious metals, but its ownership debatable. CREDIT: NASA|
We haven't even begun to work on the big task of getting to the asteroids to mine them for their precious metals. There is a topic that you may be wondering. Who owns rights to the asteroids?
According to Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson, a US company has the right to an asteroid and its resources. He also says that its a goal of the US government to enable and promote such commercial activities in space.
This is the United States view on asteroids, but there is a 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty that may say otherwise.
This 1967 treaty is the legal framework for international space law, of which the United States is one of 100 countries that have signed the treaty.
"Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means," states Article 2 of the treaty.
"The UN treaty in essence forbids private ownership of celestial property. According to the treaty, you could not arrive on the Moon or an asteroid and claim it for ownership, at least as a country. Things get a little more confusing when you talk about ownership by a company, but I think most lawyers would tell you that they are one in the same and that whether it's a corporation or a nation you cannot, according to the treaty, claim private celestial property," says Michael Gold an attorney for Bigelow Aerospace.
Still Moving Forward
It's doubtful that the treaty will be the end of the line for companies such as Planetary Resources according to Gold.
"Any nation can pull out of that treaty with a year's warning, so I think it would be wrong or misplaced to either criticize or slow-roll development efforts, such as what Planetary Resources is proposing, due to the treaty if for no other reason than the United States can pull out at any time and therefore not be bound by the treaty," according to Gold.
First would come the technical hurdles to mine asteroids, then legal justification would follow.
In the meantime Planetary Resources will be working for possibly decades on testing and refining their robots for mining until any possible major financial gains are realized, giving them time to work out the legal ramifications.
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