I am amazed at what people come up with when they want to make some money. Goldman Sachs is predicting that the world’s first trillionaire is going to make their fortune in space. Before you think Elon Musk or Richard Branson, this involves space mining. According to Goldman Sachs, technology is approaching a point where mining asteroids is almost feasible. Whoever decides that they want to do it, is going to cash in on a big haul. While I understand the advancements that technology has made over the last few years is significant, I can’t wrap my brain around this in the same way. That’s not to say I don’t understand it from a technical perspective. But it just seems too futuristic for me.
How will this work, from a legal perspective? Mining for minerals on Earth has a ton of legal issues attached to it. But lawmakers are working on ways for asteroid mining to take place, in anticipation of this becoming a business. It makes me laugh a bit. The lawyers are the first ones to say what people can and can’t do. I mean, I get it on some levels. But who are lawyers from America to tell lawyers from Europe what we can do with things in the universe? That said, the European Union already has a legal framework in place that will allow companies to claim materials from asteroids as their own. The law goes onto say that whatever you collect in terms of revenue is theirs, as soon as it comes back to Earth.
As you can imagine, the prospect of asteroid mining is being pursued by a number of private companies – including Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources. These two are pushing their plans forward to mine asteroids and are working with the Luxembourg government in order to make this a reality. It’s interesting to me that a government would help fund this kind of activity. I mean, there is a big payoff to be had with whatever comes from mining an asteroid, but that’s public funds. I can’t see that happening in North America.
All of that said, I am still unsure how this is even possible. Basically, if you’ve got enough money and resources, you can put a spacecraft into space, and start mining resources from an asteroid. Ok, that’s all fine and well, but how is this different than say, oil or diamond mining. I mean, people pay a lot of money to “own” the land or mineral rights (or whatever the terminology is), so will these companies “own” the asteroid? Based on what I’m reading, the answer is no. Basically, anyone can just launch themselves into space and come back with a boatload of resources, which will be translated into money once they land. (That’s simplistic, but I think you can understand where I’m going with this)
So why are rules different in space, then they are on Earth? If one company makes it to space faster than another company, why can’t that company claim ownership over a particular asteroid? Is it because the asteroid isn’t fixed? I’m not trying to sound ignorant, but I think that there are a lot of things that we maybe don’t understand. Or maybe we’re just not asking the right questions? Space law is incredibly fascinating, and I think it will become a growing area of expertise. What it will look like in 5 or 10 years is going to be something out of this world. Literally.