The US is taking a major step forward in interplanetary
mining, drafting a new bill to aid development of the asteroid mining industry.
A bill has been forward “to promote the development of a commercial
asteroid resources industry for outer space in the United States and to
increase the exploration and utilisation of asteroid resources in outer space”.
Dubbed the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities In Deep Space Act or
the ASTEROIDS Act in a show of love
for acronyms, it is the first major step in regulating and supporting extra-terrestrial
mining since the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which set out international standards
for space exploration and ownership of materials found in space.
The treaty defines the sovereignty, or lack thereof, of
asteroid mining. It means that countries, or companies, can’t simply plant a
flag and claim sovereignty; however they can extract the metals and minerals
discovered on the asteroid.
The new US bill is focused on facilitating commercial
exploration, discouraging government barriers to the development of industries
for the exploration of asteroids, as well as outlining resolution of legal
disputes in space exploration.
It comes at a time when the space race has been
commercialised and the focus in the potentially huge levels of minerals and
metals that are believed to be found in asteroids.
“We do know now that there
are materials of enormous economic interest available in space, any near earth
object has a platinum group metals concentration greater than the best
terrestrial ores,” according to Princeton’s Space Studies Institute director Lee Valentine in his article A Space Roadmap: Mine the
Sky, Defend the Earth, Settle the Universe.
The moon is also understood
to hold more than twenty times the amount of titanium and platinum than
anywhere on earth, as well as the extremely rare helium 3 – which is valued at
around $90 000 per ounce.
There are already a number of
companies focused on mining near earth asteroids, as well as the lunar surface.
Deep Space Industries has also formed for asteroid mining,
while China has sent rockets to explore the lunar surface for minerals, with
the Chinese Government stating that “China’s space exploration will not
stop at the moon; our target is deep space”.
The Japanese have also recently made leaps in this direction,
as they prepare to launch a new probe to conduct mineral exploration on
The project is run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The exploration satellite will
arrive at the asteroid in 2018, when it will fire a projectile into the
asteroid to blast off material, gather the loose material and then return to
For a greater insight into the hows and whys space mining
click here to see an infographic explaining the industry.