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Space United States Politics

Asteroid Mining Bill Introduced In Congress To Protect Private Property Rights 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can't-take-the-sky-from-me dept.
MarkWhittington writes: "Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) announced on Thursday that he was introducing a bill along with Rep, Derek Kilmer (D-WA) called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014 (PDF). The act is designed to protect the private property rights for entities mining asteroids and to otherwise encourage asteroid mining. The bill is in apparent reaction to efforts by companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries to locate and mine Earth approaching asteroids for their resources.

The crucial part of the short piece of legislation states that the resources mined from an asteroid would be the property of the entity undertaking the operation. This language gets around the provision of the Outer Space Treaty that says states are forbidden to establish national sovereignty over celestial bodies, which would be a prerequisite to the United States allowing a private entity to own an asteroid. It rather grants mineral rights to the asteroid, something the treaty does not mention. There is no enforcement mechanism in the event of a dispute with another country, however."

Asteroid Mining Bill Introduced In Congress To Protect Private Property Rights

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  • where they won't have to pay any taxes?

    • by cygnwolf (601176)
      Seems to me they would have to pay import tarrifs to bring the resources back planetside....
      • If they count as a foreign nation. Since "no one country" owns space according so some treaty or another(okay, I admit, my memory is fuzzy on this), they might not.

        But they will pay taxes on the income/profits. And there's no economic system that doesn't value the availability of new raw materials as a primary interest.

        • That's some forethought....they managed to get treaties signed, what, 30 years ago, that no countries can own things in outer space. So that leaves....corporations!

        • by mog007 (677810)

          Just because space isn't owned by someone doesn't mean it's not foreign.

          The astronauts who went to the moon had to go through customs after they were picked up from the ocean.

      • Seems to me they would have to pay import tarrifs to bring the resources back planetside....

        .Letting someone have the high ground with big rocks at their disposal could have some interesting dynamics.

        They impose a 50% tariff, so you drop it on their head.
        "We collected 32 tons of almost pure iron today, your percentage will be arriving in 3, 2, 1..."

        • by Algae_94 (2017070)

          That would be something if they had the ability to control the path of these asteroids. Something tells me that the energy costs of directing one of them at a target on earth would be ridiculous. Also, unless said company wants to then operate solely in space, there would be retaliations against any Earth based resources they possess.

          • Well, for the whole space mining thing to work you have to be able to drop a payload accurately. Most of the stuff that we could refine in space and land softly would have to be a high value/kilo ratio items... everything else has to be splashdown city. If we can do it with an Apollo Capsule we should be able to do it with a chunk of iron we processed after catching and mining it's momma. And if we can find a place to drop it safely (not counting birds, sea life and all the other stuff we ignore to make a
    • where they won't have to pay any taxes?

      As well they shouldn't. No emerging technology should. Once it replaces all earth based mining and the industry is worth billions, you can rest assured that they'll get taxed up to wazoo.

    • If someone can set up a viable asteroid mining company in near future, I honestly don't care if they are forced to pay taxes. The benefits to be had long-term from development of the associated tech are much more important.

  • ASTEROIDS (Score:4, Funny)

    by bistromath007 (1253428) on Friday July 11, 2014 @08:52AM (#47430453)
    That acronym is so massive we'll need Roland Emmerich to make a movie about it hitting the Senate floor.
    • I'm pretty sure the impact would effect the entire DC area if not the world. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing however.

  • Absurd (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @08:54AM (#47430471)

    How can any nation grant right over something outside its sovereignty?

    • How can any nation grant right over something outside its sovereignty?

      Indeed! It seems to presume a lot. Perhaps this just regulates the behavior of US companies mining asteroids.

    • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Informative)

      by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Friday July 11, 2014 @08:58AM (#47430485)

      There's a long history of this sort of thing.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Informative)

      by OzPeter (195038) on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:01AM (#47430493)

      How can any nation grant right over something outside its sovereignty?

      You do know what country you are talking about don't you? sovereignty (especially other peoples) hasn't generally been at the top of the list of discussion points for quite a while(*)

      * And by quite a while I mean it .. just look at how Hawai'i became a state.

    • If anything deserves a spacenuttery tag, this does!
    • Re:Absurd (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dywolf (2673597) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:38AM (#47431617)

      same way they always have.
      first by force.
      then by tradition.
      otherwise known as "possession is 9/10's of the law".

      the only reason we haven't (yet) seen it in Antarctica and the treaty there has yet been observed and maintained, is there hasnt yet been a big push to produce or obtain resources down there (it's bloody cold, and the resources are under a very thick layer of ice). just wait til they decide it's time to get the oil or other BigMoneyItem out of the gruond down there, and then see how long that treaty lasts.

    • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:49AM (#47431707) Homepage Journal

      How can any nation grant right over something outside its sovereignty?

      This just codifies a long-standing common law treatment of international resources. Anyone from any country can take their ship into international waters and gather resources. Once the fish / kelp / crab / whatever is aboard the ship, it's their property. This just says we should treat space resources the same way.

      • by Zumbs (1241138)
        That depends on the actual working of the proposed law. TFS seems to suggest that the miner gets the rights to both the mined minerals as well as any minerals in the asteroid.
        • You don't want one miner to claim all of Ceres or Vesta (the two largest asteroids). What makes sense is to have a "claim size" based on your mining operation and safety. Thus you don't want the next door miner to be landing his ships too close, because the exhaust can kick up rocks or contaminate your equipment. You also don't want to grant a full size mining claim to someone who lands a 1 kg payload with an electric drill. The claim should scale with how much equipment they are landing and the mining

    • It would at least prevent another American company from challenging them. Presumably the eventual goal would be to get other countries to sign on too. Since it's likely to be several years before any actual mining takes place, there's still time to deal with that.

    • by BitterOak (537666)

      How can any nation grant right over something outside its sovereignty?

      It happens all the time right here on earth: fishing rights, offshore drilling rights, shipwreck recovery rights, etc. It's nothing new. There are laws and treaties that cover all kinds of extra-territorial stuff. Why should space be any different?

  • by Cardoor (3488091) on Friday July 11, 2014 @08:57AM (#47430473)
    i was afraid that privateers were running out of things to rape here on earth
    • Re:thank goodness (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:24AM (#47430617)

      And don't worry about no enforcement mechanism if another country disagrees...we can simply go to war with them to protect the "rights" of some corporation going against the good example the US set on the moon. Bravo!

      I for one, look forward to saying how bravely my children fought and died to protect the rights of some corporation to profit by mining some asteroid's natural resoruces. Be the first on your block to have a kid killed to fight for some corporate interest in space!

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Hey, we already send our children off to die to corporate interests in the Middle East, why not space? Hell, aside from the possible exception of WWI/II has this nation *ever* fought a war that wasn't well-aligned with powerful business interests?

      • Service guarantees citizenship!

        I'm doing my part!

    • by Jahta (1141213)

      i was afraid that privateers were running out of things to rape here on earth

      Yeah. It's not exactly "boldly going where no man has gone before", is it?

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Yeah. It's not exactly "boldly going where no man has gone before", is it?

        Oh, I don't know ... this just seems to be one more step in codifying the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition [sjtrek.com] as the law of the land and setting the tone for future space exploration.

    • How do you "rape" an asteroid?

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:01AM (#47430499)

    In event of dispute, deliver minerals to other claimant. Without controlled deceleration.

  • Good. Let's go. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:03AM (#47430505) Homepage Journal

    Asteroid mining is the only way we're going to build large structures in space anytime "soon". There's plenty of asteroids, this issue can be revisited later.

    • by smaddox (928261)

      I'll believe that when I see a process for refining the raw materials in orbit and producing something usable out of them. As is, asteroid mining endeavors are nothing short of magical thinking.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I'll believe that when I see a process for refining the raw materials in orbit and producing something usable out of them. As is, asteroid mining endeavors are nothing short of magical thinking.

        So nothing is real or possible before you see it? Why not kill yourself now, then? After all, tomorrow may never come.

        People smarter than you (or I) believe that mining asteroids is not only possible but even feasibly. That doesn't mean that it is, of course. It only means that I have no reason to give a shit what you think about asteroid mining.

      • It may well be the case, but that's precisely why it makes sense to let private companies hash it out. If it's not just magical thinking, and they succeed, then everyone benefits from the development of the technology necessary to do it. If it is, then, well, a private company goes bankrupt.

      • Near Earth asteroids contain up to 20% chemically bound water (in the form of hydrated minerals). They don't contain water as water, because at our distance from the Sun it is too hot for water to be retained in a vacuum. To get this water out of the minerals you heat them to typically 200-300C. So stuff the asteroid rock in a closed container, focus enough sunlight on it to reach the required temperature, then have a condenser on the shaded side to turn the vapor back into liquid.

        Water has multiple uses

  • by Anonymous Coward

    FIrstly, an advance "Haha, very funny!" to all of you out there with celestial body related sex/porn jokes you feel compelled to share with the rest of us. Now back to topic, when you travel to a celestial body and detach a piece of it does that piece cease to be a celestial body and become a .... uuuuh... celestial fragment or something? The Outer Space treaty must define a minimum size for a 'celestial body' because otherwise even grains of cosmic dust are 'celestial bodies'. At least that is the only way

  • Sure there is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:08AM (#47430545) Homepage

    There is no enforcement mechanism in the event of a dispute with another country, however.

    Any company rich enough to get there can probably afford to hire people to defend its claim. Within a few years, they'll probably be rich enough to outright buy a company like Blackwater to serve as a small army to defend their claim if need be. That's the real danger here.

    • It depends. In space, the eternal truth that a bullet tends to beat the armor will probably apply more than usual. Cue a mass driver or an electrically powered kinetic projectile.
    • But it's nice if they don't have to, that there is at least some kind of rule saying "no, it's not cool to just take the shit somebody else already captured and mined." The rule may or may not be enforceable, but I think it's a good, common sense rule.

    • Why? Mining asteroids is incredibly unprofitable.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It may be already profitable in near future if the point of the stuff is to stay in space. Once we start needing large amounts of structural materials beyond Earth's gravity well, lifting them from Earth is not going to be cheap.
      • You have numbers to back up this claim? Because my numbers say the opposite.

    • I for one would like to be the first of these space mercenaries!

      Even now I am thinking up cool sounding names to call ourselves... :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:13AM (#47430569)

    This law merely codifies what has already developed as the consensus among significant space-faring nations.

    Since the world already accepts the premise that objects originating in outer space and brought to earth belong to those who retrieved them them (currently only Gov't agencies, but foreseeably private actors as well), and Article IX of the OST establishes a right to non-interference with outer space activities (outside of explicitly banned activities such as militarization, etc.), the lack of sovereignty or property rights over celestial bodies already presents no legal bar to their mineral exploitation.

    Of course, the flip side of this is that someone else could completely legally set up a mining operation on the other side of the asteroid, and provided they are not interfering with your own operations, there is really nothing you could do to enforce a "claim" in the sense that we do here on earth.

    As I read it, this introduced bill does nothing to change existing rights and duties under the current legal framework, but I suppose it does provide some assurance to prospective miners that, in the U.S. legal system at least, there will be no drastic changes to the current understanding.

    IANAL (yet) but have interned at NASA.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Let's get crazy for a moment: one of the ideas of space mining is that it lets you get resources for space projects without the difficulty of firing them up from the Earth in the first place. So in principle, you could produce hardware in space from raw products that have never had any owner, using tools that were themselves manufactured in space from materials that have no owner. Does that mean that said hardware is "up for grabs" in perpetuity with no legally recognised owner, until some smartass brings i

  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:14AM (#47430577) Homepage

    This language gets around the provision of the Outer Space Treaty that says states are forbidden to establish national sovereignty over celestial bodies, which would be a prerequisite to the United States allowing a private entity to own an asteroid. It rather grants mineral rights to the asteroid, something the treaty does not mention.

    So, if you as a country don't have the right to claim sovereignty over these celestial bodies ... then how on Earth (or space) do you have the authority to grant mineral rights? They're not your rights to give are they?

    This is using authority you don't have to grant mineral rights to corporations. Can the US grant mineral rights to nations they don't control too? Because that's awfully special.

    This just sounds like the typical ignore the intent of the treaty and make sure corporations have more avenues to make money without restriction.

    Always nice when lawmakers pass laws over stuff they really have no jurisdiction.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because the proposed bill does no such thing. It merely states that the U.S. gov't will recognize extracted minerals as being the property of those who extracted them. Nothing in it stops others from mining the same asteroid as long as it refrains from harmful interference with other operations.

    • Well, yes and no. I do not think the intent of the treaty was to make all resource gathering outside of earth atmosphere illegal. The intent was to not allow nations to claim the land and in particular install military outposts. And depending on the wording it might actually be completely within the treaty. The US cannot sign over mineral rights to land they do not own, but a simple statement of intent that they will consider it yours if you take the out of this land that no one owns seems to be within th
    • by MrTester (860336)
      This is just how things work.
      Its a chicken and egg thing. It will never be a priority for the international community to establish policies until pushed by something like this.
  • The J. Paul Getty Maxim, oft repeated in the Oil Patch where I live, is "The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights".

    It appears this concept applies to other celestial bodies as well.

    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      "All things come to those who wait" -- however, they're the set of all things left around by those who got there first.

      The only space law we really need: If you see a lawyer, SHOOT TO KILL.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        "All things come to those who wait"

        Yes, but we want asteroids, not meteorites. Or worse, an impactor that doesn't just break up and lie there.

  • Jurisdiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rossdee (243626) on Friday July 11, 2014 @09:23AM (#47430609)

    Neither the US Congress, nor the United Nations, have any jurisdiction over anything outside LEO (Low Earth Orbit)

    • It would be nice if we were a bit progressive and as a planet got ahead of the clear human abuses that typically come with our historic examples of frontiers.
    • Neither the US Congress, nor the United Nations, have any jurisdiction over anything outside LEO (Low Earth Orbit)

      You have de-facto jurisdiction wherever you have the power to assert it.

      The American Revolution was about 150 years in the making --- population in 1776, around two million, any disruption in foreign trade wounding, but not fatal. Coastal cities vulnerable, but any penetration into the interior likely to end in disaster. (Saratoga)

      The out-world colony for the foreseeable future will be and must be self-sustaining in the sense that it is in no immediate danger of running out of food or air. But it will be

      • I think OP is referring to the United Nations "Outer Space Treaty" [wikipedia.org] that is an agreement declaring that outer space is common property to all of mankind that is not to be weaponized nor politically divided. Of course laws are typically as good as the paper they're written on so as space exploration progresses I imagine this treaty will inevitably shredded, modified or parties to the treaty with the most firepower will ultimately ignore it.

  • "time for...Capitalist...Piiiiiigs...iiiin...spaaaaaaace!"

    Just sayin'.

  • Words fail me. Almost. I realize that Congress needs to do appear to be doing something, while avoiding all possible controversy, but this seems like a press release that should never have gone out. Perhaps if they concerned themselves less with asteroid mining and more with the immigration issue, pollution, healthcare, and any number of more important issues, Americans might have a smidgin more respect for their elected officials. This seems like an issue that could wait...or maybe they could let the i
    • by ai4px (1244212)
      Maybe it's a two-fer... they plan to use the immigrants to mine asteroids? What's next? Profit of course!
  • Does America even have jurisdiction above 100km? WTF????
  • Such a bill belongs in Russia, China or some other place that hasn't given up on space.
  • a couple of points (Score:4, Interesting)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday July 11, 2014 @10:33AM (#47431105) Journal

    1) First, the silliness with bill names really needs to stop; one imagines a giglling kindergartner sitting "playing" Congressman typing out stupid acronyms while lobbyists sit in the background actually crafting the legislative language.

    2) Then again, there are so many vagaries in the language of this bill, it's almost comical that it would be presented as legislation.
    First, the bill keeps referring to "asteroids in outer space" - WTF is "outer space" precisely? Anything ex-atmospheric? Above the Karman Line? Anything in orbit? Anything outside lunar orbit?
    Second, I believe even astronomers are having Platonic debates over the precise meanings of such terms as 'asteroid', 'planetoid', and 'moon'. Heck, in wiki's intro to "asteroid", the bulk of the opening paragraph sort of dissolves asymptotically trying to grab specifics. This document constantly references asteroids without bothering even to define what they're talking about. It might include Ceres or Vesta, but could it include the Moon? How about Phobos? Pluto?

    Of course, most people have comfortable working definitions of the above, insofar as they care. But when the first rover starts drilling into the Moon, or Mars, or heck, taps into an agglomeration of someone else's space junk asserting it's "space debris that's formed an asteroid" these sorts of vagaries cause massive legal issues.

    More evidence - as if the US public needed it - that our congressvermin are just idiots.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I was under the impression that contrived acronyms were the great American passtime, in much the same way that all British government efforts must sound like evil organisations from James Bond movies (DEFRA, COBRA, OFSTED, the Coal Board).

  • Possession is 90% of the law, defense is the other 10%. If you can get it and defend it, it's yours. It's the same principle on which ownership of every country on Earth is based.

    • Re:Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:38AM (#47431613) Homepage

      Possession is 90% of the law, defense is the other 10%

      You know, I've seen this cited several times lately.

      Show us, exactly, where the law says this.

      It's illegal to be in possession of stolen goods. This is not grade 3.

      If you can get it and defend it, it's yours.

      So, you believe if I can take it from you by force, it's mine?

      Well, here's hoping someone takes your stuff from you, and then we'll see if you stand by that statement.

      • by fyngyrz (762201)

        So, you believe if I can take it from you by force, it's mine?

        You should really read more carefully. Overzeetop said "get it and defend it."

      • Re:Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

        by WaffleMonster (969671) on Friday July 11, 2014 @01:34PM (#47432623)

        Possession is 90% of the law, defense is the other 10%

        Show us, exactly, where the law says this.

        LOL

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

        It's illegal to be in possession of stolen goods. This is not grade 3.

        Seem to remember quite recently Russians and Kurds grabbing land that doesn't exactly belong to them. They appear to be getting away with it while the whole world sits watches the theft take place.

        So, you believe if I can take it from you by force, it's mine?

        There are two distinct legal worlds. Confuse them at your peril.

        1. Intra-country world where rules are enforced by state having obtained more or less a monopoly on projection of violence within state borders to those who elect to disobey laws of said country.

        2. Rouge lawless world of inter-country relationships where no such monopoly exists. International systems like the UN wield no real power. In this world your ability to project violence or develop a coalition of states willing to project violence very much dictates what you can or can not get away with.

        To put it in even simpler terms when Ban Ki-moon pleads for the bloodshed in Gaza/Israel to stop he is asking ..nicely...... he is not ordering.

        When a judge orders you to pay Palimony the judge is not asking he is ordering you to pay under threat of violence.

      • by Eevee (535658)

        If you can get it and defend it, it's yours.

        So, you believe if I can take it from you by force, it's mine?

        Putin believes this.

  • by plopez (54068) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:20AM (#47431471) Journal

    It will just protect the 'interests' of an American corporation. See the US 'interventions', the US has never invaded anyone; in Panama, Columbia, Honduras, Cuba, Honduras again, Panama again, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. And that ignores invading Mexico in the 1840's to support Texans' 'property rights', aka slavery, and on others. Oh, and that list is just up to about 1915.

  • ...but it should be pointed out: Congress' jurisdiction does not extend out to the asteroids, regardless of what they legislate...
    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      ...but it should also be pointed out that when you bring said mined assets back into the USA, congress does have jurisdiction, and that's what this law primarily addresses, although it may also have direct implications for how US government crewed spacecraft will treat US citizen or corporation owned spacecraft carrying cargo.

    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      Also, in case you hadn't noticed, congress does pretty much whatever it wants of late. Interstate commerce? nah... Intrastate commerce is so much more fun to regulate. Warrants to search? nah... so much more fun to just search as is convenient. Property rights? nah... they'll take your land for commercial reuse, it's potentially much more profitable. Ex post facto law? nah... sometimes, that's just the thing. Shall make no law? Oh HELL no. Rights that shall not be infringed? Oh, ho ho ho, isn't that quaint.

  • "There is no enforcement mechanism in the event of a dispute with another country, however.""

    A strong navy? Hey, it worked fine for the XYZ Affair .. and the Barbary Pirates too.

  • "Deals of this size are done all the time, and think what having access to and rights over a billion kilos of platinum would do for your corporate portfolio."

    yes, I think this phrase is worth repeating.
  • it's not like the united states has anything to say about astroids, space is not theirs...
  • We're at that place the europeans were when they had a good idea of the scale the Americas but they didn't actually know what was in them... and there were like four countries that could even go to them.

    So they drew up maps and just said "well this is all spain's, this is all protugal's, this is holland, etc"...

    Never mind that the countries in question might only have literally ten people over there at that moment... which is effectively no one.

    What worries me is that they're going to sit down here on earth

  • by radarskiy (2874255) on Friday July 11, 2014 @04:56PM (#47434223)

    Not only will the US agree to defend your mineral extraction with a publicly funded military (by recognizing your extraction rights), they will disclaim any right to tax you on your gains (by not trying to claim sovereignty).

    Privatize the profits, nationalize the risks!

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