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Space Government Moon

Making Mining the Asteroids and the Moon Legal 162

MarkWhittington writes: Popular Science reported on a bill called the Space Act of 2015 that has passed the House and may soon pass the Senate that will allow private companies to own the natural resources that they mine in space. The idea would seem to be a no-brainer. However, the bill is causing some heartburn among some space law experts, especially in other countries. Fabio Tronchetti, a lawyer at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, argues that the law would violate the Outer Space Treaty.
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Making Mining the Asteroids and the Moon Legal

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 25, 2015 @03:17AM (#50594953)

    It looks like the US got bored forcing their laws on other countries here on Earth so they've moved on to the moon and asteroids. First it was refusing to honour EU data protection laws agreed to by international treaty, now it's ignoring the Outer Space Treaty. This is establishing sovereignty on the moon and asteroids by granting businesses permission to operate there and take resources from them. If it wasn't establishing sovereignty, those laws would have no effect, nor would they be necessary. As a European citizen, I really want the US to fuck off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joh ( 27088 )

      So make the EU outlaw asteroid mining... and give it the resources to police space. Good luck.

      By the way, this is inevitable in the long run. Either we will die out or we will start to exploit resources in space. Earth is becoming too small for us fast. Space should be big enough for quite a while...

    • by murdocj ( 543661 )

      Your example of the US forcing its laws on other countries is the US refusing to follow EU law... uh, isn't that the EU trying to force its law on the US???

      • by Schmorgluck ( 1293264 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @03:45AM (#50595057)
        Nope, it's the EU requiring companies to comply with its laws when they exert their activities in the EU.
        • In reality the US isn't trying to force anything, while the EU is trying to force foreign companies to solely follow EU rules for activities conducted within the EU.

          The problem is, EU law does not exempt foreign companies from their domestic jurisdictions, so their home countries can still require them to follow their laws - which can bring them into conflict with the EU.

          Unless an agreement is signed between the countries, its up to the companies to resolve the conflict between the two jurisdictions they ar

          • An agreement has been signed. The USA refuse to be serious about enforcing it.
            • Conditions change, people become wiser. Are there any treaties 2000 years old that are still enforced? 1000?
          • Yes, as the parent said: the US are trying to enforce their laws on other countries.
            Your argumentation is completely wrong. An EU company is not required to follow any special EU laws for its operations in the US, only US laws apply (except for accounting and other stuff, which are usually fixed via ownership constructions where one company owns another one). However the USA tries to force american companies that operate in the EU to follow not only EU law, which is a no brainer, but also US law, which is i

            • Your argumentation is completely wrong. An EU company is not required to follow any special EU laws for its operations in the US, only US laws apply (except for accounting and other stuff, which are usually fixed via ownership constructions where one company owns another one).

              Uh, completely and utterly wrong - EU companies are still required to follow EU law when operating in other countries.

              Take for example bribery and financial conduct laws - what may be legal in the foreign jurisdiction isn't necessarily legal in their home countries jurisdiction, and there have been examples of EU companies being investigated and prosecuted within the EU for their actions in non-EU countries.

              However the USA tries to force american companies that operate in the EU to follow not only EU law, which is a no brainer, but also US law, which is idiotic.

              If they dont want to follow the law of the country that they are incorporated in, they can move their

              • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                Then I give you an other example (happened in RL):
                a US school class of kids between 16 and 18 visit Paris, France. The teacher allows them to share a bottle of wine (means, less than an ounce per student).

                That is completely legal.

                However US courts claim that US law is to held up "in Europe!" which makes the teacher lose his job.

                We europeans lough our asses off about such stupidity.

                • That is completely legal.

                  However US courts claim that US law is to held up "in Europe!" which makes the teacher lose his job.

                  We europeans lough our asses off about such stupidity.

                  I would laugh with you, if that's what actually happened. Except it's not (unless you can provide a contrary link). What actually happens (on multiple [dailycaller.com] occassions [nytimes.com], apparently) is that the teacher was fired for violating school rules. Not for violating US law (because in fact a teenager drinking wine in Paris is not a violation of US law.). The teacher was responsible for following the schools rules, the teacher failed to do so, and the teacher was fired/punished for doing so. The only involvement of the cour

                • We europeans lough our asses off about such stupidity.

                  Really? Try going abroad to have sex with underage children in a country where that is legal.

                  That sort of thing is prosecuted in the EU, regardless of it being legal in the foreign jurisdiction. Its also prosecuted in the US as well.

                  • Yes, because it is explicitly written in the law.

                    It is a difference if I make a law and say: "my citizens are prohibited to harm children every where on the world" or if I have a law that says: "minors are under protection and may not be harmed" and later try to use that on a 'crime' committed somewhere not under my jurisdiction.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        A bill to allow mining does not do jack shit if it is in disagreement with the outer space treaty, which the US has signed and thus as a treaty is binding and US law too. What the US can do is withdraw from the treaty first. But the way i see it, launcher capacity is right now not in the US. Therefore if they do it too early, the leg up will be for the Russian, EU and chinese *if they wish to*, because those are the one with commercial launcher capacity *right now*.
    • They aren't granting any sovereignty, rather they are just letting them keep/sell what they dig up or otherwise obtain, but they still have no ownership of the celestial body. Kind of like prospecting on federal land. You don't own the land, but you get to keep the valuable minerals you pull out of it.
      Whether people like it or not, if you can't obtain resources out there, they won't go there. If you've got a profit motive, you won't mine something you can't use or sell. And if you're doing exploration, you
      • The problem is, if there is no ownership over the celestial body, there is nothing stopping a third party from stepping in once the hard work of prospecting and removing the overburden has been accomplished and doing the easy mining - after all the original mining company doesn't own the land so they can't stop someone else mining it at the same time as them.

    • It looks like the US got bored forcing their laws on other countries here on Earth so they've moved on to the moon and asteroids. First it was refusing to honour EU data protection laws agreed to by international treaty, now it's ignoring the Outer Space Treaty. This is establishing sovereignty on the moon and asteroids by granting businesses permission to operate there and take resources from them. If it wasn't establishing sovereignty, those laws would have no effect, nor would they be necessary. As a European citizen, I really want the US to fuck off.

      Does planting the flag first on a territory not claim that territory?

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      It looks like the US got bored

      And it looks like the moon will get bored too.

  • The moon affects everyone on the planet. It influences tides, which are vital to the ecosystem of the entire planet, and shouldn't be messed with.

  • That they didn't come up with this law first, they still might.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You can't assign rights you don't have. If that mineral isn't owned by USA how can it decide that it transfers ownership to a corporation?

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      The USA isn't assigning any rights at all, nor ownership of celestial bodies.
    • You can't assign rights you don't have. If that mineral isn't owned by USA how can it decide that it transfers ownership to a corporation?

      Sure you can. The US can say "anyone who mines a space mineral can keep it, if you don't like it go suck on a nuke".

  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @03:39AM (#50595039) Homepage

    Really, claiming territory that you cannot even get to? Any treaties or laws regarding anything beyond geosynchronous orbit are laughable, because they are unenforceable.

    Heck, even here on earth, I wish people would follow a simple principle: deliberately flout stupid laws and regulations. It's the only way to get them off the books. Of course, you have to be willing to fight an enforcement attempt, and most of us would rather not. However, the alternative is for regulations to accumulate. Every time a bureaucrat has a brain fart, they add another one, and the damned things never go away.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Really, claiming territory that you cannot even get to?

      Who's claiming territory? Perhaps you could say that about the companies looking to exploit resources in space. The only "claim" is that a treaty should be upheld.

      Any treaties or laws regarding anything beyond geosynchronous orbit are laughable, because they are unenforceable.

      They're not at all unenforceable as long as the companies need to have any operations on Earth. Such as selling whatever they manage to harvest. If a company moves its operations completely to space and finds customers there, it might avoid treaties and laws on Earth. Until then, enforcement works just like it works with any other multinational co

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I wish people would follow a simple principle: deliberately flout stupid laws and regulations. It's the only way to get them off the books.

      On the contrary, if they go ignored, they pile up like unused cable overflowing the tray. The best way to remove a law from the books is to enforce it on everyone. Once the 'right' people get nailed, it will be repealed in 7 to 10 working days.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Every law should sunset in 5-10 years, and require it be extended or re-passed or whatever to stay on the books. Yes even murder. Ones like that should be easy to extend. But laws that allow you to buy curtains, but not curtain hangers on Sunday would die.
      • Result would be large "omnibus" packages of laws as a single bills which would make them even more difficult to disentangle over time.

        It already happens and it's already impossible to legislatively define what counts as a "clean" or single-topic bill.

        • Result would be large "omnibus" packages of laws as a single bills

          Add a requirement for a 4/5 majority to pass any bill and those "omnibus" bills would be dead in the water. For that matter, a 9/10 minimum would not be unreasonable; the law should be written so as to enjoy widespread support, and not cater to a small majority at the expense of minorities. If 10 to 20 percent of the population objects to a bill, it probably shouldn't be on the books. Leave such provisions to smaller, more homogeneous areas—states, counties, municipalities—where consensus on suc

          • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
            I like it. 5/10th majority to pass a single topic bill. 6/10th majority to pass a bill with more than one amendment after it leaves committee. 7/10th majority if the bill contains more than one topic. 8/10th majority if the bill modifies more than one law. 9//10th majority if the bill is "really bad" (leaving that to others to define).

            The goal should be many many more bills. Small bills. Each targeting a single law subsection. Like a line-item veto for legislators.
          • You are proposing anarchy. Any small group of troublemakers could cripple even essential functions.
            • Do you really think you could scrape up 10 or 20 percent of voters (at least 43 members of the House of Representatives, or 10 senators) willing to commit political suicide by opposing an acknowledged "essential function" for no better reason than to cause trouble?

              Even if they did, so what? The bill just gets reintroduced after the next election. There is no government function so essential that losing it for a few years would mean the end of the world.

    • "claiming territory that you cannot even get to"
      Robotics are quite clever at getting to places you can't.
      "laws ... are unenforceable"
      They are actually quite well enforceable unless you exclusively colonize with full sustainability. They just put you in jail here on Earth and cut the supply chains to whatever infrastructure there is.

      This story is brilliant. Corrupt USG passing laws that enable privatization of space and thus triggering a commercial space race .. this just made my day.
  • by SuperDre ( 982372 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @03:56AM (#50595087) Homepage

    as if the US has anything to say about mining the moon or an astroid..
    If I want to mine the moon/astroid, there is nothing that the US can do about it..

  • I think it's perfectly clear that the only treaties that exist anywhere in the world are the ones that say the USA can force its will and laws on every other country. Even when they don't negotiate in secret behind closed doors the sale of other countries laws to corporations they still try and apply local laws in other countries (see Microsoft's court case, the Pirate Bay debacle, etc).

    Why should mining the moon be any different?

  • The company should only be allowed to own what it extracts, not what exists. Exclusivity over natural resources should not be allowed, on the moon, or on earth. That way you can own all the land you work until you bump into somebody else.

  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @04:35AM (#50595215) Homepage Journal
    "Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person."
    ( Article 11, paragraph 3 ).

    On "other celestial bodies" however, e.g. asteroids, the Treaty is silent regarding property and appropriation.
    • by sociocapitalist ( 2471722 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:15AM (#50595607)

      "Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person."
      ( Article 11, paragraph 3 ).

      On "other celestial bodies" however, e.g. asteroids, the Treaty is silent regarding property and appropriation.

      The US'll just 'unsign' it like it did the Kyoto treaty.

      • you do realize the Kyoto treaty was never ratified by the US Senate (in fact, the Clinton administration never submitted it), right?

        • you do realize the Kyoto treaty was never ratified by the US Senate (in fact, the Clinton administration never submitted it), right?

          I know it wasn't ratified - but it was signed by the US administration.

    • by Diac ( 1515711 )

      Hold on a second, I just checked the outer space treaty was signed in 1967. The moon landings where from 1969 - 1972, so according to the treaty the US signed the moon rocks which they brought back from the moon landings which are part of the moon do not belong to anyone not the USA or NASA so when they run around the world chasing missing moon rocks and prosecuting people who sell them they are violating that treaty right? How can they claim ownership and still adhere to this treaty?

      • Heck, you may be right, though only in the case they chase the rock as their "property". If the excuse is "we need those rocks for scientific research / lab examination" then they adhere to, at least, the letter of the Treaty. (Whether or not they adhere to the Treaty's **spirit** is something that could only be assessed by the UN itself. But then again, IANAL.)
        • by Diac ( 1515711 )

          Here is an article that was linked on slashdot http://www.collectspace.com/ne... [collectspace.com] and at the bottom it says "Outside of lunar meteorites and a few ounces of the moon returned by Soviet robotic probes, all other moon rocks are considered the property of the United States. As such, according to the NASA Office of the Inspector General, those found in possession of samples can be prosecuted for theft of government property, for which there is no statute of limitations." which is in violation of the Outer space

          • LOL you seem to be right. One does indeed wonder if they do know at all. Some official saying this may, however, not yet be a clear and final violation of the Treaty itself. At least I think so, as "NASA Office of the Inspector General" does not fully equal "US Government" or "US State", being rather an government-run institution. If NASA were challenged to hand over moon rocks to any, say, research institute and then refused to do so by claiming "they're government property" and were backed by Congress or
      • Read it more carefully. It says "natural resources in place". In other words, you cannot claim ownership of an iron deposit or gold seam. But you can claim ownership of rocks or natural resources removed (by you) from the surface (or at least it doesn't say you can't).

        • Well this is really to stop Oh Boy New World!!!1!!11 idiocy where countries plant a flag and try to claim much or all of the moon.

          It really isn't to stop colonies from landing and growing, much less the inevitable declarations of independence, nor people, private or otherwise, from mining.

      • Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place

        This reads like the USGA's official rules of golf. In golf you are allowed to pick up and move "loose impediments" out of your ball's way, but you are not allowed to move things in place, such as trees or grass.

        I think if they had to dig for it, it would fall under the treaty... but if it's a loose rock lying on the surface that anyone can just pick up, it's fair game.

    • The treaty is clear, and I imagine that most of us agree with the spirit of the treaty, but the treaty goes too far. It effectively bans any permanent settlement on the moon. If that ever becomes practical, this treaty will be mincemeat. We should make a better treaty now before the current one gets dumped -- possibly without a replacement.

    • It's all good, except for example I don't give a flying fuck who signed what, I didn't sign it and I am certain people who may be able to mine on the moon eventually would see it the same way (correctly). Fuck those who signed it on behalf of everybody else, nobody should care about it.

    • This is where another principle comes in: "Possession is 9/10 of the law."

      If somebody does get to the moon and starts mining it, who--practically speaking--will stop them? It will be the wild west all over again.

  • Just use homesteading theory. If you set up a mining operation on a body you have the best claim to those resources that are within your capability. Look how mining claims were staked out during the gold rush. The first person couldn't claim all of California or Alaska but they could stake out what they could realistically process. There was plenty of conflicts but they managed to work it out relatively well. If someone finds a small asteroid a couple meters across one company might be able to process it. B

  • It seems likely that at some point whatever laws and treaties nations establish regarding off-world matters would come into conflict with the realities of living and working off-world. Probably around the time off-worlders realize Earth-bound authorities don't actually have any power over them.
  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @09:57AM (#50596473)

    It forbids Earthly nations from extending their sovereignty out into space. It does not forbid private entities from exploring and exploiting asteroids and other resources, and it does not prevent them from establishing their own sovereignty by custom of usage as this process develops.

  • ... at least 50% of the time to claim ownership, I have no problem with someone owning stuff in space, with the caveat that only past physical presence counts towards the 50%.
  • The aliens are laughing their asses off over this.
  • by wardrich86 ( 4092007 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @10:59AM (#50597037)
    At what point will we have mined the moon to where its mass is reduced and our weather gets totally fucked?
  • Under its constitution, laws and treaties have equal footing, with the Constitution itself standing above both.

    Just as one law can supersede another law, or a new treaty can supersede a past one, a law can have the effect of the US withdrawing from a treaty and a treaty can have the effect of rescinding an existing law.

    If other countries don't like it, they are free to implement reprisals, up to and including declaring war on us and, if they have the wherewithal, launching every nuke they have at us (note t

  • so america not only owns all the countries on this earth but also space... wtf?!?!?!
  • Our Lords have saw fit to have pity upon us and allow us the fruits of our labor in far off unattainable lands. Are they not gracious and wise? Let us bow low and kiss the ground they walk upon in our humility, so unworthy our we of such benevolence.
  • In the US, the mineral rights (and other natural resources) are often part of the real estate. Some places have legally segregated such rights from the surface estate, but they are still both considered property rights---which implies ownership.

    The Outer Space Treaty says no one can own the Moon or other celestial bodies.

    Since the way that the US handles natural resources implies ownership, it is a contradiction. And since treaties are second only to the Constitution in the US, it does seem that mining spac

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