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Space Businesses Government

Bill Confirming Property Rights For Asteroid Miners Passes the Senate (examiner.com) 171

MarkWhittington writes: The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced the passage of a bill called H.R.2262 — SPACE Act of 2015, which is designed to facilitate commercial space. The bill has a number of provisions for that purpose, including extending the "learning period" during which the government would be restricted from imposing regulations on the commercial launch industry to September 2023. The most interesting and potentially far-reaching provision concerned property rights for companies proposing to mine asteroids for their resources. In essence, the bill confirms that private companies own what they mine. The bill is a compromise between previous Senate and House versions.
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Bill Confirming Property Rights For Asteroid Miners Passes the Senate

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  • National level? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @11:33AM (#50908447)
    How can this be at the national level? Surely this is something that should be hashed out at the UN rather than proposing national laws for something that is already outside your jurisdiction.
    • Re:National level? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @11:38AM (#50908479)

      >> How can this be at the national level?

      The assumption seems to be that the US will get there first and claim whatever it finds for the US. (Seems reasonable.)

      >> Surely this is something that should be hashed out at the UN

      Surely you understand that the US only uses the UN when it needs to have a resolution bottled up in committees until the news cycle moves on. When we're talking about money, life or property the UN has and will be ignored.

      • Re:National level? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @11:54AM (#50908607)

        Other space-faring nations are unlikely to challenge America on this issue, because they have an interest in staking their own claims. Since the asteroid belt contains more than 100 million cubic miles of ore, weighing several quadrillion tonnes, there should be enough to share. Space is big, and there is plenty of stuff out there.

        • Re:National level? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @12:15PM (#50908785) Journal

          The history of claim-jumping argues against you. More efficient than prospecting on your own someplace away from other claims, is to let someone else do your prospecting for you and then take the claim for your own. If they're working an asteroid, presumably it's rich enough to make it worth taking from them.

          The Earth is big but humanity has always been willing to kill each other for chosen and desirable bits of it. Space probably won't be different, because even if Space is different, humanity is still humanity.

          • Burns Slant-Drilling Co will do an under ground claim jump.

          • It's true; in fact, the real beneficiaries of the U.S. frontier gold rushes were the merchants who sold supplies for mining rather than the miners themselves. With this in mind, however, it seems that any intrusions from other powers will be in accord with a principle of commercial viability. Whether or not someone steals another's asteroid claim will depend upon the potential costs and profits of benefiting in another way. Thus what might contribute to some likelihood of respecting other's rights is not so
            • The US Frontier gold rushes really didn't have much to do with gold in the first place.

              Take the California Gold Rush as an example.

              The US had just won the Mexican-American war in 1848 and we had this big strip of land (California) that we'd siezed from Mexico. There weren't enough white American settlers on the land for us to maintain our claim on the land effectively.

              Solution? Holler "Gold" and get every fool and idiot not otherwise occupied to rush across the continent to the new territory.

              There was some

          • Part of the viability of claim-jumping is the notion of getting away with it. At least for the foreseeable future, there will be a lot of eyes on any given asteroid mining operation.

            • Part of the viability of claim-jumping is the notion of getting away with it. At least for the foreseeable future, there will be a lot of eyes on any given asteroid mining operation.

              Exactly right. Compared to a claim in the middle of the desert/tundra/mountains in the days before TCP/IP, the amount if eyes on each claim will be simply staggering.

              And thanks to the incredibly slow speeds in space, we'd probably have the hot land war that erupts over your asteroid theft over and done with before it ever reach

            • Leviathan Wakes has probably some of the best depiction of asteroid claim-jumping I've seen. Along with the wild west of poverty-stricken miners trying to eke out a living. Highly recommended (the rest of the book/series is "pretty good," but not amazing).

          • Re:National level? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by careysub ( 976506 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @03:09PM (#50910027)

            The history of claim-jumping argues against you. More efficient than prospecting on your own someplace away from other claims, is to let someone else do your prospecting for you and then take the claim for your own. If they're working an asteroid, presumably it's rich enough to make it worth taking from them.

            The Earth is big but humanity has always been willing to kill each other for chosen and desirable bits of it. Space probably won't be different, because even if Space is different, humanity is still humanity.

            I'm sorry this not the Wild West in space*. Not even the bill just passed lets you claim an asteroid - which is still explicitly prohibited by international treaty. It lets you claim the the stuff you got from the asteroid only, which is quite reasonable.

            Translating notions of "claim jumping" to a space mining operation does not take into account the vast differences. For one, asteroids never had ore concentration processes, beyond what differentiation on formation might have accomplished, and space mining relies on the high average abundance of siderophile** elements in various classes of asteroids. The entire asteroid will be the ore body, and even a small one will vastly exceed the scale of plausible human mining operation. The whole point of space mining is the lack of scarcity up there. Earth mining practices are based on the fact that scarcity is normal.

            *In science fiction this is called a "Bat Durston", translating notions of the Wild West into a space opera. For good reason these are looked upon with derision.

            **The rare iron-loving elements that sank to the core of the Earth.

        • Other space-faring nations are unlikely to challenge America on this issue, because they have an interest in staking their own claims. (...) Space is big, and there is plenty of stuff out there.

          I'm not sure they wouldn't challenge this. While it may only apply to companies in its jurisdiction, what gives US congress the authority to decide about ownership of stuff in space?

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Claims will not be any where near sufficient. No million remote probes with flags staking claims to everything. The only claims that should be accepted should be factual real ones. Want to stake a mining claim, then show the actual mine being built with the intention of being used. No flag claims or pile of rocks claim. Want to claim the asteroid mine, then build an actual mine on that asteroid. So first to mine can make the claim and nothing short of that will be accepted.

          Things tends to balance out as

        • Since the asteroid belt contains more than 100 million cubic miles of ore, weighing several quadrillion tonnes,

          In geological terms, it's whatever number in whatever measure you want of ORE plus GANGUE. The ore is the stuff you want, which you can separate from gangue by crude physical processes (digging here, but not there ; blasting out and taking for processing the ore from that vein before cutting an access tunnel through the gangue). The terms become a bit vaguer when the ore is highly dispersed as it i

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        What government entity can possibly claim jurisdiction over asteroids or any other object in space?

        What they SHOULD be doing is making it clear that if you mine an asteroid, and then accidentally drop it on a city, you are going to jail.

        • What government entity can possibly claim jurisdiction over asteroids or any other object in space?

          The government entity with the ability to enforce that jurisdiction claim...the same as for any place here on earth.

    • Re:National level? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@nospAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @11:53AM (#50908601)

      Its at the national level because its basically the US government saying "*we* won't interfere with miners property rights". That doesn't conflict with someone else interfering with miners property rights.

      • I don't know - what is the US policy on terrestrial theft by foreigners? I would assume that theft by foreign actors that occurs outside US jurisdiction gets ignored by US authorities, unless it was something of significant value stolen by someone well-connected, in which case jurisdiction be damned - political pressure and illegitimate military/police action is likely to be brought to bear.

        Still, I don't see that there are a lot of other alternatives if we want to encourage space exploitation.

    • Because the UN has no authority. Ultimately this will apply to only the entities (individual or corporate) under the jurisdiction of the US. It does not apply to China or France or Russia or Zimbabwe.
    • Under the UN Space Treaty, all government on space settlements must arise from the culture of the settlement itself, rather than being imposed from Earth. A law like SPACE can only affect how our own legal system treats space settlers within our own jurisdiction.

      The one exception is that if drug production and/or usage in space becomes an issue. In that case the DEA (if recreational) or the FDA (if pharma) would be given the budget snd manpower to build starships, if necessary, to enforce its galactic power

      • Under the UN Space Treaty, all government on space settlements must arise from the culture of the settlement itself, rather than being imposed from Earth. A law like SPACE can only affect how our own legal system treats space settlers within our own jurisdiction.

        Nothing like this in is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Is there some other UN Space Treaty I do not know about?

        This claim is, frankly, impossible to credit. The whole focus of the the 1967 treaty is to make sure that States are responsible for the regulation in space of all entities under the authority. The UN does everything through the world state system.

        • More precisely, it prevents Earthly governments from militarizing space or extending their territory into space, while saying nothing about "local" government. This has been interpreted to mean that no barrier exists to space settlements governing themselves.

    • by Raseri ( 812266 )
      A better question is, Who thinks asteroid mining is economically feasible to the extent that they needed a law regarding property rights for it? This supposes that the money that can be gained from asteroid mining would exceed the cost of launching mining equipment into space, mining the asteroid, hauling the ore to Earth, landing it safely, and processing it into a usable form, all of which seems like it would be prohibitively expensive. This would only be the case if the materials which compose asteroids
      • A better question is, Who thinks asteroid mining is economically feasible to the extent that they needed a law regarding property rights for it?

        A couple of billionaires are exploring that issue right now. The quantities of precious and heavy metals contained in some asteroids is valued in the trillions. Sure, no one is going to be bringing back iron ore any time soon but there are plenty of other items of interest.

        • A couple of billionaires are exploring that issue right now. The quantities of precious and heavy metals contained in some asteroids is valued in the trillions.

          The preciousness of those materials is in its rarity. If the amount of gold on earth suddenly triples, it'll presumably affect its value. Well, unless we make some arbitrary distinction like the one that attaches different value to artificial vs natural diamond, which everybody accepts for romantic reasons (and to keep De Beers filthy rich).

      • It may become economically feasible if and when most large mining concerns on Earth get stopped from expanding due to environmental concerns, such as protecting shrinking ecosystems, avoiding polluting shrinking fresh-water sources etc.

        Just like clean renewable energy could become economically feasible in a hurry if a significant carbon tax was imposed.

        Well, one can always dream.

      • Only an idiot would launch their mining equipment into space and haul the ore back to Earth. The whole point of mining in space is to build stuff IN SPACE, which you can then sell to other people in space at radically lower prices than Earth-made equipment while still maintaining lucrative profit margins. Only the largely useless "waste" byproducts such as gold, platinum, etc are likely to be worth sending back to Earth.

        Now, there is of course a chicken-and-egg problem there which requires that at least t

      • A better question is, Who thinks asteroid mining is economically feasible to the extent that they needed a law regarding property rights for it?

        Ones that are far thinking enough to realize that they can get such laws passed now while both the law makers and general public A) are ignorant of the impact and B) aren't interested enough to care.

        This isn't about anyone doing anything now, it's prospecting for the future.

      • Exactly, and the same bunch of idiots who put this thing forward don't believe in Global Warming! It baffles the mind to think they believe they need to put this in place right now. They're must be so bored ignoring real issues they can devote an inordinate amount of time to blue sky thinking.
    • This is more along the lines of, "Go forth and discover the dark seas little billionaires, we won't shoot you down, oh, here are some rules." I'm sure Madagascar had a thing or two to say to weigh in on the issue but US don't care baby.
    • Surely this is something that should be hashed out at the UN

      If it's outside the jurisdiction of one nation, it's outside the jurisdiction of multiple nations. Hell, it's outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Senate; perhaps it could be argued that the intent of this bill is simply to recognize that...

    • Re:National level? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @01:08PM (#50909155)

      If a company registered in the USA, launches from the USA, mines asteroids in space, and returns to the USA, the the US senate currently says that the company will own what they mined and brought back at least according to the USA... others may dispute this

      Taking off elsewhere, landing elsewhere, the journey there and back, and exporting to other countries could be very interesting ...

    • How can this be at the national level?

      Could this be creating a paper trail for the future of the military out in our solar system? The Earth's Moon may be, by mutual agreement (for the time being, anyway) declared to not be the property of any one nation, which makes sense because it's in orbit around the Earth, but asteroids are most certainly not; nations (not just the U.S.) could potentially use them as military bases out in the solar system. Starting a paper trail now, asserting that there are private-sector property rights to asteroids, wo

    • Because the UN does not actually have the authority, as part of its charter, to actually pass anything binding concerning this.
    • A few answers to your question:

      First, yes, on the face of it this should be a UN sort of question. But in the same sense that the UN is unlikely to adopt a US law, the US is cantankerous about adopting UN agreements since many of them are so patently political and over-reaching. Let's also remember that the UN is fundamentally NOT 'democratic' so really, their "resolutions" have no inherent moral value more than US fiat anyway.

      Second, as a matter of practicality, the US is technologically the most likely

    • " outside your jurisdiction."

      It doesn't actually cover anyone outside of the US borders. You have to get back to the US for any property rights to be recognized.

    • I'm pretty sure the UN is the wrong level too. It's space.
    • Eventually there will be a treaty between space capable nations establishing rules for off world resource exploitation. First, those nations need to start setting their own rules so that there is a compelling reason for them to get together and hash out the differences.

      Odds are that it will not be done through the UN. The few space capable nations won't want 160+ other nations making the rules for them. And as all of the permanent members of the Security Council are space-capable, any attempt that isn

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me, or did I just interpreted this summary as "USA considers whole outer space their property, and as such drafts laws how to handle that property without any consensus with anybody else."

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @11:44AM (#50908525) Homepage

      If a US company launches into space, reaches an asteroid, mines it, takes the stuff, and lands back in the US.... they want to know whether the US government is going to let them call what they mined their property. They could care less what Tajikistan thinks. The launch, operations, and returned goods would be within the US. If someone from some other country wants to try to intercept and destroy them en route, that's a "hurdle" this doesn't address. It's also not a realistic scenario in the near-term, or even mid-term, future.

      • If a US company launches into space, reaches an asteroid, mines it, takes the stuff, and lands back in the US.... they want to know whether the US government is going to let them call what they mined their property. They could care less what Tajikistan thinks. The launch, operations, and returned goods would be within the US. If someone from some other country wants to try to intercept and destroy them en route, that's a "hurdle" this doesn't address. It's also not a realistic scenario in the near-term, or even mid-term, future.

        Yeah. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is pretty vague, and maybe even self-contradictory, about how property works in space. This ambiguity was probably intentional, as it would otherwise have been impossible to get so many countries to sign on to it, especially in the midst of the Cold War.

        Personally, I think we should just agree to treat outer space the same way we currently treat international waters. Seems like the underlying problems and legal issues are mostly the same. But I guess some people woul

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        And long term, unless the US is derelict in extending naval dominance into space to protect the trade routes there, as they do on the high seas today.

        Hint: Any conflicts will be between powerful countries seeking resources. Whiney also-rans who feel things like they own asteroids they have no means to get to, will not enter into the equation in practice.

        • Countries? Really? Seems to me the dominant actors are likely to be corporations. Far more durable and conductive to the ever-changing alignments of space-rocks - awfully hard to draw borders in space when everything is traveling at different speeds.

          Besides, corporations pretty much control most of the major governments on Earth, and will have significant incentive to play on nationalistic fears to ensure that nations have a hard time extending their reach into space, but let "their" (hah!) corporations do

      • by pr100 ( 653298 )

        Any company with international interests will care very much what other western nations (if not Tajikistan) think. If a court in (say) England rules that something is owned by someone other than the US company then it could be a huge problem for that company. Multinational companies ignore the rulings of courts in any country where they hope to do business or have assets at their peril.

      • by jeti ( 105266 )
        Why would it land on earth? The mined material is almost worthless here.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Most near-term commercial "space mining" proposals are about mining metallic asteroids which contain high concentrations of metals which are rare/valuable on Earth, and which could be taken back to Earth via ion tug or rail gun/coil gun/etc at little cost compared to the value of the resources.

          There is a hypothetical future market for resources mined in space to be used in space, that would theoretically pay lots of money for common things like water and base metals. However, there is a very real, present

          • If we start bringing in those rare metals by the megaton, how expensive are they going to be? How much money will the operation make until it's not longer economical to ship metals to Earth?

      • Intercepting and destroying a spacecraft would involve militarizing space, which is also against the treaty.

    • It is just you. All American property bills, like intellectual property bills, make as much sense.
    • The US recognizes people may eventually mine asteroids. I don't see a problem. The idea the proper state of a free human is to presumptively kneel for permission for everything from the King is a historical anachronism unfortunately adopted by modern democracies happy to let The People feel a taste of royal power.

      Your attitude is akin to the concrete canyon dwellers in New York and California dictating how places like Arizona and Idaho should use their land.

    • Is it just me, or did I just interpreted this summary as "USA considers whole outer space their property

      No. This law says pretty much the opposite: "Space belongs to no one, so if you go get some it, it is yours." There is nothing in this law that applies only to American citizens or American companies. So if a Chinese, Russian, or Indian company brings back ore from space, America would recognize their ownership (although their own government may not).

    • Is it just me, or did you not even think about this for 5 seconds? The US Government just said that they are treating space mining exactly the same as any other mining operation - those that dig the shit out, keep it. This equally applies to a Euro / Russian / Chinese / Indian company if they decide to go space mining, though it doesn't appear to be an issue in any of those jurisdictions as there are not private enterprises actively performing space activities outside of government contracts.

    • Look at it this way - there needs to be an international agreement on the rules, but there won't be until nations start making their own. Somebody has to kick it off.
  • That is the proper way. There should never have been any dispute. We should have the same rules on Earth. You shouldn't be allowed own the land, but you own what you extract, build, harvest, etc.

    • We should have the same rules on Earth. You shouldn't be allowed own the land, but you own what you extract, build, harvest, etc.

      That is a really, really bad idea. In terms of wasted lives and excess deaths, it is probably the worst idea in history. People have little incentive to build and grow on land they do not own. Collectivization of land ownership resulted in the mass starvation of 7 million Ukrainians [wikipedia.org] and 30 million Chinese [wikipedia.org]. Even today, millions of farmers in Africa and China are summarily evicted from land they have tilled for generations, because they have no legal title. Others are forced into subsistence agriculture

      • By what right would a person be evicted from "their" land if no one can own it?

        The problem is that every attempt at large-scale "collectivism" to date has actually been a power-grab under a rabble-rousing banner. They say "We claim these resources/powers for The People" to gain popular support, when what they mean is "This all belongs to the ruling class now. Suckers." It's why claims that Communism has failed are baseless - communism works fine on small scales, and has never been attempted on a large on

        • By what right would a person be evicted from "their" land if no one can own it?

          Because that person doesn't own it. It is owned by the "collective" or "the people", which in practice means the government. So rather than paying market value to the farmer whose family has farmed the land for generations, a property developer can just pay a small bribe to a bureaucrat, and have the farmer evicted with no compensation.

          claims that Communism has failed are baseless - communism works fine on small scales, and has never been attempted on a large one.

          You need to get your cuckoo clock repaired. It has lost its connection with reality.

          • Try reading the next sentence smartass, and go ahead an give me even one example of a nation in which land or anything else was owned by the people rather than an elite governing class cynically labeling itself "The People". Communism is impossible to implement beyond the scale of a stable democracy. The USSR called itself communist to garner popular support, the US called it communist to breed fear of wealth-distributing socialism. Both were cynically lying for the sake of concentrating more wealth and p

      • by smugfunt ( 8972 )

        People have little incentive to build and grow on land they do not own.

        In the UK all land is 'owned' by the 'Crown'. There are several buildings and farms though, as the people using the land have freehold or leasehold contracts (in effect) with the Crown. In fact most people are unaware of this legal nicety and go about their business as if they owned land themselves.

        I don't suppose the World Bank has mentioned it, but the private monopolisation of land also has some negative effects, as famously noted by Henry George [wikipedia.org].

      • The Holodomor (the famine in the Ukraine under Communist rule) was not just a matter of inadequate food production. The Communists continued to take what food there was away. It was deliberate starvation on a very large scale. From what I've read, whether it counts as genocide depends on whether it was specifically aimed at Ukrainians with other nationalities suffering as collateral damage, or whether it was directed at a large area regardless of ethnicity.

    • There never was any dispute. However, sometimes it's necessary to codify common sense, in order to preemptively ward off greedy assholes who suffer from an astonishing lack of common sense.

  • by scunc ( 4201789 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @11:45AM (#50908539)
    "Dibs."
  • How can this be done on the level of Earth? Why do we think that we have the rights to distribute what is on the asteroids?

    .
    Is this like the Europeans coming to North America, and giving out land rights for land they did not own?

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      "Why do we think that we have the rights to distribute what is on the asteroids?"

      Why shouldn't we? Do you think ET has summer houses on them?

      Idiot.

    • I believe the Americans call this principle "Eminent Domain" which means, not to put too fine a point on it: "Although we allowed you to have guns, we have way more of them, so f**k off your land. This is our lawn now. Get off it."

      Just remember that a right is something given by the one with might. It may not be how things should be, but see quoted text above. Civilization? Snivelization!

      • I believe the Americans call this principle "Eminent Domain" which means, not to put too fine a point on it: "Although we allowed you to have guns, we have way more of them, so f**k off your land. This is our lawn now. Get off it."

        To be fair, you left out the part about "And here's a check for the full fair market value of the lawn. Buy yourself another one, if you like.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      We'll just tell the aliens to endeavor to persevere. And once they've thought about it long enough, they'll vaporize the Earth.

  • since i designate myself an alien, i intend to extract and own the resources in so called north american continent of space object earth ( intend to own especially those human animals who refuse to be aliens ) :-)

  • Considering that there will be asteroid mining in future, which I believe to be feasible, and that it will basically be prospected by autonomous systems (rovers or robots) I can predict a lawless situation, where group of space pirates, commanding space drones that will disable or destroy regular established company's equipment.

    No law from UN nor USA will be able to legislate where there is no law enforcement.

  • Is there any knowledge about environmental impact this fantasy has?

    Heaving the tons of equipment and initial human support environment against native planets gravity - does it help the ionosphere destruction some more and if so, how much and what is put into the atmosphere, is it just burnt hydrogen (water) or ?? and how much energy is used to produce the fuel?

    How about bringing the harvest back - using the atmosphere as brake - how many more trillion-joules of energy would be put into the air and bel
    • Is there any knowledge about environmental impact this fantasy has? Heaving the tons of equipment and initial human support environment against native planets gravity - does it help the ionosphere destruction some more and if so, how much and what is put into the atmosphere, is it just burnt hydrogen (water) or ?? and how much energy is used to produce the fuel?

      The cost of space launches will always be very high, due to the cost of the hardware, even if it is reusable. Airline flight costs on the order of $4 a pound. Spaceflight costs on the order of $4000 a pound. Spaceflight will always have a minor impact on the world environment, compared to air travel (for example).

      The energy investment in space travel is vastly smaller than people imagine. It seems huge because a relatively large amount of energy is transferred to a small amount of material quickly, but laun

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