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Space Canada United Kingdom

Canadian, UK Law Professors Condemn Space Mining Provisions of Commercial Space Act (examiner.com) 218

MarkWhittington writes: The Commercial Space Launch Act, which includes provisions allowing American companies the right to keep resources that they mine in space, was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. While the act has been hailed as groundbreaking in the United States, the space mining title has gotten an angry reaction overseas. In an article in Science Alert, Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, condemned the space mining provisions as environmentally risky and a violation of international law. Ram Jakhu, a professor at Canada's McGill University's Institute of air and space law, adds that space mining is a violation of the Outer Space Treaty and should not be allowed.
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Canadian, UK Law Professors Condemn Space Mining Provisions of Commercial Space Act

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  • Sigh... (Score:2, Informative)

    Any treaty that is unenforceable isn't worth a damn. If the US, China, Russia or anyone else wants to go mine an asteroid, there's precious little anyone else can do about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MacTO ( 1161105 )

      Of course there are things that can be done about it, at least by a handful of superpowers back here on Earth.

      If any of those powers see this as a big enough threat (and this is a pretty big if), they have the political, economic, and military means to take action. Since there is no practical means of doing this in space, any actions would be between the nations of this world.

      At face value, I don't think that this is going to be labelled as a big threat simply because the cost of the exploitation of space

      • The Great Powers are going to be the ones licensing the mining. The answer to the threat isn't to nuke a competing nation's privately contracted asteroid mining installation, but rather to build your own.

        • If a space ship builder can build one craft, couldn't that same builder build two?
    • By the same token, if aliens came to the Sol system to mine asteroids or take water, there is nothing the Earth can do about it. We lack the technology to stop such a thing AND we don't own the Sol system. We happen to be here but we have no claims to anything beyond the moon.

      For a practical matter, aliens or space miners would not need to bother with the inner system anyway. There are tons of moons, rocks, asteroids and comets in the Oort cloud where they could mine freely and we'd probably never even

  • by bistromath007 ( 1253428 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:30PM (#51021945)
    It prohibits the militarization and/or colonization of space. It says fuckall about what to do with any stuff we collect there. What a disingenuous asshole.
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:00PM (#51022071)

      It prohibits the militarization and/or colonization of space.

      The Outer Space Treaty [wikipedia.org] does neither of these things. It prohibits offensive nuclear weapons in space, but does not prohibit conventional weapons. It does not prohibit colonization, it just prohibits exclusive territorial claims.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Which is also stupid. As unseemly as it might be to Canadians, an unrestrained land-grab in space is the most likely vehicle to spur progress. The "traditional" way a person or country laid claim to land on earth was you had to go there and establish a permanent colony. If we had a similar rule (instead of this stupid treaty) we would probably already have colonies on the moon and Mars by now.

        • Forget grabbing land. What you need in space is a way to provide oxygen and water to support human life. Can you "claim" anything in space with a probe/drone?

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:25PM (#51022169) Homepage Journal

        It does not prohibit colonization, it just prohibits exclusive territorial claims.

        Right, which does not necessarily prevent claiming materials found as private property.

        That said, this is all a tempest in a teapot. At this stage of technology asteroid mining is about the worst imaginable investment anyone could make. It's a purely emotional investment, driven by enthusiasm, and it doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny. We don't even go after the valuable on the sea floor because the cost of finding and raising them makes that unprofitable. If there were hundred pound chunks of refinery-pure platinum floating around in the asteroid belt it would cost more to fetch and return them than they'd fetch on the market.

        The economics of space travel is dominated by the cost of moving mass in and out of gravity wells and imparting the necessary acceleration to match position and velocity with targets. It follows that we're looking for stuff with the highest value/mass, and until costs drop by a couple of orders of magnitude there's only one commodity worth returning from space: knowledge. The first physical substances worth mining will be things useful in the pursuit of knowledge -- e.g. water that can be converted to rocket fuel without tankering to the outer solar system.

        • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:55PM (#51022307) Homepage

          Much of how one looks at this depends on your time frame. Certainly in the near (20-50 year) future, asteroid mining won't be economically practical. And for longer time periods it may never be practical. But, our ability to cast the future is very poor. If you have money to burn in the interim, you can make an argument that staking out the high ground (so to speak) is indeed economically sensible way to spend part of your (or better yet, some other poor suckers) money.

          The big question is who gets to decide about this? A couple of bored, space nutter billionaires or some law professor somewhere?

          • by hey! ( 33014 )

            Well, as I said it's an emotionally driven investment, which is not to say it's an irrational investment, so long as you understand that.

          • "The big question is who gets to decide about this? A couple of bored, space nutter billionaires or some law professor somewhere?"

            Whichever of these parties has the money and the initiative to go out there, assay some asteroids, and start mining.

          • I'm not really sure how much staking-out of high ground is even possible until one gets closer to economic realization. Even if some treaty said that "Any touching of the asteroids is forbidden forever, with utter seriousness", one could safely enough do the R&D necessary to make grabbing them and chopping them up more practical; basically all the capabilities you'd need for asteroid mining can also be used for satellite launch, automation/robotics, improved astronomy and telescopes, and similar warm an
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Getting things *to* locations in space is inherently expensive. The cost of getting them *back* is not inherently so, if you don't insist on each return having a custom reentry vehicle and instead just shape it as its own reentry vehicle, with full expectation that it'll suffer some ablation during atmospheric entry. Some NEOs have only dozens of meters per second delta-V to reach earth intercept with an optimal trajectory and timing - a good baseball pitcher could do that unaided ;)

          • by hey! ( 33014 )

            I considered the near Earth object case. Clearly that's the easiest place to return material from; the problem is that it's coals-to-Newcastle. So far as we know the bulk of that material is stuff that's easy to get here on Earth: silicates, sulfides, iron, nickel etc. Judging from meteors found here on Earth there are exotic materials like iridium, but in trace quantities.

            While there's no doubt lots of valuable stuff like platinum up there, I think people are picturing it as floating around as nuggets of

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              . So far as we know the bulk of that material is stuff that's easy to get here on Earth: silicates, sulfides, iron, nickel etc. Judging from meteors found here on Earth there are exotic materials like iridium, but in trace quantities.

              Not at all. In a similar thread I linked to a USGS study on the prospects of space mining that showed that for an entire class of asteroids the average precious metals concentration is 28 ppm, with findings as high as 200ppm. In bulk, not concentrates, no overburden. I mean, t

              • by hey! ( 33014 )

                200 parts per million might be insanely rich, but it also means you have to process over 300 pounds of ore to extract 1 oz of platinum. That's nothing to a terrestrial mining operation which might crush several tons of rock to recover a single ounce of gold, but remember they do that with mass-is-no-object machinery and consuming, from a spacecraft point of view, unthinkable amounts of power. In space operations mass and power matters a great deal.

                I'm not saying it won't happen eventually, but it won't

                • 200 parts per million might be insanely rich, but it also means you have to process over 300 pounds of ore to extract 1 oz of platinum. That's nothing to a terrestrial mining operation which might crush several tons of rock to recover a single ounce of gold, but remember they do that with mass-is-no-object machinery and consuming, from a spacecraft point of view, unthinkable amounts of power. In space operations mass and power matters a great deal.

                  Getting the energy into the ore is easy. Getting it out again is the hard part.

                • by khallow ( 566160 )

                  I'm not saying it won't happen eventually, but it won't be profitable until we're measuring cost per pound to orbit in pennies rather than thousands of dollars.

                  In other words, it won't be profitable until the mass for that machinery and propellant comes from somewhere much cheaper than Earth, say the asteroid you're mining.

                  • So you'd have to find objects that provide: oil/kerosene (a fuel), liquid oxygen and/or hydrogen (a catalyst) and your precious metal all in close proximity near earth, find multi-billion dollar investors to mine stuff we can easily find on earth.

                    Alternatively you could just make a bunch of those metal things impact earth and mine it from there (businesses of your proposed magnitude wouldn't care much about environmental or people issues such as wiping a small country off the map).

                    • by Rei ( 128717 )

                      No need to "wipe a small country off the map". Take any of the countless areas on Earth with low populations of ideally nomadic people and offer them a nice chunk of money if they'll be willing to, every few years with long advance warning, move out of the impact zone along with their livestock. Or simply pick an area with no people at all. Greenland would love some extra income, they're big into encouraging mining and have vast glacial landscapes which would be easy to find your impactors on (it'd have

                    • by khallow ( 566160 )

                      Alternatively you could just make a bunch of those metal things impact earth and mine it from there (businesses of your proposed magnitude wouldn't care much about environmental or people issues such as wiping a small country off the map).

                      Maybe, we should refrain from doing stupid stuff, eh?

                • by Rei ( 128717 )

                  You don't have to pre-enrich it to those extremes. With a delta-V requirement of only dozens of meters per second, your cost to lob either single-stage concentrated ore, or even raw ore, back to Earth... hmm, let's do some calculations.

                  Solar panels for space usage are generally cited at 300W/kg (although with a large fixed installation one could probably do a lot better with concentrated solar or nuclear... and there's a lot of room for improvement on that 300 figure.. but let's go with it). 1kg to a NEO su

      • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:34PM (#51022217) Journal

        And when we get to that point, we'll worry about it. Heck, various nations claim chunks of Antarctica, in one way or another, and thus far it's been meaningless flag planting.

        But when we do get to the point where we can mine other bodies in the solar system, we'll have to come up with some sort of system of claims. The UN isn't going to be mining, it's going to be commercial and state players doing the mining, and we'll have to come up with a new treaty that will inevitably recognize the rights of those players to make what amount to territorial claims.

        Probably the biggest concern, in my view, is privately-owned entities making claims independent of any national or international body.

        • Just how did Weyland-Yutani get started, anyhow?

        • And Argentina claims the Falklands. What eventually determined control of the islands wasn't any sort of legal code: It was being defeated militarily. If they had a good enough navy to beat the British, they'd have the islands right now. International law, like all law, ceases to exist if it cannot be enforced. This includes territorial claims.

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            Things don't always come down to that. Look at the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK. Three times Iceland pushed the UK - a nuclear power with hundreds of times its population - back further and further out its shores. The UK had the military ability to crush Iceland like an ant. But Iceland succeeded by combination of making it economically unfeasible for the British to fish Icelandic waters (net cutters, for example) and well-played international geopolitical maneuvering (for example, threatening to

            • Things don't always come down to that. Look at the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK. Three times Iceland pushed the UK - a nuclear power with hundreds of times its population - back further and further out its shores. The UK had the military ability to crush Iceland like an ant. But Iceland succeeded by combination of making it economically unfeasible for the British to fish Icelandic waters (net cutters, for example) and well-played international geopolitical maneuvering (for example, threatening to give the NATO base at Keflavík to the Soviets if the US didn't exert pressure on the UK, while also successfully positioning itself as a small weak state being bullied by a large powerful one)

              Ah, but I'd distinguish on a couple of grounds. First, the UK was trying to encroach on waters already owned; no such ownership claim exists to objects in space. Second, "making it economically unfeasible for the British to fish Icelandic waters (net cutters, for example);" short of shooting down the rockets--which, again, would be in the equivalent of international waters, not territorial--how would you propose a country (and, for that matter, which country--who has the claim of right?) exert such force?

              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                First, the UK was trying to encroach on waters already owned; no such ownership claim exists to objects in space.

                It's not that simple. In each case Iceland was pushing the boundaries of law on ownership of seas. Remember, there was a time where there was no such thing as coastal waters, and then later when there was no concept of an EEZ. In fact, Iceland was the first country to lay claim to an EEZ for fishing (Britain cried foul, but they helped pioneer the concept by laying claim to ocean-bottom mineral

        • The US already planted a flag on the Moon and since then no one else has stepped foot on the moon:) Maybe the US is using the Mars rovers to survey the landscape looking for the best parcels of territory to claim just in case enough people actually travel there and start arguing over zoning regulations and eminent domain claims. If a sizeable number of humans ever leave the planet we will most likely take our prejudices, animosities, and god help us, our politics with us where ever we go.

          • The Space Treaty was prompted by the moon race. Smaller countries didn't want to have to stand by while the mighty US and the all-powerful Soviet Union divide up sovereignty of space objects and shut everyone out.

            Today the Soviet Union has disappeared completely and US manned programs have been sidetracked by anti-science fears. Time to stand by and watch China occupy the nearby bodies. Will it cooperate with or compete with the various private initiatives?

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        So the fine point on mining or colonisation is whether it is a territorial claim or a development claim. If you can get up there and colonise or mine, then pretty much you are entitled to claim what you are actually colonising or mining, as a developmental claim. As a territorial claim it should of course be banned, you can not point to the sky and claim to own it all because you have lots of nuclear war heads. It might seem odd compared to claims on earth but in all seriousness it will most likely suffice

  • by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:32PM (#51021949)

    The idea that the USA - or any other nation state alone, for what its worth - could have the power to grant anyone property rights of extraterrestrial bodies is ridiculous anyway.

    • You are saying that colonizing Mars isn't legally possible.
      • Who should do it? Who does Mars belong to? If we go by the old law of "he who first lands on unclaimed territory is the owner", we might have to ask Putin if we're allowed to settle...

        • It takes more than just flag-planting to make a territorial claim. A nation has to be able to demonstrate some sort of permanent control of the territory, usually in the form of colonization or economic exploitation. That's like trying to say that we need to ask the Danish, Norwegians and Swedes if Canadians can live in Newfoundland.

          Before any nation can make claim to any extraterrestrial territory, it's going to have to be able to actually hold that territory, and we're still decades away from that.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          I don't know, do failed landers actually count? I guess the earth equivalent would be someone sailing to a new island to claim it, launching boats to land on it, but getting stuck on a coral reef on the way in. ;)

        • If we go by the old law of "he who first lands on unclaimed territory is the owner", we might have to ask Putin if we're allowed to settle...

          Neither Putin nor any other Russian has ever set foot on Mars, so they have no claim whatsoever to it.

      • It is very well legally possible. But the idea that some nation on earth would have to make a law to make it possible in the first place is utterly ridiculous. And only a bunch of complete assholes would get this idea without consulting the rest of the world first.

        • by Kohath ( 38547 )

          So someone who wants resources from Mars needs to get permission from everyone in the world first?

          Presuming someone has the technical means, what's stopping them from just going there and taking what they want? Are the police going to arrest them when they get back? Which country's police?

          If you want to stop all progress in space (or any other scientific or technological progress) then go ahead with that idea that nothing is allowed unless governments grant specific permission in advance.

    • Ask the American Indians how ridiculous it was that nations projected their power far outside their original sphere of influence.

  • Nope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:32PM (#51021951)

    "Meanwhile, the Moon Agreement (1979) has in effect forbidden states to conduct commercial mining on planets and asteroids until there is an international regime for such exploitation. While the US has refused to sign up to this, it is binding as customary international law"

    This guy is a specialist in international law? You didn't sign up for a treaty, but it's still binding? Sure we'll see how that goes.

    • So does it forbid states, or does it forbid corporations with a HQ in a state? Because there is a big difference

      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        So does it forbid states, or does it forbid corporations with a HQ in a state? Because there is a big difference

        By the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, anything launched under the flag of a given state is subject to the laws of that state while in outer space. Under the Space Station MOU, for example, each module on station is governed by the laws of the state that launched it. That gave Cmdr. Hadfield fits when it came time to clear the rights of his ISS version of Space Oddity, as he flew through a bunch of different modules in the video.

  • by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:48PM (#51022033)

    They already have a friend building them the Big Red Rocket to take them into space to mine gold in the asteroid belt.

  • by garyoa1 ( 2067072 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @12:48PM (#51022035)

    That would mean that anyone that mines anything anywhere has no right to it? Earth or space. What's the difference? Used to be any country that landed on a newly discovered land claimed it as their own. Why would space be any different?

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:22PM (#51022155) Journal

      There are two distinct issues here. First, the common law says that if a person harvests a wild animal, plant, or other thing, it is his to eat or otherwise use. That's about ownership of an object.

      A different, though related concept, is that the first -country- to start using some territory has a claim of sovereignty over that territory. Meaning essentially that the area becomes part of that country.

      The treaty says that -sovereignty- rules are different in space, no country can claim the moon or another planet as part of their country, by colonizing it. The treaty's Article 2 reads, "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to_national_appropriation_by_claim_of_sovereignty_, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

      The treaty says that Mars wouldn't become part of the the USA if the US colonized it. It does NOT say that you can't go to Mars, pick up a rock, bring it home, and then own that rock. That's ownership of an object, not sovereignty over territory, and the treaty doesn't prohibit ownership of an object.

  • This "Space Treaty" restricting mining is a complete joke and an attempt by the world's bureaucrats to hamstring civilization into a highly pointless "approval" process fraught with do nothing committees making the entire process needlessly expensive. The first country that figures out how to cheaply get a payload in and out of the atmosphere will become the next thousand year empire with all others bowing to its feet. Dare I say it a galactic empire beyond our wildest imaginations.

    Whether it's Russia, Ch

  • They're just jealous that they can't exploit space for the enrichment of a few funded by taxpayers.
  • by seven of five ( 578993 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:33PM (#51022209)
    Mining Ceres pollutes the oceans there and makes the land bad for the little green Ceres boys and girls.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Sunday November 29, 2015 @01:33PM (#51022215)

    It is had not to agree with Ricky Lee of Australia, who wrote his thesis on the subject:

    "So the idea that commercial use of space resources is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty... is quite simply absurd,"

    Quite.

    I went to the House hearing for this Bill, and also talked to various staffers and actual space lawyers (as opposed to professors) about it. I feel, and they seem to feel, that the 2015 Space Act is entirely consistent both with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which says

    Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.

    and also with the precedent set by the US, Russia and Japan, all of which have material returned from celestial bodies. The reality is that these three countries have all treated those materials as property, which can be and has been traded. That is the actual customary international law here, not the Moon Treaty, which has been ratified by no major space-faring nation, and which is a dead letter. In addition, each state gets to set the laws on actions by their citizens in space, and are responsible for those actions (say, if they cause damage to another country's spacecraft).

    Finally, the 2015 Space Act itself says

    SEC. 403. DISCLAIMER OF EXTRATERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTY.

    It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the
    United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or
    exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any
    celestial body.

    So, despite most of the headlines announcing this law, it doesn't (and couldn't) allow for the ownership of asteroids, just of material extracted from asteroids, exactly as is allowed for in the Outer Space Treaty.

    I have to say that the space lawyers I have talked to share my puzzlement as to what the professors say things that seem so ungrounded. (They are of course welcome to disagree or oppose, but you would expect that they would have arguments grounded in facts.)

    Note, also, that none of the other space powers has complained about this act, which they were and are certainly able to do it they feel it violates the '67 Outer Space Treaty.

    • I have to say that the space lawyers I have talked to share my puzzlement as to what the professors say things that seem so ungrounded.

      It's the technique of the Big Lie. If you repeat a blatant lie often enough, there are a billion low information voters around the world who will quite quickly start telling each other that it "sounds reasonable", because everything familiar sounds reasonable.

      When you get right down to it, the only people with the funding, the attention span, and access to the required technical skill to pull off mining an asteroid in our lifetimes are US billionaires. This is the beginning of every other country acknowle

    • by roca ( 43122 )

      Ram Jakhu says that the purpose of the Outer Space Treaty is that "there shouldn't be private property in space". So he's claiming a treaty signed at the height of the Cold War established communism in outer space in perpetuity. Hmm.

      Even if he's right, which I very strongly doubt, it's a terrible idea. Communism hasn't worked on Earth and is no more likely to work off-Earth.

      The environmental arguments are even worse: they assume all human modification of the environment is inherently wrong. That makes sense

  • All your space rocks are belong to us.

  • It is to the benefit of all mankind for the supply of these rare resources to become less constrained on the supply side, thus driving the prices down. Imagine rare-"earth" minerals mined by the cubic meter from off-world bodies, vastly increasing the supply for land-side electronics while simultaneously driving their prices down and moving the environmental impact somewhere with essentially no environment, and thus no impact.

  • Really, Slashdot, isn't there a better way to do this?
  • These countries are just upset because they don't have a space program that their own mining interests could use or build on their own to go do mining.

    They are going to be locked out of this market. They have rocket envy. Maybe Canada Pharma can work on making space Viagra for when you don't have a rocket.

    Anyway the OTHER reason these countries don't like this is that they all have big mining interests. Finding a cheap way to mine in space and get those resources back to the Earth would devastate the value of minerals mined on the Earth. Who the hell will need De Boers if space diamonds are found in abundance? A diamond FROM SPACE might even be worth a lot, but not to De Boers.

    This brings to mind that a LOT of Earth companies would be happy in these space mining efforts blew up on the launch pad or failed in space. Those who go to do this space mining are going to have to watch their backs all the time. There is far too much money in the hands of companies on the ground who would be happy if a loose bolt or something caused a failure. Probably no proof, no way to trace it.

  • There was a time when conquests could only be made if you landed on at least a tiny beach, regardless of the size of the landmass, and if anyone's already living there. Now, those grasping for ultimate control, especially so no one can be free if they escape their regimes on earth, claim what they've never touched, might not even have ever seen, and have no plans to ever visit and plant the flag on. A transparent attempt to ensure that only government can own anything at the end of the day, not individuals.
  • It doesn't even have a physics department anymore. Sad to go back to where I spent so many years of my life and find it replaced by an architecture department. I think they abdicated their claim to have a say.

    • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      Hmm. I may be mistaken. It may just have moved. I didn't see any signs for it though. Oh well...

      • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

        Yep, moved to the Ingram building. Wish I'd have known. I went quite far out of my way to visit last time I was in the area.

  • The concern over this is bizzare. The way these people talk as if you can only use an asteroid for scientific means is insane. These people are worried about mining some lifeless rock when we are turning areas of the earths surface into moonscapes for mining? If we have a way that we can alleviate the strain on limited terrestrial resources, and reduce the impacts of mining on terrestrial ecosystems on earth, I think we should go for it. The idea that private companies should not be allowed to invest and be

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