The hot-button topic in science and business this week is asteroid mining. As intrepid investors place their bets on the lucrative business of asteroid mining, it’s possible that the industry could take off, resulting in next “gold rush”. Will we be flocking to space next in hopes of striking it big?
Recently, Eric Anderson, founder of Space Adventures, and Peter Diamandis, CEO and founder of Zero Gravity Corporation, announced their newest venture, Planetary Resources. Backed by high-profile businessmen such as Google CEO Larry Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and filmmaker James Cameron, Planetary Resources’ main goal is to extract precious minerals and metals from free-flying asteroids as they pass the planet.
Already the company has a plan to launch telescopes into space within the next 18 to 24 months. These telescopes will be used to search for the most lucrative asteroids for the company to target.
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.
However, this wording only applies to staking a claim in behalf of a nation, so as long as any mining company stays privately funded, it shouldn’t violate the treaty. Whether or not a company can buy property rights on an asteroid, however, is unclear.
Wired.com explains how space mining rights might work in the future:
Under the Outer Space Treaty, if a company is mining an asteroid, no other entity could come along and start mining on the other side if doing so could interfere with the first set of miners. If the asteroid were large enough to accommodate two independent mining operations, both could likely proceed, each gaining ownership of whatever material they extract. Thus, customary international law already gives would-be asteroid miners a sound basis for their business model.
My question for the asteroid mining business is this: once the technological and legal problems are solved, will we have our next “gold rush” in space? While asteroid mining will stay financially impossible for most people, it’s likely that venture capitalists throughout the world will be flocking to the cosmos to seek their fortunes. Could this be humanity’s next step into working and living in space? Only time will tell.