All of humanity should share in the space mining boom



DATE: 19/04/2016
AUTHORS: MORGAN SALETTA & KEVIN ORMAN-ROSSITER (UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE)
SOURCE: UNIVERSAL SCIENCE

One solitary asteroid might be worth trillions of dollars in platinum and other metals. Exploiting these resources could lead to a global boom in wealth, which could raise living standards worldwide and potentially benefit all of humanity.

There are already companies, such as Planetary Resources, hoping to make mining in space a reality.

Peter Diamondis, co-founder of Planetary Resources and founder of the XPrize Grand Challenges, believes that the benefits to humanity give us a moral imperative to explore and utilise space. He has also declared “there are twenty-trillion-dollar checks up there, waiting to be cashed!"

However, behind the utopian rhetoric and dazzling dreams of riches lie some very real problems.

Ownership and the Outer Space Treaty

The framework of international space law is given by the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which entered into force in 1967. Among its main principals, the OST includes these statements:

    the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind

and,

    outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means

Because the OST is generally interpreted as preventing anything like private fee-simple ownership, it is sometimes claimed to be an obstacle to commercial ventures in space. But such claims simply do not hold water.

There are numerous terrestrial examples where resources are profitably exploited in the absence of fee-simple ownership. Governments routinely licence companies to engage in timber extraction, mining, offshore oil exploration and other activities, receiving royalties payments on production.

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