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The Only Thing Holding Back Asteroid Mining Is... Lawyers

26/09/2014 11:13 | Updated 26 September 2014

US legislators are considering a bill to make it legal for private companies to turn asteroids into 'filling stations' for futuristic space craft.

The American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space Act ('ASTEROIDS') was introduced by Republican congressman Bill Posey earlier this year, and is drawing support from industry leaders.

The document is slim - just five pages - but allows US companies to own resources gathered from asteroids. The law is needed if companies like SpaceX and Planetary Resources are to follow through on their plan to mine space rocks, because existing legislation (1966 United Nations' Outer Space Treaty) outlaws mining of space resources - IE the Moon.

The BBC reports today that Chris Lewicki, president of PR, wants to build filing stations on asteroids that can provide water, minerals and fuel to space craft.

asteroids mining

Above: conceptual asteroid mining space craft, by Planetary Resources

"Imagine being able to get into space and refuel your spaceship [there]," he told the Beeb. "We can tell from telescopes that look out from mountaintops here on Earth that certain types of asteroids can be relatively abundant in water and water-bearing minerals"

The problem so far is that the specific laws on the table aren't convincing everyone. That includes some experts and lawmakers in the US, but also officials in Russia, China, the European Space Agency and Japan.

The other element is that the technology to actually mine asteroids is still some decades away, at least in practice. But Lewicki told the BBC it's coming "sooner than… a lot of people realise" -- so either way, there's going to be a lot of work for the space lawyers in the near future.

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