The US is taking a major step forward in interplanetary mining, drafting a new bill to aid development of the asteroid mining industry.
A bill has been forward “to promote the development of a commercial asteroid resources industry for outer space in the United States and to increase the exploration and utilisation of asteroid resources in outer space”.
Dubbed the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities In Deep Space Act or the ASTEROIDS Act in a show of love for acronyms, it is the first major step in regulating and supporting extra-terrestrial mining since the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which set out international standards for space exploration and ownership of materials found in space.
The treaty defines the sovereignty, or lack thereof, of asteroid mining. It means that countries, or companies, can’t simply plant a flag and claim sovereignty; however they can extract the metals and minerals discovered on the asteroid.
The new US bill is focused on facilitating commercial exploration, discouraging government barriers to the development of industries for the exploration of asteroids, as well as outlining resolution of legal disputes in space exploration.
It comes at a time when the space race has been commercialised and the focus in the potentially huge levels of minerals and metals that are believed to be found in asteroids.
“We do know now that there are materials of enormous economic interest available in space, any near earth object has a platinum group metals concentration greater than the best terrestrial ores,” according to Princeton’s Space Studies Institute director Lee Valentine in his article A Space Roadmap: Mine the Sky, Defend the Earth, Settle the Universe.
The moon is also understood to hold more than twenty times the amount of titanium and platinum than anywhere on earth, as well as the extremely rare helium 3 – which is valued at around $90 000 per ounce.
There are already a number of companies focused on mining near earth asteroids, as well as the lunar surface.
Deep Space Industries has also formed for asteroid mining, while China has sent rockets to explore the lunar surface for minerals, with the Chinese Government stating that "China's space exploration will not stop at the moon; our target is deep space”.
The Japanese have also recently made leaps in this direction, as they prepare to launch a new probe to conduct mineral exploration on asteroids.
The project is run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The exploration satellite will arrive at the asteroid in 2018, when it will fire a projectile into the asteroid to blast off material, gather the loose material and then return to Earth.
For a greater insight into the hows and whys space mining click here to see an infographic explaining the industry.