Under a New Law, Businesses Can Own Pieces of Asteroids

Washington, D.C. – President Obama signed the “SPACE Act of 2015” into law, providing a framework for commercializing space resource extraction like asteroid mining.

The “SPACE Act,” short for “Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act,” also goes by H.R.2262, the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.” The bill nurtures the budding commercial space industry “by encouraging private sector investment and creating more stable and predictable regulatory conditions,” among other goals, according to the text of the bill.

The bill was introduced by Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on May 12, 2015 and signed into law on November 25, 2015. The Space Act “helps ensure America remains the leader in space exploration and innovation in the 21st Century,” McCarthy said in a statement.

The bill allows private companies to own, use, move and sell resources they mine from an asteroid. An “asteroid resource” is a “space resource” found on or within a single asteroid, and a “space resource” is an abiotic resource in situ in outer space and includes water and minerals.

The bill encourages companies to develop economically viable, safe and stable industries to explore and recover space resources. Federal agencies will “promote the right of United States citizens to engage in commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources free from harmful interference, in accordance with the international obligations of the United States and subject to authorization and continuing supervision by the Federal Government,” according to the bill.

In addition to provisions on space mining, the bill guides the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of NASA, along with heads of other Federal agencies, to “assess current, and proposed near-term, commercial non-governmental activities conducted in space,” and suggest ways to prioritize safety while easing burdens on the industry to encourage the U.S. commercial space sector.

House Science Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that although she supports the commercial space launch industry, “Nearly every provision in this bill, in every conceivable way, gives preference to the priorities of the commercial space launch industry – whether in matters pertaining to the safety of the general public, or in matters pertaining to the safety of the future customers of this very industry, and it does so at the expense of the American taxpayers,” she said in a statement.

The bill lessens insurance liabilities for launch companies, calls for space traffic management, requires safety-related space situational awareness data, streamlines commercial space launch requirements and approvals, ensures the International Space Station remains viable and productive through at least September 30, 2024 and maintains state involvement, development, ownership and operation of launch facilities, among other requirements.

The bill “keeps America at the forefront of aerospace technology, promotes American jobs, reduces red tape, promotes safety, and inspires the next generation of explorers,” House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in a statement. “It provides the boost America’s private space partners need as they lead the world into the future.”

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Asteroid_for_Space_Act_Writeup

A comet captured by the Philae Lander on the Rosetta Mission. Credit: European Space Agency/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

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