On Tuesday, November 10, an interesting piece of legislation passed a U.S. Senate vote, with a few changes. The unimaginatively named H.R. 2262: SPACE Act of 2015, contained a few key elements that signal a change in the way that the legislature thinks about space. Though the U.S. House of Representatives has to approve the changes, and then the President has to sign the bill to make it a law, the SPACE Act has some interesting implications for the future of space exploration.
Until now, the U.S. Government – and other governments – have thought about space in terms of governments. The various laws and statutes that dictate – however loose they may be – what I guess could be called space law, have contained language referring exclusively to states. Well, the SPACE Act of 2015 changes that, specifically in regards to asteroids. The bill would make it legal for any U.S. citizen to engage in commercial mining of an asteroid:
A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under 25 this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.1
While the passage of this bill will probably not launch a huge asteroid mining industry, it is significant in that this is the first piece of legislation that offers individuals a commercial right to space objects. This is a far cry from the various other space treaties and legislation that has come out of the U.S. Congress.