No one has mined an asteroid yet, but the technology already exists.
Whether it’s for water, metal or gasses, asteroids could become a vital resource for long-term astronauts working out in space, and technically, at least under U.S. law, asteroid-mining is completely legal.
But our national law, which is currently under review by the United Nations, might not have enough clout against the 50-year-old “Outer Space Treaty” (officially, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies).
So how does this international space treaty actually work, and who regulates what goes on beyond earth’s atmosphere? With growing commercial interests and advances in tech, should we expect to see a gold rush in space? What are the ethics behind mining asteroids, and how close are we to this happening?
Sagi Kfir, general counsel of Deep Space Industries, a space resource utilization company specializing in small spacecraft technology for asteroid mining
Joanne Gabrynowicz, director of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and professor emerita of space law; she was also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law for 12 years and advises both the U.S. and U.N. on space law issues