Mining asteroids may sound like a concept ripped from science fiction, but a new law is aiming to make it a reality. On November 25 Pres. Barack Obama signed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a bill intended to spur private space exploration by limiting governmental regulations until September 2023.
That time frame is meant to allow a learning period for private companies to develop the technology necessary for future goals such as space tourism, commercial spaceflight and space mining.
To that end the bill explicitly allows companies or individuals to claim ownership of any resources and minerals they are able to collect in space—a right that was previously murky under the law.
The hunt for useful materials in space is integral to many private space exploration companies’ plans.
“There are resources that support operation and human activity in space, there are resources that support manufacturing in space and then maybe there are resources that are important enough and valuable enough to bring those resources back to Earth,” says Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, a private space company focused on asteroid mining.
One of the reasons space launches, especially crewed missions, are expensive is the cost of transporting materials. Water and rocket fuel, the latter of which can be derived from the hydrogen and oxygen in water molecules, are two particular resources that people like Lewicki have an eye on.
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