Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.
Three-quarters of the world’s mining companies are incorporated in Canada. But as the global industry prepares for its greatest leap since mechanization, Canada risks losing that leadership position – unless it takes sides in a debate over the private ownership of minerals found in space.
The United States has already shown an interest in asteroids, some of which pass quite close to Earth and might be exceedingly rich in heavy elements such as cobalt, gold, platinum, rhodium and tungsten. Later this year, NASA will launch a spacecraft, the Osiris-Rex, on a mission to retrieve a mineral sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.
Canada is providing Osiris-Rex’s laser altimeter, which will map the surface of the 500-metre-diameter asteroid. This will enable scientists to determine the best site for the spacecraft to touch down, briefly, to collect the sample. The altimeter has been built by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the manufacturer of the Canadarm, on a $61-million contract to the Canadian Space Agency.
Although the primary mission of the Osiris-Rex is to collect data for scientific purposes, the project’s leader, Dante Lauretta, readily admits that it will also “develop important technologies for asteroid exploration that will benefit anyone interested in exploring or mining asteroids, whether it’s NASA or a private company.”
In return for providing the altimeter, Canada will receive a portion of any sample obtained. However, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency are unlikely to ever engage in actual mining. This will be left to the private sector, and the company leading the way is based in the United States.
For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/why-canada-risks-losing-out-on-minerals-in-space/article28818408/