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New law paves way for companies to mine asteroids

Published Jul 16th, 2017 9:00AM EDT
space mining
Image: Hubble Space Telescope / ESA

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Mining companies pull valuable material out of the earth and sell it. That’s their job, and while there’s plenty of controversy over where, when, and to what extent corporations should be allowed to exploit our planet, human civilization wouldn’t be where it is today without mining. But what if companies didn’t have to actually dig into the Earth in order to harvest prized minerals? A new law in the EU is painting a picture of a future where mining companies look up rather than down in their search for new places to dig, and mining asteroids could be the new gold rush.

The new law, which was drawn up and adopted by the government of Luxembourg, is the first to attempt to clear up the messy legality over who owns resources that are found in space. The language of the legal framework is a very big win for private companies, and the country is firmly behind the idea of corporations owning anything and everything they extract from passing asteroids.

The legalese of the draft law that has been adopted is extremely in-depth (as you’d imagine for something as complicated as space mining), but the gist is that once a company has the authorization to carry out an asteroid mining mission they are granted ownership of the materials they come back with, and are also responsible for any damages that occur during the mission.

But just because there’s a law describing how ownership of space mining resources will be handled here on Earth, that doesn’t necessarily mean any companies are ready to launch an asteroid drilling rig. That being said, it will almost certainly happen in the not-so-distant future, and when it does, we’ll need more than just this law on the books.