It takes approximately 661 kg of fuel to get 1 kg of materials to Mars or the asteroid belt (about 300,000,000 km away). 650 of those kilos are expended just to travel the first 300 km. This ratio demonstrates that the greatest impediment to humankind’s exploration and colonization of space is Earth’s gravity well. Everything we need up there needs to be first brought from down here. What if we changed this equation? Our solar system contains unfathomable amounts of precious metals, ice (water), and fuel. The exploitation of asteroids or other celestial bodies would revolutionize humankind’s relationship with outer space. After all, the settlers of the New World did not bring all of their own timber, metal, water, and food. The legality of exploiting space resources has been obscure for decades, holding back investment. In November 2015, the US unilaterally legalized the private appropriation of space resources by US citizens. The reaction has been predictable: industry is ecstatic; academics are divided. The debate, however, is focused on the wrong legal question. The legality of space mining is a foregone conclusion; the real question to ask is how it can be done in accordance with international law. This paper accomplishes two objectives. First, it determines that the arguments of space mining critics are based on incorrect applications and interpretations of international law. Secondly, the paper identifies the international obligations the US must observe and provides general policy recommendations for the lawful implementation of space mining. The treaty governing outer space requires use to be “in accordance with international law.” As such the paper draws heavily from environmental and sea law to elucidate the legal principles the US will have to follow, refuting criticisms by some scholars that H.R. 2262 will lead to a “wild west” or “might makes right” outcome. The policy recommendations seek to balance US commercial interests with international obligations as well as provide for the development of a clear multilateral legal framework. H.R 2262 is a ground-breaking development in space law. US companies are raring to initiate ventures and this may give them the assurances necessary to attract substantive investment.

Additional Metadata
Journal Journal of Public and International Affairs
Citation
Litvinjenko, A. (Andrej). (2016). Exploiting the heavens, lawfully. Policy recommendations for the lawful implementation of H.R. 2262. Journal of Public and International Affairs, 2016(1), 61–78.