New Law Opens Door for Commercial Mining of Precious Metals on Asteroids, the Moon and Other Planets

Science fiction is now science fact.

President Barack Obama signed a new law that allows U.S. space miners to extract and sell the precious resources they find on asteroids, the moon and other planets. 

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The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act paves the way for companies, such as Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources, to start planning for commercial prospecting trips to explore what is estimated to be trillions of dollars worth of untapped resources, especially gold, platinum and palladium. The company expects to launch the first space-mining missions before the end of this decade.

“This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” Eric Anderson, Planetary Resources’ co-founder and co-chairman, said in a news release. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space.”

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Although the law does not allow for companies to claim, say, an asteroid, for their own, miners may keep anything they obtain from their exploration and mining.

Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, has his eyes on the 13,000 asteroids whose orbits approach the Earth. They range in size from a few yards to hundreds of miles across.

This past July, for example, a small asteroid containing $5.4 trillion in platinum flew within 1.5 million miles of this planet. The summer fly-by sparked speculation of how asteroids could be captured and brought into orbit around our Moon, making it easier for crews to extract the precious metal in a more controlled way.

“This is how something turns from science fiction into science fact,” Lewicki told Arizona Public Media, “and we are right in the middle of it now.”

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Asteroids could one day be a vast new source of scarce material in a world of ever-increasing demand. In addition to gold, platinum and palladium, asteroids likely contain other valuable materials, such as silver, iridium, osmium, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, tungsten, iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, aluminium and titanium.

“The natural resources of our Solar System have great potential to facilitate and support our human endeavors, both in outer space and on Earth,” said Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Commercial space companies in the United States are making significant investments to develop technical capabilities that will allow us to explore and use outer space resources. This bill enables this new industry and provides guidance for future entrepreneurs.”

Images: Screen captures via planetaryresources.com; NASA (public domain).

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