Bipartisan Bill Would Promote Commercial Mining--of Asteroids

By Lauretta Brown | July 17, 2014 | 4:44 PM EDT

This image shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 passing through the Earth-moon system on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object passed within 17,000 miles of the Earth. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

) -- A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress last week would ensure that U.S. companies are able to mine resources from asteroids free from “harmful interference.”

The cleverly named American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014, which was sponsored by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), would establish and protect “property rights for commercial space exploration and utilization of asteroid resources.”

The first portion of the bill directs the President to “facilitate commercial development of asteroid resources” and “promote the right of United States commercial entities to explore and utilize resources from asteroids in outer space.”

The bill is careful to address the need to comply with “international obligations,” most likely referring to the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which states that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

The Asteroids Act would get around that by allowing U.S. companies to stake property claims on extracted minerals, but not the asteroids themselves. The bill clarifies that “any resources obtained in outer space from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto.”

“Asteroids are excellent potential sources of highly valuable resources and minerals,” Posey said in a statement. “Our legislation will help promote private exploration and protect commercial rights as these endeavors move forward.”

“We may be many years away from successfully mining an asteroid, but the research to turn this from science fiction into reality is being done today,” Kilmer added. “Businesses in Washington State and elsewhere are investing in this opportunity, but in order to grow and create more jobs they need greater certainty. That’s why I’m excited to introduce this bill with Representative Posey.”

According to the statement from Posey’s office, “Rare minerals used to manufacture a wide range of products are found in a small number of countries. This has left the United States dependent on foreign nations for these resources."

"The limited supply and high demand for these materials, alongside major advances in space technology and a deeper understanding of asteroids, has led a number of private sector investors to begin developing plans to identify and secure high-value minerals found on asteroids and transport them for use here on Earth.”

“Some rare minerals that could be found within asteroids include: platinum group metals such as platinum, osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, and palladium in addition to nickel, iron and cobalt," the statement added.

There are two companies currently developing asteroid mining programs. Planetary Resources, based in Kilmer’s home state of Washington, aims to “develop low-cost robotic spacecraft to explore the thousands of resource-rich asteroids within our reach,” and to “develop the most efficient capabilities to deliver these resources directly to both space-based and terrestrial customers.”

Deep Space Industries, another company looking to mine asteroids, believes in the “need to expand our civilization into space, to provide for our needs here at home and to increase the wealth of our planetary economy.” The company wants to “locate, explore, harvest and utilize the vast numbers of asteroids in Earth’s community.”

The bill has been referred the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.