Is asteroid mining legal
Legality of asteroid mining
The United States (along with Russia, China, Japan, India and most of the other space nations) did not sign (or in some cases ratified) the Lunar Treaty, and therefore companies registered in any of these countries are not bound by it either. So this contract is essentially pointless for anyone who actually has the ability to get to the moon in the first place.
The more relevant treaty is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. This treaty covers a few different things; Much of it focuses on the ban on putting nuclear weapons into space or using the moon or other celestial bodies as military bases, etc. Article II of the Space Treaty also states: "The Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim to sovereignty, by use or occupation, or in any other way ."
In principle, we cannot go to a "celestial body" (more on that in a minute) and claim it as part of the United States, for example. On the other hand, Article I says: "The Space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, may by all states without any discrimination on the basis of equality and in accordance with international law researched and used All areas of the heavenly bodies must be freely accessible . "(my emphasis added).
So Article I seems to say that anyone can "use" the moon and other celestial bodies, but that we (under Article II) cannot claim sovereignty or use force (or presumably coercion) to keep other nations away from a celestial body. That seems to leave open the possibility of mining an asteroid as that is "use" as long as you don't "claim" the whole thing as a sovereign part of your country or use force to keep other nations out.
But - and this is the key - it all depends on what exactly a "celestial body" is. When is something so big that it counts as a heavenly body? The moon, other planets in the solar system, and dwarf planets like Pluto and Ceres certainly count, but what about a medium-sized asteroid? What about a little one? What about a small piece of stone 6 inches in diameter? No one has yet set out what exactly is covered by the Space Treaty, but it is very easy to imagine a US court ruling that either small asteroids are not covered or that mining is a permitted "use".
And the facts on the ground (pun intended!) Are that so few nations or corporations have the resources to get a spaceship to an asteroid that there is no practical way to go gives, to fight when someone manages to use it. Treaties that require US marks to become law in the US, meaning their interpretation may be decided by US courts (at least since the law applies to US corporations).
TLDR: Legally, it's a slightly gray area, but commercial mining of asteroids is likely allowed because the treaty allows the "use" of celestial bodies and because asteroids may not even qualify as "celestial bodies".
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