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".


Yes, but let's be honest. If someone brings enough money and resources, for example Bill Gates Networth. And they choose to build spaceships and a higher crew and run their own organization ... it's space! Who will stop you ?! The fact is, whoever gets there first and sets reasons for power will set the rules that everyone else must follow. Until then, it's everyone's game!

Caleb Hines

No one might be able to go to the asteroid to make you stop (and, ironically, break the treaty if they do) but if you are still living on Earth and found guilty in a court of law for violating international treaties Under the law, you could (potentially) face extreme penalties. You don't have to go into space to stop yourself effectively.


@CalebHines - One obvious way to bypass courts trying to punish someone for potential breaches of contract is to register and set up the company that is mining in one of the countries that have not signed the contract; - ) But in reality, companies like Planetary Resources have attorneys and are given some form of assurance by either Congress (in the form of a law) or the courts (a judgment) that their activities are legal.

Kim Halter

In any case, political bodies would find a way to apply leverage regardless of the law, if a company of this kind were significant enough to influence the balance of power on earth. Trade barriers, boycotts, turning a blind eye to copyright infringement or hacking activities - there are many ways for nations to exert pressure. If things are going well, and Planetary Resources 20 years from now, will have robots swarming over a space rock containing 50 kilotons of platinum group metals, I doubt it would be in anyone's best interest to block them.

Russell Borogove

But it is in a person's interest to tax or regulate them.