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Is extraction of raw materials in space allowed?

Asteroids, pieces of matter orbiting round the sun, have turned out to be extremely valuable. Asteroid Psyche contains a quantity of metals that together are worth more than the entire global economy. NASA is heading for it.

Conflicting space laws

Dutch magazine ‘Kijk’ says that in the United States, a law was passed in 2015 that allows US citizens and companies to land on planets and planetoids, to mine raw materials there, and to sell these in space or on Earth. But this law appears contradictory, as the same law also acknowledges the international obligation that no one may appropriate an asteroid or part of a planet. A similar law was also passed in Luxembourg in 2017.

So can anyone just grab what they can grab?

'According to Tanja Masson-Zwaan, Associate Professor at Leiden University's Institute of Air and Space Law, it is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to this. "Space basically belongs to all of us. Therefore, its use should be regulated by international treaties and consultations. The 1967 Space Treaty, on the one hand, gives States the freedom to use space, but it also states that no country may appropriate space or celestial bodies." So that is exactly how it is written in US law: unclear. Meanwhile, international debate on the topic has begun.' 

Despite current disagreements about exploitation, Masson-Zwaan expects international consultations to lead to a solution. International taxation of asteroid revenues, for example, could offer a solution. That money could then be used for space research.

Find out more?

Read the full article (in Dutch) in Kijk magazine

Photo: Andrej Sachov via Unsplash

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