Who Has the Right To Mine An Asteroid?














” As PopMech has relentlessly covered, the race is on to tap the mineral wealth tucked away in the asteroids. But are these big space rocks free for the taking, or will asteroid miners find themselves bogged down in outer space red tape? Instapundit blogger and resident contrarian Glenn Harlan Reynolds investigates.

Suddenly, the idea of asteroid mining is everywhere. As a recent feature here in Popular Mechanics noted, asteroid mining has gone from a “someday” idea to a business plan for more than one company. As a professor who’s been writing, teaching, and practicing space law since the 1980s, I say, why not? Asteroids are valuable, they’re out there, and they are free for the taking.

Or are they?

Asteroids are certainly available, and they’re valuable. More than 750,000 asteroids measure at least 1 kilometer across, and millions of smaller objects are scattered throughout the solar system, mostly in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Even a comparatively small asteroid is potentially quite valuable, both on Earth and in space.

A 79-foot-wide M-type (metallic) asteroid could hold 33,000 tons of extractable metals, including $50 million in platinum alone. A 23-foot-diameter C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid can hold 24,000 gallons of water, useful for generating fuel and oxygen. Even 1 gallon of water, at 8.33 pounds per, can cost tens of thousands of dollars to launch into Earth orbit. Prices will probably come down now that SpaceX and other private launch companies are in the game. But the numbers would need to improve a lot for water launched from Earth to compete with water that’s already floating in space. “