Congress

Legislation seeks to promote use of asteroid resources

A bill introduced Thursday by two members of the House Science Committee seeks to promote commercial asteroid ventures, including securing property rights for resources extracted from asteroids by American companies.

The American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014, HR 5063, was introduced Thursday by Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), members of the House Science Committee. The relatively short bill (about four and a half pages in the copy provided by Posey’s office late Thursday, since the bill is not yet posted on Congress.gov) would direct the president, through the FAA and other agencies, to “facilitate the commercial exploration and utilization of asteroid resources to meet national needs,” “discourage government barriers” to asteroid resources ventures, and promote the right of American companies involved in those activities to both explore and utilize asteroids as well as transfer and sell them.

Perhaps most importantly, the bill provides property rights to resources extracted by those companies: “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, consistent with applicable provisions of Federal law.” The bill does not extend those property rights beyond the resources a company extracted, such as a claim of property on the asteroid, or of an asteroid itself. The bill also provides for freedom from harmful interference, noting that “any assertion of superior right to execute specific commercial asteroid resource utilization activities in outer space shall prevail if it is found to be first in time,” at least among companies subject to US law.

“Asteroids are excellent potential sources of highly valuable resources and minerals,” said Posey in a press release announcing the bill. “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,” said Kilmer in the same release. “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 a reference to Planetary Resources, a company headquartered in the Seattle area (although not in Kilmer’s district) that has long-term plans to mine asteroids.

Getting the bill passed, though, is no certain feat. Besides drumming up support for the bill in both the House and the Senate, the bill’s advocates have to deal with a tight legislative schedule the rest of this year: the House is scheduled to be in session for only ten weeks for the rest of the calendar year.

88 comments to Legislation seeks to promote use of asteroid resources

  • OK, so all it does is make explicit what was already pretty-well settled law. No conflict with the Outer Space Treaty.

    • Michael J. Listner

      No it doesn’t. The underlying principle is that this bill recognizes that international law will play a role and the FAA and other agencies (like the State Department)have to figure out a way to create a legal regime that won’t be inconsistent with international law.

      This is a very bare bones bill. If it makes it out of committee it will need a lot of fleshing out. Impressively, it does specify that the federal district courts have exclusive subject matter jurisdiction.

      This bill serves a couple purposes:

      1) This bill is likely a direct result of lobbying by Planetary Resources and serves the purpose of saying “there we did something, now leave us alone

      2) It tests the political waters to see how the topic of resource rights plays out. If it is received positively then a expect to see a bill introduced that deals generally with resource extraterrestrial resource rights.

      • Hiram

        “there we did something, now leave us alone”

        We are in awe of Planetary Resources. They are so, er, clever, for having done something. Give their lobbyist a medal.

        “It tests the political waters to see how the topic of resource rights plays out.”

        It tests nothing, because it doesn’t say anything. And yes, the bill will almost certainly die in committee precisely because of that. It doesn’t do anything for anyone. A hoped for bill that deals generally with extraterrestrial resource rights? Huh? The Outer Space Treaty has that pretty well covered, and no congressional legislation is going to matter a whit to other nations. Such resource rights are a diplomatic challenge, not a domestic challenge.

        This is a State Department issue, not a congressional issue.

  • Fred Willett

    Rand is right and that’s a good thing. It avoids stepping on anyone else’s toes internationally speaking and the “You dig it up you get to keep it” philosophy lets everybody into the game. Even Litchenstein – assuming they have a space program.
    Sure it doesn’t address the long term issue of property rights, but it does allow business to get started with some measure of certainty.

    • It does not let “everybody into the game”. It only allows those who have a great deal of money into the game.

      For all practical purposes it reserves the wealth of space for those who already have a great deal of wealth, and bars everybody else from acquiring a benefit except insofar as they buy that benefit from the very wealthy.

      While it may be possible for somebody to make a $100 million investment to make $100 billion in revenue, the ability to make this substantial rate of return is restricted to those who already have $100 million.

  • Wow, Bill Posey seems to have caught NewSpace religion.

    I’ve felt all along that NASA should drop the pretense that the Asteroid Initiative has anything to do with being a stepping stone to Mars, and it’s really all about developing technology for commercial asteroid ventures. I’ve kinda suspected that’s what the Asteroid Initiative is really about, but NASA couldn’t say it because the Congressional space subcommittees are so hostile to NewSpace.

    I wonder if Dana Rohrabacher has been chatting with Mr. Posey.

  • Hiram

    Facilitate commercial exploration. Discourage government barriers. Promote rights. Develop frameworks. What a clown car bill this is. Put a wig on it and a round red nose. There is nothing in this bill that actually DOES anything. The guarantee of property rights is an amusing sidelight. Interestingly, the asteroid itself is not declared the property of the miners. That’s just for the resources obtained. So we could have many independent mining parties fighting over one rock. Steve’s Cosmic Minerals will come in and dig a huge pit, and make off with some unobtainum. Then Space Rocks International will roll in and use Steve’s pit to clean out the rest. But, um, maybe that’s classified as “harmful interference”? Hey, Steve left the pit. It’s mine now!

    Oh, the Chinese will be amused that the district courts of the United States will have jurisdiction over their own mining efforts.

    Posey, by the way, does his business in real estate. Is he really that clueless abut ownership rights?

    • Andrew Swallow

      Hiram wrote

      Interestingly, the asteroid itself is not declared the property of the miners.

      Making the asteroid the property of the mines would probably be a breach of the Outer Space Treaty. We signed this treaty with the Communist countries. Communist countries were strong believers in the medieval idea that all property belongs to the king. Many African countries used this idea as an excuse to nationalise firms on gaining independence. The modernisation was to use words like ‘state’, ‘nation’ or ‘president’ instead of ‘king’.

      • E.P. Grondine

        As a historical aside, Ben Franklin had his claim on Ohio lands through the Province of Virginia, through state charter, while his son had his claim on Ohio lands through the Province of Pennsylvania, through English charter. This is almost as funny as how Virginia attacked the Pennsylvania settlements, or the legal fictions used by both parties to establish their titles.

        As Hiram pointed out, you have to ask whether this legislation would set precedent for future Chinese claims to resources on the Moon…

        It certainly provides plenty of opportunities for space nebishes to indulge in their favorite past time…

        As I am more concerned with more immediate matters, the only part of this I am interested in is PR’s NEO detection satellites, and thus the activities of one of their directors.

        This is almost as sad as his previous campaign… IMO

      • Technically, I would expect that the non-interference components of the legislation will serve to have the same effect as giving ownership of the asteroid to those who show up and maintain a presence. Anything else done by anybody else will be classified as interference.

        Of course, the proponents will not want to call this set of institutions “ownership” of the asteroid. But that would be a distinction without a difference.

  • Andrew Swallow

    I wonder if the Federal Government needs the power to issue Mining Permits? A copy of the permit being sent to the United Nations in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty.

    Sometime criminal law needs apply applying to spacecraft. Felonies on Earth being felonies in space, although that may be a different act.

  • Egad

    Well, suspicious as I tend to be, this looks at least harmless and seems to be trying to set something like the right tone. Of course, Qualified Space Lawyers(tm) will need to pick it apart and see if there are any toxic words and ambiguities lurking under the surface.

  • MrEarl

    That’s the administrations asteroid retrieval mission.

    • common sense

      Nope. Not at all.

      • MrEarl

        Should be. Makes more sense.

        • common sense

          NASA has nothing to do with “valuable materials”, they cannot make money from them. And they cannot own an asteroid.

          So.

          Nothing to do with the NASA ARM.

          Not as it (is trying to) stands any way…

          • MrEarl

            I didn’t make myself clear.
            I never thought NASA should be involved with ARM in the first place. It’s a dead end stunt. But……
            Get private enterprise interested with property rights and tax breaks to help offset some of the development costs and now you have something of value. The only way NASA should be involved is through technology sharing.

          • The military developed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although the military can’t operated commercial satellites, their luanch technology enabled the first communication satellites.

            If NASA develops the asteroid retrieval vehicle outlined in the Keck Report, that could be an enormous help to entities like Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries.

            • Coastal Ron

              hopdavid said:

              If NASA develops the asteroid retrieval vehicle outlined in the Keck Report…

              As of this point Congress is unlikely to fund such an effort.

              …that could be an enormous help to entities like Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries.

              At the point we’re at with the technological maturity of the aerospace industry, any such funding would go much further if it was given directly to Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries than if it had to first pass through the pork-heavy hands of NASA.

              • Coastal Ron: any such funding would go much further if it was given directly to Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries than if it had to first pass through the pork-heavy hands of NASA

                While I do not agree with the majority here that ARM is useless, I do agree with this statement.

                NASA needs water at the ISS. “Asteroid-H2O COTS” anyone?

                — Donald

              • Hiram

                “Asteroid-H2O COTS” anyone?”

                Oh c’mon. You’re going to mine asteroidal water and send it to ISS for $1000/lb, or less? That’s just bonkers.

              • Michael J. Listner

                ISS will long-since be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean before any asteroid mining yields commercially viable resources, including water.

              • Listener: ISS will long-since be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean before any asteroid mining yields commercially viable resources, including water.

                Maybe, but I hope not. First, for better or worse, infrastructure has tremendous economic and political staying power (Saturn-V — > Space Shuttle –> SLS) and by now the ISS counts as infrastructure. I fully expect the ISS (not necessarily its current components) or something recognizably descended from it to be in orbit as long as I live. (The first battle in that fight was over giving the ISS National Lab status.) Smaller specialized stations are likely to be in addition to, not instead of, a national base. For at least the next decade or three we had better hope that is the case, because the ISS is the only realistic market large enough to support COTS and CCtCap.

                Second, if there were a financial motivation, I think some quick-and-dirty asteroid retrieval of water could be implemented relatively soon. E.g. (and this is only a top-of-the-cuff example), use the Japanese gun-and-collector method to gather dust, fly it to cis-Lunar space with light sails or SSP, use solar heat to bake the solar wind hydrogen out of it and well known chemical processes to separate oxygen. Nothing there is particularly far from state-of-the-art — in fact, all but the last (admittedly the hardest) has been demonstrated in flight.

                You’re going to mine asteroidal water and send it to ISS for $1000/lb, or less

                Dunno, but see above.

                — Donald

              • common sense

                “Asteroid-H2O COTS” anyone?”

                Even though I do not think this is a realistic proposition in the current environment there is some merit to the idea but if it ever happens it would require a long range plan for exploration.

                If you were to say that we will establish a number of way stations to the Solar System and beyond that will need to be serviced including water.

                If you were to say that exploration becomes more important than building rockets and capsules.

                If you were to say that NASA would build the first generation of deep space reusable crewed vehicles.

                And of course if there was a good reason to do all this then maybe just maybe this might serve as the first stone of a deep space infrastructure of human exploration of the Solar System. Which by the way might very well integrate with an ownership law for private contractors to service all that…

                Maybe…

                FWIW.

              • Hiram

                “I think some quick-and-dirty asteroid retrieval of water could be implemented relatively soon.”

                Yeah, sure. And it’s going to cost less to do that “quick-and-dirty” asteroid retrival than the $1000/lb (no, let’s call it $500/lb) that SpaceX will be offering to bring it up from the Earth in big buckets? (Yeah, it’s like that faster, better, but not really cheaper, maybe?) Well, of course if Shelby is still in control, we’ll be paying $10,000/lb for that water, and doing it happily (whether from Earth or from an asteroid).

                “Nothing there is particularly far from state-of-the-art — in fact, all but the last (admittedly the hardest) has been demonstrated in flight.”

                That Japanese gun-and-collector has been working great on moving regolith, no? Light-sails and SSP are state-of-art for moving major infrastrucutre? Baking regolith to extract water from that regolith on-orbit is well understood and proven? What planet are you living on?

                By the way, $1000/lb IS proven. It IS state of the art. (The buckets need a bit of work, though.) Making a mammoth investment to mine water from asteroids to let ISS astronauts take a sip and a shower is just nuts.

              • Coastal Ron

                Donald F. Robertson said:

                NASA needs water at the ISS.

                Recently NASA stated about the ISS that:

                Our life support system is about 86% closed now,” says Gerstenmaier. “We recycle urine. We recycle moisture out of the atmosphere. We take waste carbon dioxide and generate more water from that, and then the waste gas that comes out of it is methane. So everything is fairly closed cycle.

                You can find the article here:

                http://aviationweek.com/space/what-spaceflight-planning-can-teach-us-earth

                Based on that statement, and others about NASA wanting to improve the recycling on the ISS and for future space exploration, it doesn’t look like there is a big need for water.

                And that’s the same issue that I have with people pushing lunar ISRU for water, is that demand for water itself is not very big in space. Fuel is something else, but there too the future may be for non-hydrogen fuels, so lunar ISRU has yet to really be seen universally as something that is truly needed.

              • Coastal Ron and Hirum, water has many uses, not least as fuel which by definition is not recyclable. Be that as it may, I once heard Wendell Mendell argue that, if you wanted to use extraterrestrial resources in the near term, lowering the cost of transporting supplies to orbit might not be your best strategy. I think that was a different variation of what you are both arguing.

                However, if we want to become a spacefaring civilization, at some point we need to live off the land to the degree we can. Transporting water from Earth to the ISS makes sense and I agree it’s probably cheaper than trying to get it from an asteroid for now; it does not make sense to transport water from Earth to, say, Mars — or probably even the lunar base so many want to build.

                I believe we need to demonstrate as much of this as we can as early as we can, and I think COTS-type models can help. If transport from Earth becomes too inexpensive, than maybe we should demonstrate it non-economically — but demonstrate it and start the beginnings of extraterrestrial sourcing we must, or lunar and Mars bases are never going to happen.

                — Donald

              • Hiram

                “However, if we want to become a spacefaring civilization …”

                We need not look for asteroids to get water to ISS. ‘Nuff said? Well, not quite.

                The idea of getting resources from asteroids is an interesting one, and it may be a very important one in the long term, but doing a “quick-and-dirty” and hugely expensive effort to get water to ISS is simply misplaced priorities.

                So much for “Asteroid-H2O COTS”.

              • Dick Eagleson

                I tend to agree with Hiram and Coastal Ron that the main market for ISRU water, from whatever source, is not likely to be for drinking and washing up by the residents of space habs. Improving already pretty decent recycling technology is likely to be a lot cheaper. If demand from this quarter for occasional topping off is all that materializes, it will never justify the initial investment in equipment and missions needed to establish asteroidal ISRU as a going economic concern.

                ISRU water for propellant is another matter entirely. ISRU-fed fuel depots in the inner Solar System could avoid most of the difficulties with long-term boil-off of LOX and LH2 by maintaining the bulk of their inventories in the form of liquid water, electrolyzing this to make liquid hydrogen and oxygen as needed using electricity from large solar arrays.

                If inner Solar System asteroids become the dominant ISRU feedstock for this purpose, it should also be possible to support a LOX-Methane fuel economy as a sideline by combining carbon, from carbonaceous chondrite asteroids, with some of the hydrogen derived from electrolysis of asteroidal H2O to make CH4.

                While Mr. Listener’s notions about the ultimate fate of ISS may prove true, I’m more inclined to think Donald R. is closer to having it right. The ISS has been around long enough to develop a considerable political constituency and politicians have never been much influenced by appeals to the sunk cost fallacy. I suspect some way will be found to keep ISS going even if the Russians take their marbles – uh, modules – and go home after 2020. I think that will be true even if all the other international partners bail too, though I think we could probably keep Canada on board at a minimum.

                The main reason I think ISS might have an indefinite future is also the reason I think Donald R. is quite wrong in supposing there will be no significant non-ISS market for CRS and commercial crew services. Quite the contrary. Bigelow’s recent decision to emerge from hibernation and move aggressively toward initial operational capability of his first twin-BA330 LEO station complex in 2017 would appear to provide – by itself – several times the annual market for such services as would ISS.

                Fully staffed, such a Bigelow station would have a crew of 12. Mr. Bigelow foresees rotating the crewpeople every 60 to 90 days. That would require from 8 to 12 commercial crew transfer missions per year, as opposed to the two annual missions that have become usual for ISS. With nearly twice the number of people aboard to support, the demand for CRS by a Bigelow station would also likely be higher than ISS, though perhaps not by the same multiple. So, even with a single facility in LEO, Mr. Bigelow will dominate demand for CRS and crew transfer services and will do so years before the ISS’s nearest plausible “sell by” date in 2020.

                By 2020, in fact, Bigelow could well have a second or even third twin-BA330-based station in LEO. Alternatively, he might have concluded a deal with NASA to incrementally take over and run ISS, eventually substituting more BA330’s for current “tin can” hab and lab modules. ISS has considerable electrical and cooling capacity that could probably be stretched to support more habitable volume and ongoing headcount if the hab and lab modules were better insulated and/or shaded.

                Finally, the ISS could become the nucleus of a new on-orbit materials recycling business using the mass of its own obsolete components as initial feedstocks. Dead satellites, culled from their orbits by SEP-powered tractor-bots, could be brought to the ISS-based or ISS-adjacent recycling works to be smelted into pure materials.

              • Hiram

                “Finally, the ISS could become the nucleus of a new on-orbit materials recycling business using the mass of its own obsolete components as initial feedstocks. Dead satellites, culled from their orbits by SEP-powered tractor-bots, could be brought to the ISS-based or ISS-adjacent recycling works to be smelted into pure materials.”

                I can’t get enthused about this idea. We’ve established that we can lift for $1000/pound. I can send a pound of high quality titanium, iridium or molybdenum to ISS for $1000. You want to get it from obsolete ISS components, and tractor-botted dead satellites, all pulled apart, sorted, and thrown into an ISS smelter (the likes of which will be pretty extraordinary). For $1000 per pound you’d want to get high quality refined material coming out of it? Why in the world would I do that? Do you have a clue about what such a refinery that could even separate metals with some purity would entail?

                Now, I can see some advantages in using ISS as a parts fabrication site, to take raw materiel (say, boules of titanium, iridium or molybdenum) shipped up from the surface and depoted at ISS, and create piece parts on a short timescale for same-orbit application. You’d need a lot of activity in that orbit to have customers for it, however, and it isn’t completely clear that Bigelow is up to that.

                I guess you could tractor-bot the piece parts to other orbits, but that would take a lot of time.

              • Buzzy Muffert

                By the way, $1000/lb IS proven. It IS state of the art.

                We’ve established that we can lift for $1000/pound. I can send a pound of high quality titanium, iridium or molybdenum to ISS for $1000.

                You keep saying this. I don’t believe you. Certainly we will reach that point in the future, but unless you can demonstrate it by the numbers for any past mission, it’s just unsubstantiated hand and arm waving. Certainly you can understand the need for citations for these things.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Hiram,

                What I had in mind was taking advantage of the very hard vacuum createable behind a flat baffle plate in orbit to build a mass spectrometer-type refinery based on a plasma arc with magnetic separation and collection of non-gaseous elements at unique points on a cold plate. Even gaseous elements could be collected by adsorption onto suitable rotating substrates from which they would be continually pulled off. I see the thing being of fairly modest scale. Even a system capable of eating and converting undifferentiated junk into pure materials at a rate of a few few ounces per minute could gobble up a lot over the course of days, weeks and months. If hyper-purity of materials is required, that can be easily achieved by zone refining in the same hard vacuum. This could be a good prototype application for larger units needed to process asteroidal material for ISRU.

                Buzzy,

                Not sure Hiram can point to any past mission that achieved $1,000/lb., but I would refer you to the SpaceX web site for what will shortly be possible – perhaps within as little as a year. Falcon Heavy has a commercial mission price of $85 million. 53 metric tons to LEO for $85 million works out to about $730/lb.

              • Buzzy Muffert

                Of course I agree that the price point of $1000 per pound and much lower is indeed possible and coming shortly, as long as SpaceX continues to innovate at their current rate, but the issue I take with his multiple statements is that he claimed that this was a proven demonstrated fact. Several times. Not. Yet.

            • Hiram

              “If NASA develops the asteroid retrieval vehicle outlined in the Keck Report, that could be an enormous help to entities like Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries.”

              That Keck/ARM help would be limited to asteroids <10m in diameter. Such asteroids are VERY faint, and VERY hard to spectroscopically assess for potential value. In fact, ARM isn't targeting a particular asteroid because it's made of valuable stuff, but just because it is reachable. That asteroid that is hauled back will be most likely pretty boring, and not worth much.

              What would be of enormous help would be (1) investment in SEP systems that could do orbit management for larger asteroids, (2) investment in advanced telerobotics that would contribute towards mining operations, and (3) a highly improved catalog of accessible asteroids.

            • common sense

              You are mixing up different things.

              There is a NASA mission – maybe- to an asteroid. The mission does not require any particular act of Congress or anyone in terms of ownership. There are private missions to asteroids – maybe. The NASA mission seeks to… hmm… not sure what it seeks, except for using SLS and possibly Orion. The private missions seek to exploit resources of the asteroids. Therefore the private companies need to have – or maybe not – a form of ownership since they eventually plan to sell whatever it is they collected.

              The NASA mission and the private missions do not intersect in that way.

              Now, and this is very unclear, if the NASA mission occurs prior to the private missions and act as a precursor for the necessary technologies then there may be a transfer toward the private missions. However if the private companies have to wait for the NASA technologies to be available then it may simply derail their own plans.

              So again. The Congress need not do anything for the NASA mission to happen in terms of ownership. They may not even need to do anything for the private missions to happen…

              What this does is raise the awareness and that is a good thing on its own merit.

              FWIW.

            • Common Sense: Even though I do not think this is a realistic proposition in the current environment

              Thanks for taking this seriously.

              I agree, especially as long as we’re wasting all our money on SLS. However, if you did a non-economic demo of this and a couple variations on the ISS (maybe instead of ARM), and at the same time said you’ll pay $X to help develop it into an operational system, and you’ll pay $Y for O2 and/or H delivered to the ISS by Z date, we might be able to get somewhere without a whole lot of government money. Note that it can be source neutral: asteroids, lunar surface, scooped from the upper atmosphere, even the Martian moons — whatever anyone wants to do, so long as they get cheap O2 into orbit. COTS works. Now we need to duplicate it over many of the other things we want.

              — Donald

              • common sense

                Your plan does not necessarily involve the ISS and can be approached in a variety of ways. My hope is that someone else than the government will establish a station wherever they like and then it will create an infrastructure to service this station. The station might itself be a way station to an asteroid to be exploited.

                But I don’t think NASA will be part of it. For that to happen Congress would have to terminate SLS/MPCV and provide a new direction as to where they want to use the money. NASA would have to work for a President who wants to do that too. This President is the one that came closest to get those things done but Congress opposed him with a fervor second to none.

                Politics + HSF = Nowhere-to-go and it will stay the same for the foreseeable future.

              • Dick Eagleson

                common sense:

                I think you are about to get your wish. See my July 14, 2014 at 10:32 pm comment above for particulars. In another two or three years it pretty much won’t matter what NASA or Congress want to do with SLS/Orion. This will be true because:

                1. A new administration will come in and cancel SLS and/or Orion, or:

                2. NewSpace is well enough established in the LEO space station and crew and cargo transport businesses – in addition to most commercial and many governmental satellite launches – that it can remain a going concern without NASA/Congressional funding choices being critical. With an aging space station, static budgets, a ULA that has imploded in the wake of Atlas V’s defenestration by Russia and – but why go on enumerating NASA woes – our space agency will be happy to have both Bigelow and SpaceX around and will make increasing use of their bargain services to keep itself from grinding to a complete stop. Even if, by some miracle, SLS/Orion survives the arrival of a new administration, it will be overtaken and sidelined soon by events.

                Incidentally, that new administration that cancels SLS/Orion could be either Hillary Clinton’s or that of a successful Republican challenger. I don’t see much hope of continuation beyond 2017 for SLS/Orion regardless of the party or personality elected in 2016.

                By the end of 2017 things in the American space-related world are going to be way different than they are currently. To wit:

                1. Falcon Heavy will have completed two years of operation and will be certified for EELV missions just like Falcon 9.

                2. A re-engineered Orbital Antares will either also be certified or in the midst of a certification effort.

                3. Dragon V2 will be operational on Falcon 9.

                4. Dreamchaser will be operational on Ariane 5 and Falcon Heavy.

                5. Bigelow will have his first twin-BA330 space station in LEO with plans for more to come shortly.

                6. ULA will be gone. The Delta IV may survive under new management that bought the Delta IV assets for a song after ULA’s collapse in 2015. The Alabama Congressional delegation arranges a five year tax holiday for the new owners to cement preservation of jobs in their districts.

                7. The Raptor engine will have completed development and its testing program at Stennis. SpaceX will be building a new manufacturing facility – or possibly buying Michoud from LockMart for a song after the SLS/Orion cancellation – to turn out cores for their Raptor-powered BFR and BFR Heavy vehicles. The former will have a lift-to-LEO capacity significantly greater than the never-built SLS Block II. The latter will have a lift-to-LEO capacity of 500 metric tons or more.

                8. Bigelow announces that its first BA2100/Olympus module will be launched on the first flight of the SpaceX BFR in 2020. It will be added to his first LEO station already in orbit.

              • Dick Eagleson: new administration that cancels SLS/Orion could be either Hillary Clinton’s or that of a successful Republican challenger

                I wish I were as optimistic as you. While I think your big-picture description of the future would come true if the Democrats retain the Presidency (though it’ll happen slower than you predict), I fear that if the Republicans win, they’ll try to reinstate something resembling what Constellation became at the expense of the ISS, and therefore of commercial cargo and crew. You argue that the latter will be well established, but I think they’ll still be dependent on the ISS market and if we cancel ISS to go haring off to the moon with the SLS, commercial space could starve.

                My hope is that the Republicans continue to refuse to water down their social agenda enough to get elected in a truly national race. Whoda thought our future in space could be dependent on abortion and gay marriage?!

                — Donald

            • Hiram

              “Certainly we will reach that point in the future, but unless you can demonstrate it by the numbers for any past mission, it’s just unsubstantiated hand and arm waving.”

              Fair point. It’s coming, and it’s coming soon. Wait until next year. A lot sooner than any Astroid-H2O mission. A F9H is just three F9s, which are proven.

              Want to try to do “Asteroid-H2O COTS” for $1800/lb? That’s proven.

              • Dick Eagleson: The main reason I think ISS might have an indefinite future is also the reason I think Donald R. is quite wrong in supposing there will be no significant non-ISS market for CRS and commercial crew services.

                This is one of those areas where I sincerely hope I am wrong. The more markets in LEO and Cis-Lunar Space for (original) COTS and CCtCAP (and any extraterrestrial resources that prove economic), the better.

                Common Sense: Politics + HSF = Nowhere-to-go and it will stay the same for the foreseeable future.

                This, I think, would actually be good news. Setting aside the SLS / Orion boondogle as a waste of money but otherwise largely irrelevant, as long as the ISS (and any Biglow modules or any other infrastructure) stay in business, the markets for COTS and CCtCAP continue to exist. That model is now proven to work (while the Apollo/Shuttle/Constellation/SLS model has repeatedly been proven not to, at least with the resources this nation is willing to commit), and that is how we will bootstrap our way into large-scale operations in Cis-Lunar Space and eventually the inner Solar System.

                — Donald

              • Dick Eagleson

                Couldn’t have said it better myself DFR. We are trembling on the cusp of great things. If we can keep the jackals and hyenas at bay for another two or three years, I think we’ll be past the tipping point and matters will be self-reinforcing in a positive way thereafter.

  • Fred Willett

    At the moment nobody is taking the regulation issues seriously because it all seems so very sci fi.
    When the first miner sits his first rocket on the first asteroid and starts grubbing out his first chunks or ore the penny is going to drop. It is going to attract the interest of the entire global community.
    Every tin pot little country on the planet is going to see themselves as a potential space power and is going to want a say in how the resources are carved up. When that happens, of course there will be a lot of serious footwork by every government on the planet. Rules will get written. Politicians in every country will be falling over themselves to “protect our nations inalienable right to space resources.”
    An act like that proposed here would at least give a mining company a little certainty and it doesn’t violate existing international law.
    Besides, possession might not be 9/10ths of the law, but it certainly is a strong bargaining position.
    I see this as a worthwhile start.

  • Fred Willett

    Bear in mind what happened after Columbus. Spain started bringing ship loads of gold back from Inkaville and Aztecburg making all the countries of Europe realize there was a good thing to be had in this exploration lark. But before you could sneeze the Pope granted exclusive rights to Spain and Portugal locking the rest of the world out of South America.
    One thing you can be sure of, once the worlds countries twig to the possibilities you can bet your Aunt Mary that ain’t going to happen again.

    • Fred Willett wrote:

      But before you could sneeze the Pope granted exclusive rights to Spain and Portugal locking the rest of the world out of South America.

      If Pope Francis grants exclusive lunar mining rights to China, I doubt anyone will listen. :-)

      As Dick Eagleson commented elsewhere, I don’t see other nations objecting but instead they’ll start targeting their own opportunities. The problem, as Bob Bigelow has raised, is what happens if someone else tries to butt in on your operation. If the U.S. were to start mining the Sea of Tranquility, and while we’re off-planet a Russian operation lands and moves in, what happens?

      • Fred Willett

        Short answer who knows?
        Real space law has yet to be written.
        This proposed law goes about as far as is possible under the existing Space treaty. Expecting the US to flout the space treaty and establish unilateral ownership of property rights would be inviting all the little nations thereby locked out of space to rise as one and introduce some half baked law through the UN forbidding ANY property rights ever.
        Getting real space law is going to be a slow process.
        Something like this proposed law will, at lease, get things started.
        Sure there are issues. What happens when two companies try to mine the same asteroid? Well there’s time enough to think about that down the road.
        To use a boating analogy. You’ve built a row boat. Your next project is not the Queen Mary. Grow slowly.
        Learn.
        Once day little grasshopper you can build an ocean liner.
        So with space law.
        It’s much to early to be planning traffic regulations for Lunar City.

        • Michael J. Listner

          Real space law had already been written. Aside from treaty law there is domestic space law. In the United States there is Title 51 of the United States Code, which focuses on national and commercial space programs. Other countries have promulgated their own domestic space laws including countries like Austria.

          Real space law encompasses traditional areas of law like contract, tort, criminal, insurance, intellectual property and real property. The last is the holy grail that advocates focus on the most while ignoring the rest of the body of space law.

  • Coastal Ron

    I doubt this legislation will do much to change the existing international laws, even if it is passed and signed by the President. The fun question is what happens when “someone” starts mining and other nations take exception?

    • Dick Eagleson

      Depends on which nations, I suspect. Hard to see Russia and China really objecting so long as they have ambitions and capabilities to do similar things themselves. Other industrialized countries will simply line up to buy whatever is mined and offered on terrestrial markets. The entitlements mentality is most likely to manifest itself in various Backwardistans, Jihadistans and Minuteistans.

      • Coastal Ron

        Russia and China will object up until the moment they too are ready to start claiming land off-world. And other than countries in Europe, I’m not sure anyone else will care.

        • Coastal Ron: Russia and China will object up until the moment they too are ready to start claiming land off-world

          It’s worth looking at the history of spy satellites. As I recall, the USSR was totally opposed to freedom of orbital flight over territory — until they were ready to launch a spy satellite. Now, it’s a solid right. I expect much the same to happen with asteroid resources.

          — Donald

        • Vladislaw

          Every small country will care and will continually bring it up at the UN. The moon treaty is an example of small non space states trying to close precieved loop holes in the outer space treaty that would allow corporations and individuals the right to do commercial activities that they would not have the economic means to compete with.

  • E.P. Grondine

    I think that if you are writing about “the president” the “p” should be capitalized, as in “the President”.

    But then I also think that if you are writing about “the moon” the “m” should be capitalized, as in “the Moon”.

  • E.P. Grondine

    There have been other significant asteroid and comet stories in the last weeks, including the finding of candidates for ARM, and the award of ARM technology study contracts.

    The “any assertion of superior right to execute specific commercial asteroid resource utilization activities in outer space shall prevail if it is found to be first in time” clause has to be re-written and wording as to “realizable” and “any specific” asteroid added.

    “any assertion of A REALIZABLE superior right to execute A specific commercial asteroid resource utilization activitY in outer space on A SPECIFIC ASTEROID shall prevail if it is found to be first in time”

    Otherwise all kinds of loons will be taking legal actions, just a we have had domain name trolls and patent trolls.

    In other words, while I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, the language of this clause is too vague as it now stands, IMO. Something like mineral claims wording, otherwise some loons will be claiming the Rockies or Sierras.

  • Paul Douglas

    In order to grant property rights, one must own/control the property in question. Now, the US government grants these supposed rights (through its infinite benevolence and generosity) to private entities through the vehicle of this bill and thus establishes by law that it owns the property and without the pesky business of a declaration; all in the name of promoting commercial exploration, mind you. Later, it rescinds (or just declines to renew) those property rights from private entities and gains ownership it could not have claimed by law any other way. Oh, but wait. The government is here to help; right? Maybe they’ll just attach property taxes on asteroids sufficient to pay for all that global warming back here on earth. After all, the science is settled; right?

    The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

    • Agreed. The US government does not have authority to regulate property rights bodies on extraterrestrial bodies. If they want to do that, they must claim and annex the bodies in question, i.e. the Moon.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        The US government does not have authority to regulate property rights bodies on extraterrestrial bodies.

        Oh sure, just like it doesn’t have the right to send drones into another country to kill people without a trial during a time of peace.

        Governments can assert whatever they want, and as long as they can enforce it whose to say they don’t have the authority?

        Besides, depending on one’s religious views, everything in space has come because of what has happened on Earth, so it makes sense that Earthly laws can also govern the Solar System and beyond.

        Humanity can be very presumptuous…

        • E.P. Grondine

          “who’s to say they don’t have the authority?”

          The UN Security Council and the World Court.

          • Coastal Ron

            E.P. Grondine said:

            The UN Security Council and the World Court.

            There are plenty of laws that are ignored every day because of a lack of enforcement – for instance I was exceeding the speed limit today and no one stopped me or gave me a ticket since there were not enough law enforcement personnel to watch me wherever I went.

            If flights to places off-planet that launch from U.S. soil and return to U.S. soil, then it’s going to be pretty hard to enforce any laws that the U.S. wants to ignore. And once the entity is at an asteroid or on the Moon, who is going to go there to do a police action? Kenya? Ecuador? Bangladesh?

            I think once the reality sets in that humans are finally able to benefit economically from beyond Earth, that politicians and diplomats will come to an understanding on what the new rules should be. But we’re still years away from that…

          • amightywind

            As Putin has so amply recently demonstrated, nothing beats a loaded gun.

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi AW –

              That’s funny. Most Russians think this mess is entirely the US’s fault.

              • What else is new? Russia is a mafia state. It is time we stopped caring what they think and worry about our own interests.

              • Dick Eagleson

                ‘Fraid I’m with Windy on this one EPG. The Russians always think everyone else is plotting against them; probably because they are always plotting against everyone else and they think everyone else is like them. Then they act aggressively in “self-defense.” Then, when there is pushback against their aggressions they become even more certain that it was all an anti-Russian plot. Carly Simon’s old song ‘You’re So Vain’ comes to mind.

        • yg1968

          The United States can regulates the activities of its nationals in outer space since it is responsable for their actions. See Article VI of the Outer space Treaty.

          http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/space1.html

        • Michael J. Listner

          “…who’s to say they don’t have the authority?”

          Whose to say that they do.

    • Andrew Swallow

      If we meet some little green men then your argument has a case. Where there are only humans involved we can agree things by international treaties. The legal foundations are full of loop holes but the proposed law is careful is careful to stay within the Outer Space Treaty. The treaty empowers the US Government to grant authorisation in Article VI.

      Article VI

      States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organization, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organization and by the States Parties to the Treaty participating in such organization.

  • Vince Tromo

    After all, the science is settled; right?

    It’s settled enough to know that without extraterrestrial resources we are screwed.

    It’s also settled enough to distinguish the enlightened from the ignorant.

  • Paul Scutts

    The entire international community through the United Nations is going to have to be a part of any legal agreements/treaties if they are to worth anything. There are of course precedents already in place, mining claims and leases, resources acquired from international/disputed territories etc from which effective laws could be derived. It is best to be done now whilst there are no rights of claim. E.g. In mining claims, a claim can be made if there is no current claim recognised and proof is provided that the claim is being worked by the claimant. A claim becomes void when after a period of time (say 2 years) the claim has not been worked.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Paul –

      Thanks for actually bringing up law.

    • Fred Willett

      …from which effective laws could be derived. It is best to be done now whilst there are no rights of claim.
      Personally I think it’s best to leave the law making as late as possible lest laws created in expectation turn out to be road blocks.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Fred –

        A good point. Quickly and quietly.

        Why that guy from Planetary Resouces pushed this now is an interesting question.

        All I want from them is good small detection satellites, and not PR BS.

      • Paul Scutts

        Thanks for you reply, Fred. I feel that the greatest road blocks will be any uncertainty with regard to legal protections of investments. Space law will have to be outlined, in broad brush-strokes at least, to give potential investors in space infrastructure at least some guarantees that their sizeable investments will be “protected”.

        • Dick Eagleson

          The OST, according o my understanding, stipulates that any man-made object put in space by any entity associated with a signatory state remains the responsibility of said state even if said object is, say, struck by some other object in space and both are fractured into thousands of jagged little bits that assume individual orbits. I’m aware of no language in the OST that would contravene this general priciple for objects constructed in whole or in part from materials found and refined in space or even used as-is. Given that all artificial space objects are assumed, by the OST, to have a nation-state connection, the clear implication is that any deliberate messing with an object or objects associated with one nation-state by an object or person associated with a different nation-state could easily be construed as an act of war.

  • vulture4

    Posey’s bill repeatedly states that it only requires the US to act “consistent with its international agreements”, i.e. the OST. About the only new ground it opens is that litigation regarding property rights in outer space is to be handled in federal rather than state courts. Which itself is an interesting position for a politician who opposes any expansion of the federal government. Sorry to be so cynical about Posey, but I just can’t put much confidence in someone who claims that there would be plenty of money for commercial crew if NASA would just eliminate all research on climate change.

    • Andrew Swallow

      There is no Outer Space State so asteroids have to be regulated by the Federal Government. The approriate part of the US Constitution:

      Section 8
      To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

      • Dick Eagleson

        Quite possibly there will eventually be a lot of space-based commerce with Indians to regulate. But these Indians will hail from New Delhi, Mumbai and other points on the Indian sub-continent. Don’t think they’re particularly tribal though. :)

  • vulture4

    I should also mention that the requirement that all actions in space be authorized by a nation party to the treaty is no different from maritime law. It is illegal to sail without a flag, i.e. a nation of registry. OTOH there are several nations willing to sell you a “flag of convenience” with little in the way of obligations. The same thing might happen in space.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    I don’t know why anyone is taking this draft legislation seriously.

    This is the same Congressman Posey who introduced the RE-asserting American Leadership (REAL) in Space Act to focus NASA on lunar goals in 2013. That went nowhere.

    This is the same Congressman Posey who introduced legislation in 2011 to reassert the 2005 NASA Authorization Act’s focus on the Moon. That went nowhere.

    This is the same Congressman Posey who introduced the RACE for Space Act and the SOARS Act to open up federal launch facilities and reduce bureaucracy for commercial users. They went nowhere.

    This is the same Congressman Posey who introduced the Space Leadership Act to change how NASA’s leadership was structured and selected. That went nowhere.

    Why would anyone take any space-related legislation that Congressman Posey (Poser?, Poseur?) introduces seriously?

    On top of that, why is this goofy draft limited to asteroids? If Posey is serious about space resources, why aren’t the Moon or other bodies in the draft? The Outer Space Treaty doesn’t apply to the Moon alone.

    I guess Posey gets a blurb to put in his monthly newsletter to constituents back home, but other than that, this draft legislation will serve no purpose.

    • Andrew Swallow

      The Moon has the Moon Treaty which is a piece of worker exploitation that is very bad for the USA. Congressman Posey was wise to stay away from it.

      The thing that is different about this law is that it does not cost the US Government any money, nor does it cause people to lose their jobs. This will make it much easier to pass.

      The law introduces two major principles. First if an American picks up a rock on an asteroid (or Mars) under US law he now owns that rock. The Outer Space Treaty would have allowed communist style automatic government ownership of that rock.

      The second principle is that companies are not allowed to interfere with each others operations. They now have a court in which to sue each other.

      • Michael J. Listner

        This proposed law will cost the US government money, and it will not be cheap. Efforts to implement this law will require time and resources from the FAA and the State Department at the very least, which will come out their budgets. If this becomes law (slim chance at best), expect FAA to include it in their budget request.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “The Moon has the Moon Treaty…”

        The Moon Treaty is a failed treaty (only 16 signatories and none with substantive space programs) and the U.S. never joined, regardless. It doesn’t constrain Posey’s draft in the least, and he and his staff would be stupid to let it. (But maybe that was their erroneous line of thought.)

        “The law introduces two major principles. First if an American picks up a rock on an asteroid (or Mars) under US law he now owns that rock. The Outer Space Treaty would have allowed communist style automatic government ownership of that rock.”

        That’s not true. The Outer Space Treaty forbids national sovereigns from appropriating celestial bodies, but expressly allows nations to “use” space. The official position of the United States as delineated in UNCOPUOS debates is that the Outer Space Treaty (and even the Moon Treaty) permits any nation or corporation to mine and otherwise use the resources of outer space. Labor attaches ownership to the ores or other extracted resources, even while the bodies “in place” remain the inheritance of all mankind.

        Posey’s draft adds nothing to these long-standing principles, and would confuse them by unevenly applying these principles to certain celestial bodies (asteroids) and not others.

        “The second principle is that companies are not allowed to interfere with each others operations. They now have a court in which to sue each other.”

        The probability of Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, the only two nascent companies pursuing NEO resources, both getting to the point decades from now where they are extracting resources is vanishingly small. The probability that they would both extract resources from the same location on the same NEO at the same time is ridiculously tiny. Of all the space-related issues that the U.S. Congress needs to pay attention to, this is not one.

        Aside from giving Posey’s staff something to write about in his next newsletter, there’s no need for this legislation. If passed, it would do more harm than good.

        If Posey was actually serious about NEO resources, then a good first step would be to authorize a small, COTS-like program for small robotic NEO probes and/or in-situ NEO data, and ensure that the appropriators fund it. This is the market that Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries need now, not a court decades from now for competing claims to resources that these companies haven’t even identified, nevertheless reached, extracted, or returned.

        But starting such a program is a lot harder than writing confused, empty, non-relevant, go-nowhere legislative drafts.

  • Andrew Swallow

    Dark Blue Nine wrote

    That’s not true. The Outer Space Treaty forbids national sovereigns from appropriating celestial bodies, but expressly allows nations to “use” space. The official position of the United States as delineated in UNCOPUOS debates is that the Outer Space Treaty (and even the Moon Treaty) permits any nation or corporation to mine and otherwise use the resources of outer space. Labor attaches ownership to the ores or other extracted resources, even while the bodies “in place” remain the inheritance of all mankind.

    Picking things up is a way of mining. It is also labour. So if the astronaut picks up the rock he owns it.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “So if the astronaut picks up the rock he owns it.”

      Yes, or whomever the astronaut works for. This is what happened with the Apollo samples. Apollo astronauts picked them up, the USG took ownership of the samples, the USG loaned the samples out, and the USG subsequently sued individuals and organizations who failed to return said samples to USG possession.

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