International Institute of Space Law

Article

Prescribing the Best Medicine for the Struggling Space Mining Industry

An International Regulatory Agency or a New NASA Office?

Authors Michael Weinhoffer
Author's information

Michael Weinhoffer
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida, United States.
  • Abstract

      The space mining industry is literally having trouble getting off the ground. Although there is an abundance of valuable mineral resources on the Moon and near-Earth asteroids and supportive legal instruments, no commercial space mining missions have launched as of this writing. Moreover, the two most prominent space mining companies were bought by other companies at the end of 2018, and their space mining plans seem to be on hold. No matter the cause of this stalemate, it is argued in this paper that the near-term establishment of an international space mining authority with regulatory power would be detrimental to the already fragile industry. While over-extraction and ownership of space resources are serious concerns, provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, national legislation, and non-binding international guidelines will sufficiently mitigate the impacts of these legal questions on the industry in the near-term. Rather than implement a binding legal agreement on commercial space mining or establish an international agency to regulate the industry, it is proposed that a space mining technology office be established in NASA’s Space Technology Directorate. Discussions about the legal challenges of commercial space mining should continue, but it is necessary for NASA to assist this industry so that lunar resource extraction will play a critical role in the Artemis program, which aims to achieve a sustained lunar presence by 2028. The Artemis program is steaming ahead, but lunar mining companies, whose achievements will significantly enhance the scientific value of the Artemis program, must not get left behind.

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