The Next Frontier: An Overview of the Legal and Environmental Implications of Near-Earth Asteroid Mining
(2014) 39 Annals of Air and Space Law 409
45 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2015 Last revised: 8 Mar 2015
Date Written: 2014
With dwindling terrestrial resources, near-Earth asteroid (NEA) mining may soon become the next frontier in international space exploits and resource exploitation. NASA has already predicted that it will send astronauts to NEAs by 2025, and several other private-entity corporations like Planetary Resources are also taking part in the new space race. Near-Earth mining has the potential to supplement the Earth with much-needed resources, such as, freshwater, rare Earth minerals and oil. Now that mining is technologically and economically feasible, the only impediment seems to be the framework of international space law regimes, such as the Moon Agreement and the Outer Space Treaty. These treaties are archaic in the sense that they were created in a time when near-Earth mining was unfathomable. Accordingly, there are legal ambiguity and interpretation issues which must be resolved prior to commencing space exploits, in order to reduce litigation and conflict. The environmental consequences of near-Earth mining must also be explicitly ascertained, with regard to prevention and mitigation. This will ensure that private-entities who seek to exploit near-Earth asteroids thwart legal and environmental barriers. Thus, the legal uncertainty surrounding near-Earth asteroid appropriation must be clarified to permit appropriate investment, promote terrestrial conservation, prevent geopolitical conflicts and improve living standards through intra- and inter-generational equality for all individuals and nations.
Keywords: Near-Earth; Asteroid; Mining; Environment; Sustainability
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