Mining in the Final Frontier

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL

By Talia Loucks

It all began when aerospace consultant, Gregory Nemitz, claimed he owned an asteroid. In 2003, Nemitz sent NASA an invoice, demanding $0.20 a year for storage of a NASA probe on his asteroid. When NASA refused to pay, Nemitz filed suit against the United States, alleging it had taken his property without just compensation. A federal district court dismissed Nemitz’s suit, ruling that he had failed to prove he had any property rights. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether a general right to own property exists in space, but this case makes one certain: A property in space right cannot come from simply creating a website and claiming ownership.

Move ahead 13 years and it is no longer solely NASA and other sovereign nations’ space programs parking their spacecraft outside of the earth’s atmosphere. There is a growing space economy being developed through private companies. This new economy includes tourism, exploration and now asteroid mining.

Asteroid mining, if successful, could be extremely lucrative. Valuable minerals such as platinum, palladium and gold could be mined. One of the most valuable resources believed to be available for mining from asteroids, however, is water. Additionally, asteroids may hold all of the components for life and could be a window into the history of the universe while helping to continue to advance science. Continue reading