American companies now have the all-clear to pursue their dreams of mining in space. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a measure that lets US companies own any non-organic resources they harvest from asteroids and other space objects. This doesn't give them sovereignty, but it does let them return to Earth without worrying that officials will confiscate their goods.
Not that any private space outfit will face much oversight if and when the President signs the bill into law, since the core of the Act shields commercial space companies from regulation for the next 8 years. This theoretically gives fledgling businesses like Blue Origin and SpaceX both more room to grow and more opportunities to attract those investors who'd be put off by red tape.
The soon-to-be-law might will be encouraging to businesses worried that they'll be crushed by government restrictions, but it also raises questions. How does the US reconcile its space mining policies with those of other countries, especially those who've already called dibs on a space object? Are we looking at a rehash of the colonial days, when nations were in a mad rush to grab whatever they could? And is the anti-regulation approach wise given both the rash of recent accidents and the impending wave of manned private space capsules? While the Act will definitely pay off if it helps the US advance past the days of NASA-only space travel, it carries the real risk of creating political or technical chaos.
[Image credit: NASA]