Photo credit: EuroStyle Graphics/Alamy
By Rob Davies
When Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong hoisted the Stars and Stripes on the moon, the act was purely symbolic. Two years earlier, mindful of Cold War animosity, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) had decreed that outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, “is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty”.
In other words no country, not even the US, could own the moon or any other part of space, regardless of how many flags they erected there. Half a century on, though, the OST could prove the biggest obstacle to one of the most exciting new frontiers of space exploration: asteroid mining.
The reason lawyers could soon be poring over that 48-year-old document is that space mining could become a reality within a couple of decades.
In what is being seen as a major breakthrough for this embryonic technology, the government of Luxembourg has thrown its financial muscle behind plans to extract resources from asteroids, some of which are rich in platinum and other valuable metals. It plans to team up with private companies to help speed the progress of the industry and draw up a regulatory framework for it.
One such firm, Deep Space Industries, wants to send small satellites, called Fireflies, into space from 2017 to prospect for minerals and ice. The satellites would hitch a ride on a rocket, and larger craft would then be used to harvest, transport and store raw materials.
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