Regulating The Final Frontier: Asteroid Mining and The Need For A New Regulatory Regime
The wide breadth of human history has been written by explorers, adventurers, and dreamers, driven by a vision to push the boundaries of our collective beliefs and expand our presuppositions about corporeal limits. From Christopher Columbus to Neil Armstrong, the story of mankind is reflected through a desperate need to know the unknown. Consequently, the next step in human history will undoubtedly be written in the last frontier left unexplored, the final frontier: space.
This Note's introduction highlights the past to predict the future, arguing that while there are great lessons to be learned from the past, future governments need to break with past behavior and blaze a new path that reflects the significance of exploring something as expansive and as prodigious as space. Hidden beneath the mythical retellings of Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus are the historical contexts of the eras which informed them---stories of political chaos, wild land grabs, catastrophic wars, and political feuds that changed the global landscape. Therein lies a lesson---installing regulation after wealth has been found to be problematic, if not nearly impossible; instead, action must be taken preemptively. That being said, aggressive legislation should not dominate at the expense of reason. As in the early exploration periods---where we discovered land routes to eastern empires and sea routes to new continents---the system should incentivize mankind to keep pushing forward. However, the Neil Armstrong age of exploration through modernity has been marked by agreements like the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty that leave little incentive for private parties to explore further. To ignite the Space Age, a happy medium must be found between the two lessons of the past---regulation and incentivization. A regulatory structure must be put in place not only to prevent the massive socio-political and economic changes of the past, but also to support a regime that allows, aids, and actually encourages a push towards exploration. The first step in that process starts with how we deal with asteroids and the very real future of mining the final frontier. The answer, at least the one purported by this author, is the creation of a new international regulatory regime.
In talking to the average person, the term "asteroid mining'' seems to be most commonly associated with a team of brave deep-sea oil drillers that save Earth from a rogue asteroid. To a few others it seems to invoke memories of a space battle in a galaxy far, far away. Either way, it is dismissed as something out of a science fiction fantasy. As expected, few people hear the term asteroid mining and think of water, minerals, or precious metals. Few look at asteroids as landing docks, fueling stations, or resource centers, but this is what the future holds. Scientists have analyzed asteroid fragments and done extensive research that shows that the contents of asteroids are more than just useless rock. For example, researchers have discovered a single asteroid that contains more platinum than has ever been mined in the history of the Earth. Asteroids offer an unimaginable amount of wealth, and with this wealth comes the potential for catastrophic international implications. Private companies, like Planetary Resources, have already started to invest in plans to mine an asteroid. Some governments are not far behind; the US has been slowly allocating money for an asteroid capture project. History has shown that massive capital opportunity mixed with no overarching regulation is a recipe for disaster. The silver lining is that along with the potential for havoc there comes the potential for real advancement. Now, at the dawn of this industry's development, there is a golden opportunity to use the intrinsic incentive for personal gain (that is, mining asteroids for money) to create an international organization that lays the groundwork and cradles the economic goals of a regime that is up to the challenge of regulating the peaceful exploration of space.
This Note argues that given the scientific and economic potential of asteroid mining, the world needs to create a new international regulatory regime with three missions: (i) to regulate space exploration in a way that incentivizes the development of technology; (ii) to serve as a forum to manage and limit international disputes over space, and (iii) to regulate the economic and political impact of space activities on Earth. Part I focuses on the steps that have already been taken that make asteroid mining a near and present reality. Part II explains the benefits of asteroid mining. Part III explores the problems and issues surrounding asteroid mining, including the potential political and economic implications. Part IV touches on the current legal frameworks in place that tangentially relate to this issue. Finally, Part V briefly discusses some other proposed solutions for asteroid mining regulations and presents the author's proposal for what a new international regulatory agency could look like.
Doshi, Priyank D.
"Regulating The Final Frontier: Asteroid Mining and The Need For A New Regulatory Regime,"
Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law: Vol. 6:
1, Article 15.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/ndjicl/vol6/iss1/15