Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Asteroid Ida and its moon. (Photo: NASA APPEL/flickr/cc)

With 'Off-Planet' Mining Bill, US Congress Seeks to Privatize Outer Space

Extraterrestrial 'Finders Keepers' law allows US citizens and companies to legally claim 'abiotic' natural resources including water and minerals

Deirdre Fulton

In a bipartisan bid to encourage commercial exploitation of outer space, the U.S. Senate this week unanimously passed the Space Act of 2015, which grants U.S. citizens or corporations the right to legally claim non-living natural resources—including water and minerals—mined in the final frontier.

The legislation—described by IGN's Jenna Pitcher as "a celestial 'Finders Keepers' law"—could be a direct affront to an international treaty that bars nations from owning property in space. The bill will now be sent back to the House of Representatives, which is expected to approve the changes, and then on to President Barack Obama for his anticipated signature.

Pitcher continued:

The new Space Act allows ventures to keep and sell any natural resources mined on planets, asteroids and other celestial bodies. Commercial operations could reap trillions of dollars from mining precious metals like platinum, common metallic elements such as iron, and water, the “oil of space.”

The vote was celebrated by the Google-backed "asteroid mining company" Planetary Resources, which lobbied hard for the legislation and says "the market in space is ripe to bloom."

Planetary Resources president and chief engineer Chris Lewicki added: "Throughout history, governments have spurred growth in new frontiers by instituting sensible legislation. Long ago, The Homestead Act of 1862 advocated for the search for gold and timber, and today, H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity."

"This off-planet economy," he said, "will forever change our lives for the better here on Earth."

But there could be a snag. Along with Britain, France, and Russia, the U.S. is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which reads in part: "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

As Wired noted on Thursday, "[h]anding out the right to exploit chunks of space to your citizens sounds very much like a claim of sovereignty, despite the Space Act's direct statement that 'the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body'."

"[O]n the one hand Congress is saying to these companies, 'Go get these rights and we’ll defend you,' and at the same time saying, 'We're making no sovereign claim of ownership'," space lawyer Michael Listner told the Guardian.

"They're trying to dance around the issue," he said of U.S. lawmakers. "I tend to think it doesn't create any rights because it conflicts with international law. The bottom line is before you can give somebody the right to harvest a resource you have to have ownership."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·


Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo