There is an interesting article in Popular Mechanics concerning mining asteroids. The article uses a good analogy of the territorial dispute in the South China Sea as an example of what can happen if mechanism for the coordination of space mining is not developed. Since the United States has already developed some law legalizing the mining of asteroids and Luxembourg is on a similar path and the UAE is announcing similar intentions, these three countries should take the lead in creating such a mechanism. This would start the ball rolling so to speak and prevent any disputes in space over mineral rights.
This is an interesting article on whether or not space mining is legal. The short answer is it depends on who you ask. There have been volumes written on the subject and there are still no concrete answers. Per the Outer Space Treaty no county can claim sovereignty over any part of space. If a country or entity has an operation in space others must stay clear of the operation. Countries are responsible for the actions of their citizens in space. The legality of mining in space will be resolved when space mining is actually occurring and then it will be messy before it is resolved. The FAA is preparing rules which would lead to allow US companies to engage in mining operations on the moon.
Amazon has proposed special air space for drones. According to CNBC at the Unmanned Aerial Traffic Management Conference put on by NASA and attended by the FAA Amazon has proposed reserving the first two hundred feet above the ground for hobby drone use, two to four hundred feet for commercial drone use and a buffer between four to five hundred feet. This is a good proposal. After an initial review I see several areas of concern:
1. How does the operator know how high the drone is? Will an altitude display be required on the remote control or will the GPS software be required that prevents the drone from being flown in the wrong air space?
2. It doesn’t address the current regulatory requirements of not flying a drone within five miles of an airport. One would be hard pressed to get five miles away from an airport in the Las Vegas Valley. Will the GPS software keep the drone out of no fly zones?
3. Language needs to be put into place that the drone operator is required to not fly in the area when emergency air vehicles such as police, fire fighters or medical evacuation helicopters are in the area. Can software be installed so that when emergency air vehicles are in the area that the drones automatically land?
The next question is how much will the software and hardware add to the cost of a drone?
The Washington Post has published an article about the House recently passing a bill on Space Commercialization. Under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 governments are required to control the actions of their nationals in outer space. This bill gives the FAA the authority to do so. I don’t expect any mining of the moon or asteroids to occur anytime soon. Also, US nationals will not be the only ones in space engaging in commercial operations in space.
Commercial operations in space have occurred for decades. The biggest example is communication satellites which provide a wide range of services such as telecommunications, data communications such as internet, TV broadcasts, etc. Currently, if a US company wants to utilize satellites to provide telecommunication services they coordinate with the FCC who then coordinates with the International Telecommunications Union. The word coordinate is important. Without coordination between users of radio bands and orbital slots there could be no efficient use of space for telecommunications.
This is a model for coordinating other commercial uses of space.