In DepthSpace Law

Treaty tested by space miners

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Science  06 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6359, pp. 19
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6359.19

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Fifty years ago this month, the Outer Space Treaty came into force. To date, 105 nations are party to it, including the dozen or so countries with space-launch capabilities. But the agreement could soon be strained by forces that were only science fiction at the time of its drafting. These include a burgeoning commercial space industry that is preparing to send robots to asteroids and the moon to mine for minerals and fuel—a legally ambiguous area that the treaty is mostly silent on. Critics say the companies cannot claim ownership of the moon or an asteroid or any part them. But the companies argue that they can extract materials without claiming ownership—just as with maritime law, where anyone can fish and own what they catch without owning the sea. Recent national laws offer further protections to the companies.