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Business, Legal, and Policy Issues in Relation to Increased Private Space Activity  

Mark J. Sundahl

Throughout the history of human activity in outer space, the role of private companies has steadily grown, and, in some cases, companies have even replaced government agencies as the primary actors in space. As private space activity has grown and diversified, the laws and regulations that govern private actors have been forced to evolve in reaction to the new realities of the industry. On the international level, the treaties concluded in the 1960s and 1970s continue to be in force today. However, these treaties only govern state activity in space. The rules regulating private industry are necessarily domestic in nature, and it is in these domestic laws that the evolution of space law can be most clearly seen. That said, new industries, such as asteroid mining, are testing the limits of international law and have forced the international community to examine whether changes to long-standing laws are needed.


Extraterrestrial Resources  

V.V. Shevchenko

Since the early 1990s, in analytical reviews, experts have increasingly been paying attention to the growing scarcity of rare and rare earth metals (REM) necessary for the development of advanced technologies in modern industry. The volume of the world market has increased over the past 50 years from 5,000 to 125,000 tons per year, which is explained by the extensive use of REM in the rapidly developing areas of industry associated with the advancement of high technology. Unique properties of REM are primarily used in the aerospace and other industrial sectors of the economy, and therefore are strategic materials. For example, platinum is an indispensable element that is used as a catalyst for chemical reactions. No battery can do without platinum. If all the millions of vehicles traveling along our roads installed hybrid batteries, all platinum reserves on Earth would end in the next 15 years! Consumers are interested in six elements known as the platinum group of metals (PGM): iridium (Ir), osmium (Os), palladium (palladium, Pd), rhodium (rhodium, Rh), ruthenium (ruthenium, Ru), and platinum itself. These elements, rare on the Earth, possess unique chemical and physical properties, which makes them vital industrial materials. To solve this problem, projects were proposed for the utilization of the substance of asteroids approaching the Earth. According to modern estimates, the number of known asteroids approaching the Earth reaches more than 9,000. Despite the difficulties of seizing, transporting, and further developing such an object in space, this way of solving the problem seemed technologically feasible and cost-effectively justified. A 10 m iron-nickel asteroid could contain up to 75 tons of rare metals and REM, primarily PGM, equivalent to a commercial price of about $2.8 billion in 2016 prices. However, the utilization of an asteroid substance entering the lunar surface can be technologically simpler and economically more cost-effective. Until now, it was believed that the lunar impact craters do not contain the rocks of the asteroids that formed them, since at high velocities the impactors evaporate during a collision with the lunar surface. According to the latest research, it turned out that at a fall rate of less than 12 km/s falling body (drummer) can partially survive in a mechanically fractured state. Consequently, the number of possible resources present on the lunar surface can be attributed to nickel, cobalt, platinum, and rare metals of asteroid origin. The calculations show that the total mass, for example, of platinum and platinoids on the lunar surface as a result of the fall of asteroids may amount more than 14 million tons. It should be noted that the world’s known reserves of platinum group metals on the Earth are about 80,000 tons.


Space Resource Utilization  

Angel Abbud-Madrid

Throughout human history, resources have been the driving force behind the exploration and settling of our planet and also the means to do so. Similarly, resources beyond Earth will make space the next destination in the quest for further exploration and economic expansion of our species. The multitude of celestial bodies surrounding Earth and the space between them hold a vast wealth of resources for a variety of applications. The unlimited solar energy, vacuum, radiation, and low gravity in space, as well as the minerals, metals, water, atmospheric gases, and volatile elements on the Moon, asteroids, comets, and the inner and outer planets of the Solar System and their moons, constitute potential valuable resources for robotic and human space missions and for future use on our own planet. In the short term, these resources could be transformed into useful materials at the site where they are found to extend mission duration and to reduce the costly dependence on materials sent from Earth. Making propellants and human consumables from local resources can significantly reduce mission mass, cost, and risk, enabling longer stays and fueling transportation systems for use within and beyond the planetary surface. Use of finely grained surficial dust and rocks can serve for habitat and infrastructure construction, radiation protection, manufacturing parts, and growing crops. In the long term, material resources and solar energy could also be brought to Earth if obtaining these resources and meeting energy demands locally prove to be no longer economically or environmentally acceptable. However, just like on Earth, not all challenges to identify, extract, and utilize space resources are scientific and technological. As nations and private companies start working toward extracting extraterrestrial resources, an international legal framework and sound socioeconomic policies need to be put in place to ensure that these resources are used for the benefit of all humanity. Space resources promise to unleash an unprecedented wave of exploration and of economic prosperity by utilizing the full potential and value of space. As we embark on this new activity, it will be up to us, humans on planet Earth, to find the best alternatives to use resources beyond our planet effectively, responsibly, and sustainably to make this promise a reality.