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In 2021, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson were involved in a space race where they were trying to see who could take a trip to space first. Many saw it as a symbol of humans to soon conquer space and a possibility of leisure space travel. However, one other aspect of space exploration is mining metals and minerals from space. In this blog, we have explored the possible profitability of space mining.
The Earth is not in the best shape, and some may even say it's too late. Thus, many entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have been thinking about exploring the cosmos, colonizing Mars and making it Earth’s twin. Some challenges await them, like creating an environment for humans to live on Mars. The problem they are predicting is the muscle deterioration humans might face due to the low gravity on the planet.
However, NASA has also pointed out the possible advantages terraforming can bring to humankind. Apart from less stress on Earth’s depleting resources, we can also expect the following benefits:
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, has boldly claimed that "The first trillionaire there will ever be is the person who exploits the natural resources on asteroids." His explanation is the presence of rare metals on asteroids. These metals and minerals are responsible for the production of technology like smartphones on Earth. If a person can exploit these resources, they are well on the way to not only rare supply elements but further innovation of newer technologies. These newer technologies may help save lives and let us explore space further.
No wonder billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few, want to explore the cosmos.
But this race to mine space and bring back material from space explorations is not new. In 1969-72, NASA brought back a considerable amount of rocks, dust and sand from the moon to understand the mineralogy at the moon. The soviet union also brought samples of their own. What is remarkable is that we were able to collect samples without humans on the moon using only automation for the first time.
Hayabusa mission of 2005- the first mission that got samples from an asteroid. This time it was the Japanese that we were able to secure the samples. They also proved that it was possible to overcome the logistics of mining from an asteroid.
And humanity has just scratched the surface of extraterrestrial mining. There are various companies in all stages of development that are pushing the boundaries of technology to make transportation and stay in space possible.
With the possibility of mining asteroids and planets, the world had to develop laws to figure out this crazy yet now plausible idea. Thus, the US decided to make the first-ever space-mining laws in 2015. The Space Act replaced the previous law treaty of 1967 called the outer space treaty. The Outer Space Treaty said that no national government can call a space entity theirs.
But the Space Treaty did not mention the claim of things you bring back from the entities. Thus, the Space Law happily encouraged private entities to explore the cosmos before reporting to the national government. They can also stake a claim of the resources they may one day extract but cannot lay a claim on the entity itself. There are gaps in the treaty, such as only applying to US companies. However, it does become a solid foundation of what comes ahead. It is also a positive sign of the world having faith in humankind’s ability to take on this almost impossible project.
In 2016, Luxembourg’s SpaceResources programme further explored the treaty proposed by the US and included many private and public parties together to further elaborate on space exploration. Not only was Luxembourg’s government present, but also were ispace from Japan and Planetary resources from the US.
The initiative was more or less similar and did not breach the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. However, it went ahead and tried to fill the gaps in the 2015 treaty. It attempted to set more standards for both companies as well as countries for space mining. Moreover, it tried to include more companies than just US companies and offered incentives to private companies if they pursued mining projects in space.
In 2017, the initiative more or less resulted in law in Luxembourg. They took a step further and signed agreements with various nations. Japanese, Portugal, and United Arab Emirates governments were the governments Luxembourg signed the contracts with regarding the mining in space. In 2019, they took it to another step and were in talks with Russia for a new treaty since more governments were getting involved in their framework for space mining.
The future of these laws is the inclusion and involvement of all countries. Moreover, the current divide between nations and available resources gives some countries a clear advantage over others. The treaty must try to accommodate it and try to be fairer in the accord. Plus, there is a need to establish a law that houses the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the course of action if they ever contact us regarding terraforming and space mining.
To summarise this blog, we discussed the possible blockades in our quest to explore space, and despite all that, the reasons for the eagerness of scientists to explore space, one of them being space mining. Next, we discussed why billionaire’s want to mine from space and the history of mining from the moon and an asteroid. Lastly, we explored the attempt of the US and Luxembourg to make laws and international standards for mining in space and the future of these laws. We hope you enjoyed the blog, and it helped you explore the possibilities of space mining.