It's not science fiction. The U.S. government wants to encourage space mining.
Congress passed a bill this week that would allow American citizens to own "any asteroid resource obtained in outer space." Yes, if you can launch and retrieve a rocket, Congress would like you to be able to mine, transport and sell space rocks.
It's something of a gift from Congress to the richest entrepreneurs and most innovative aerospace companies. The bill is called the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act--or the SPACE Act--of 2015. There's no word yet on whether President Barack Obama plans to sign the bill into law.
"H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity," Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resource's president and chief engineer, said in a statement. He also compared the bill to a historic 1862 act, which opened the frontiers to gold mining and lumber.
The bill codifies the ownership of stuff gathered by U.S. companies in space in part to allow for stable investment in such ventures--and to encourage more players to get into the field. It also gives the federal Department of Transportation regulatory power over space mining flights--yes, the same agency that keeps the airline industry running on time. Okay, so this might take awhile.
This is a real industry: There are quite a few companies vying for these rights already, including Deep Space Industries, Kepler Energy, and Planetary Resources. They're hoping to extract metals such as gold, iron, titanium, and platinum for use on earth or in space--say, for construction materials or rocket fuel. (Water that's present on asteroids is something that could be particularly valuable for space use.) Here's a look at how it could actually work. My personal favorite is the asteroid tow-truck, which would bring a space rock into orbit of the moon or Earth.
(Bonus: We discussed space mining earlier this year on the Inc. Uncensored podcast. Check it out here.)