No one has managed to pluck valuable minerals from an asteroid quite yet, but when they do, the legal framework will be firmly in place: President Obama yesterday signed the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) into law.
The bill deals with a few aspects of space travel: it extends America’s commitment to the International Space Station (ISS) into the next decade, loosens the regulatory burden on space startups, and deals with the legalities of asteroid mining.
There’s now a framework for establishing property rights on a celestial body for mining purposes. Although the ‘celestial body’ itself can’t be claimed by a country or company (that flag on the Moon doesn’t actually mean it belongs to the US) anything mined by a company is now its to keep.
When getting to those asteroids, private spaceflight companies are now subject to less regulation. Although the likes of Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic are still accountable to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), regulations are looser than those placed on the rest of the aviation industry.