Lawyers always seem to just right around the corner ready to ruin our fun. Just weeks after Cameron and Google et al announced their madcap plan to go into space and mine those asteroids for precious bounty, Planetary Resources looks like it might be bogged down in red tape before it’s even got off the ground.
Apparently the paperwork just isn’t ready yet, and space law (yes, it really does exist) isn’t really capable of dealing with such fanciful extra-terrestrial operations. In fact, right now it’s not clear who owns asteroids in space, if anyone. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty dictates that space is a “global commons”, meaning that no one country can lay claim to anything in space (apart from their own machines, of course).
It also means that outer space operations solely rely on international law, which is sketchy to vague at best. Right now it means anyone could disrupt any mining operations without much in the way of legal framework for prosecution. Space is a grey area; a wild west where it sounds like almost anything goes.
Space law experts are urging space industry pioneers to hash out the legal frameworks, both in their own countries and internationally, before they head out prospecting. Let’s just hope it all comes together and legal paperwork doesn’t get in the way of our space ambitions -- the planet’s very survival might depend on it. [University of Nebraska-Lincoln via iO9]