WorldWide Drilling Resource

40 JANUARY 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® The Future of Space Mining ~ Conflict or Collaboration? Compiled the Editorial Staff of WorldWide Drilling Resource® Private companies are increasingly building their businesses on the idea of sending spacecraft to the moon, asteroids, and other objects in space in the coming years, hoping to eventually extract resources to be used or sold. However, lack of clear regulations creates uncertainty for future space industries. At the moment, the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty governs property rights in space, but this is very much open to interpretation. Countries and companies cannot own land on cosmic bodies, but countries have been allowed to effectively own what they can extract in space. The problem lies in competing companies or competing governments looking to use the same resource deposits. Who would have the first claim? Who would have access and the right to use that space? Many in the space industry are advocating for a framework governing property rights not based on a “first come, first served” mentality to prevent space mining from becoming the wild west of the cosmos. Some experts caution Russia and China may join forces to prevent the United States from dominating a mining base in space. The former Trump administration took an active interest in space and created the Space Force as the newest branch of the U.S. military. His administration also proposed a worldwide legal framework for mining on the moon. This framework, the Artemis Accords, encouraged citizens in countries to mine for commercial purposes, both on the moon and other celestial bodies. Led by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in the U.S., the accords were signed in October 2020, by seven other participating nations: United Arab Emirates, Australia, Italy, Canada, Luxembourg, Japan, and England. The accords will serve as a preamble to bilateral, government-to-government agreements which participating nations will sign with the U.S. Those future agreements will lay out each country’s specific contribution to the Artemis program, while the newly signed accords “establish norms of behavior and rules for space operations,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Just what is at stake in this potential space mining frenzy? Geologists, as well as emerging companies, such as U.S.- based Planetary Resources, a firm pioneering the space mining industry, believe asteroids are packed with iron ore, nickel, and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on the earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars. Space ventures in the works include plans to mine asteroids, track space debris, and build the first human settlement on Mars. Both China and India have floated ideas about extracting Helium-3 from the moon. U.S. technology plans to harness fusion power for spacecraft propulsion systems in the near future, and this would allow spacecraft to reach the asteroid belt quickly to transport asteroids to earth orbits, where they would be much more efficient to mine and send valuable resources to Earth. On the moon itself, the plentiful water ice on the floors of lunar craters can be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the chief components of rocket fuel. Already, NASA has just bought the rights to four batches of future moon samples for the low price of $25,001. Four companies will collect lunar rock and dirt in the next few years and then sign the material over to NASA. Agency officials stress the contracts are designed to get the ball rolling on the extraction, sale, and use of off-Earth resources and establish the precedent of private-sector entities extracting resources in a new era of public and private development in exploration on the moon and beyond. NASA’s Artemis program aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2024, and establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade. These newly announced contracts deepen Artemis’ ties with international and private-sector partners and will help NASA to achieve its bold goals. Instead of becoming the wild west of space mining, perhaps this time it can be the collaborative effort of space mining - only time will tell. Publisher’s Note - At the time of this writing, no known cancellation of these programs has happened. MIN