At the end of November, President Barack Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, which could clear the way for private companies to profitably mine asteroids and extract other off-planet resources, such as water or rare metals, for economic gain.
The bill, sponsored by newly minted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.), declares that a "United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States."
The law includes a clever workaround of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which declares that no "celestial body" shall be subject to "national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." That treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory, has long been seen as a barrier to commercial development of space assets. But the new law doesn't assert sovereignty. Instead it instructs U.S. courts on how to handle property claims by any company, domestic or foreign.
With firms such as Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, Shackleton Energy Resources, and Moon Express all eyeing various space rocks for commercial purposes, this law clarifies the rules and incentives as companies develop ways to generate rocket fuel in space, engage in zero-G 3D printing, and more.