In space, no one can hear you scheme. But here on Earth, plans to go where few have gone before are getting louder by the minute.
In February, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo passed its third glide-flight test, putting it on pace to offer suborbital space tourism by the end of 2018. In March, Goldman Sachs announced to investors that a single asteroid containing $25 billion to $50 billion of platinum could be mined by a spacecraft costing only $2.6—less than a third of what has been invested in Uber.
“While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high,” the Goldman report concludes, “the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower.” In April, NASA selected Trans Astronautica Corp., an aerospace company based in Lake View Terrace, Calif., for $3.25 million in technology study grants. Among TransAstra’s NASA-approved projects: an asteroid-hunting telescope whose stated mission is “to start a gold rush in space.”
Everything that happens in space falls under the purview of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. This international agreement, also known as the Outer Space Treaty, turned 50 years old in January. More than 100 countries, including the U.S., Russia and China, are parties to the treaty. “It’s the Constitution and the Magna Carta of space law,” says Sagi Kfir, general counsel for Deep Space Industries, an asteroid-mining company based in Mountain View, Calif. “It’s so fundamental that its principles have become customary international law even for those countries that aren’t signatories.”
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