The future of space could be a gold rush for resources – and not everyone will benefit even though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the founding document of space law, says that space should be used “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.” In the not-so-distant future, the ability to extract resources from the Moon and asteroids could become a major point of difference between the space haves and have-nots.
Asteroids hold astounding amounts of valuable minerals and metals. Later this year, NASA is launching a probe to explore an asteroid named 16 Psyche, which scientists estimate contains over $10 quintillion worth of iron.
Tapping huge resource deposits like this and transporting them to Earth could provide massive boosts to the economies of spacefaring nations while disrupting the economies of countries that currently depend on exporting minerals and metals.
Another highly valuable resource in space is helium-3, a rare version of helium that scientists think could be used in nuclear fusion reactions without producing radioactive waste.
While there are considerable technological obstacles to overcome before helium-3 is a feasible energy source, if it works, there are enough deposits on the Moon and elsewhere in the solar system to satisfy Earth’s energy requirements for several centuries. If powerful spacefaring countries develop the technology to use and mine helium-3 – and choose not to share the benefits with other nations – it could result in lasting inequities.
Existing international space laws are not well suited to handle the complicated web of private companies and nations competing for resources in space.
Countries are organizing into groups – or “space blocs” – that are uniting on goals and rules for future space missions. Two notable space blocs are planning missions to set up bases and potential mining operations on the Moon: the Artemis Accords, led by the U.S., as well as joint Chinese and Russian plans.
Right now, the major players in space are establishing the norms for exploiting resources. There is a risk that instead of focusing on what is best for everyone on Earth, competition will drive these decisions, damaging the space environment and causing conflict. History shows that it is hard to challenge international norms once they are established.
Wealthy Nations Carving Up Space & Its Riches – Consortium News
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