The Public Frontier of Space: Reasons for State Intervention in Asteroid Mining

The Public Frontier of Space: Reasons for State Intervention in Asteroid Mining

Volkan Oğhan (Istanbul University, Turkey) and Murat Çak (Istanbul University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9083-6.ch005
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In today's world where technological developments are getting faster, asteroid mining has become more realistic and applicable rather than an imaginary perception created in the past, and it has begun to be discussed concretely with its contributions to countries in terms of technology and economy. In addition to the presence of minerals and metals such as nickel and iron in most of the asteroids, the increase in the possibility of obtaining precious metals known as platinum group metals from asteroids will pave the way for important changes in the ordinary status of the world economy, and it will cause the acceleration of technological developments. However, despite the various agreements made in the past regarding space, the necessity of new national and international agreements and regulations in line with the increase and expansion of commercial activities in space will be important in terms of benefit and costs that will arise on a global scale.
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While space was just uncertainty that had been waiting to be discovered at first, it has found a place for itself as the subject of a book, a science fiction movie, a video game, and eventually space has become a reality to use for commercial purpose. The idea of asteroid mining is based on the subject of having benefited from asteroids that is among the space programme which are formulated by Tsiolkovsky (1903). When developing technology has the ability to extract and use space resources from the Moon, Mars, and near-Earth asteroids in the future, new resources can be provided by transporting space resources to the Earth. This will be offered an alternative to natural resources on earth.

It is stated that the end will be the complete depletion of many resources as long as humanity remains connected to the Earth in mineral exploration (Kargel, 1996, p. 821). In this regard, as the mining reserves decrease, production and consumption, more efficient use, recycling, replacement with alternative materials, processing increasingly poor quality mining deposits will be compensated through the combination of reduction in living standards and/or decrease in the population. Processing poor quality ore, recycling, reuse and substitution are valid and important policies to stop resource scarcity but asteroid mining could procure resources where substitution and recycling are inadequate (Sivolella, 2019, p. 194). Even the search for a solution to supply the endless demands of the economy with insufficient resources may end with space activities. Although the total amount of resources on earth is very large, these resources are limited. However, resources in an infinite space are inherently unlimited. Inadequacy of resources draws attention as an important issue that justifies the necessity of space mining activities. In this regard, when the existence of resources goes out of the atmosphere, a different stage can be passed in the allocation of resources for the world. Obtaining some precious metals and rare earth minerals from many asteroids with high metallic content, especially in the face of the increasing value of raw materials with the decrease in mineral resources, will reduce production costs. At this point, the increasing accumulation of knowledge about space and decreasing space flight costs will increase plans have been made for asteroid mining. In the beginning, companies such as Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, Shackleton Energy Resources, and Moon Express focused on researching and developing outer space resources for commercial purposes and expanded from the extraction of precious metals which is the focus of space mining to the extraction of liquid for fuel (Dawson, 2019, p. 99). Today more companies have worked on commercial space activities.

The process of adding space resources to world resources with asteroid mining will also bring some problems. It is especially important to determine the ownership of space resources, draw the line at the limits of the use of these resources, divide the benefits to be obtained from commercial activities in space, and take responsibility for the costs that may arise as a result of these activities. Although these issues have been determined to some extent by the agreements made in the past, it will necessitate the preparation of a new international space law framework to cover emerging technologies. Commercial-based space mining enterprises face many obstacles, including obtaining sufficient funding to initiate development and operations, designing and testing space equipments, adequate demand to offset startup and development costs and making a profit, and determining the content and composition found in asteroids (NASA, 2014, p. 15). In this respect, it may also be needed in the development and functioning of the space economy with states having great responsibility for international cooperation.

At the beginning of the study, asteroid mining activities, which started with the view of space as a new market, are discussed. Afterwards, the basic view of space law is presented within the scope of international space agreements regarding the exploration and use of space resources, including asteroid mining. Lastly, the theoretical framework of the reasons for the intervention and regulatory activities of the state in asteroid mining has been tried to be established and the reasons for the state to operate as an economic unit together with the private sector in this field have been emphasized.

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