Law, College of


Date of this Version



Michigan State International Law Review 26:1 (2018), pp. 83-101.


Copyright © 2018 Frans G. von der Dunk. Used by permission.


1. Introduction; Asteroid Mining and the Law … 2. The International Legal Context for Asteroid Mining—The Outer Space Treaty … 3. The International Legal Context for Asteroid Mining—The Moon Agreement … 4. Back to the Outer Space Treaty: Interpreting the Nonappropriation Prohibition … 5. Unilateral Action: Title IV, U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act … 6. Concluding Remarks

Asteroid mining is one of the hot topics today not only within the space arena at large but also in the more specific domain of space law, comprising “every legal or regulatory regime having a significant impact, even if implicitly or indirectly, on at least one type of space activity or major space application.” The main reason for this lies in the well-developed plans of U.S. companies Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries to launch missions within the next few years to first reconnoiter asteroids of potential interest from a commercial perspective and then start harvesting valuable resources, ranging from water to such minerals as iron, nickel, and platinum, and selling them.

From a legal perspective, these plans essentially raise questions of their compatibility with international space law, “a branch of general (public) international law, a subset of rules, rights[,] and obligations of states within the latter specifically related to outer space and activities in or with respect to that realm,” and in particular with respect to the 2015 U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, Title IV of which addresses asteroid mining in a domestic United States context. This paper purports to provide an overview of exactly those questions, analyzing and evaluating the two main strands of interpretation currently visible in this respect, while also addressing the international ramifications of asteroid mining and their consequences in the legal context.