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House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on ASTEROIDS Act on September 10

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Sep-2014
Updated: 08-Sep-2014 11:17 PM

The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing next week on the ASTEROIDS Act, which was introduced in July by Rep. Bill Posey (R- FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA).

The goal of the legislation is to establish and protect property rights for commercial exploration and exploitation of asteroids.   Two U.S. companies promoting such activities are Planetary Resources, headquartered in Kilmer's Redmond, WA district, and Deep Space Industries of Houston, TX.   Posey's district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Five witnesses have been announced for the hearing, four of whom are scientists and one is a space lawyer.  The scientists are:

  • Jim Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division;
  • Phil Christensen, an Arizona State University (ASU) professor who co-chairs the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS) and was a member of the NRC's Decadal Survey for planetary science;
  • Jim Bell, another ASU Professor who is President of the grass-roots space advocacy group The Planetary Society; and
  • Mark Sykes, CEO and Director of the Tucson, AZ-based non-profit solar system exploration research and advocacy group Planetary Science Institute. 

The fifth witness is Joanne Gabrynowicz, an internationally recognized space lawyer who for many years before her retirement headed the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi and was editor of the Journal of Space Law.  She is currently a member of the NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Protection Subcommittee that advises the agency on matters concerning the prevention of forward or back contamination of solar system bodies.

The concept of mining asteroids involves many scientific, technical and economic considerations, but property rights is a particularly thorny issue.  Under the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty, there is no national sovereignty in space so no country can "own" an asteroid.  Pursuant to the treaty, governments are responsible for the actions of their non-governmental entities, such as a company, sparking debate over whether a company can own an asteroid or any part of it.  Without ownership rights to minerals mined from asteroids, it is unlikely that companies would pursue asteroid mining even if such an activity could prove to be otherwise feasible.  

The ASTEROIDS Act would apply only to U.S. companies and seeks to ensure that materials mined from an asteroid by a U.S. company are the property of that company.  It would not confer ownership of the asteroid itself.

The hearing is at 10:00 am ET on September 10, 2014 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

Update:  The words "research and" were added to the description of the Planetary Science Institute to better convey its mission.

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