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Planetary Resources To 'Claim' Asteroids With Beacons 221

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-claim-this-land-for-spain dept.
kkleiner writes "Planetary Resources last year boldly claimed that they would build a futuristic business out of mining space asteroids. To that end, the firm recently completed the Arkyd-100 satellite prototype. The satellite will use its telescope to look for suitable near-Earth asteroids from low-Earth orbit. Later expeditions will rocket out to prospective real estate, do spectral analysis, and if the asteroid contains valuable resources, lay claim with a beacon."
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Planetary Resources To 'Claim' Asteroids With Beacons

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:20PM (#42957839)

    Not legally enforceable, which in many ways is a shame. Until money can be made through space travel, it will never "take off"...

    Mod informative, flamebait or funny

    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:23PM (#42957875)
      Not only not enforceable: I always thought that there were treaties against this, as in no private company from any country can claim anything outside the atmosphere without some sort of international agreement. See Outer Space Treaty [wikipedia.org].
      • The treaty and such refer to states, but since in our current reality, state power is what secures private property rights... the two are somewhat linked.
      • by Kjella (173770)

        Try taking some of NASA's moon rocks and say that because of the outer space treaty they have no property right claim to them and see how long it's until you're locked up in jail. Nation states can't claim it as their territory, but it's entirely unclear how or if anyone can claim mining rights on an asteroid, or if it's a race to see who can gobble up the asteroid first. "Planting the flag" might be good enough or it might not, depending on how deep pockets you have and how many big governments you can get

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Okay, I'm something of a theorist of 'international law'. I'm not a lawyer or anything.

          First, my theory on international politics/law: The dealings of nations is a bit like an ancient village, where different nations are 'people' of varying size and ability. There is effectively limited to no 'police', there are no courts, etc...

          As such, 'international law' depends on the threat or actual use of force. Any given country is free to do what it wants to until other countries can be motivated to do somethin

      • by dimeglio (456244)

        I think it's simply a case of whomever has the bigger gun gets to keep the asteroid/planet/solar system. It's back to the wild-wild west era. Unless we establish a planetary government to establish and enforce legitimate claims.

    • by tgd (2822)

      Not legally enforceable, which in many ways is a shame. Until money can be made through space travel, it will never "take off"...

      Mod informative, flamebait or funny

      Of course, they could just drop the asteroid on the party complaining ... kill two birds with one stone... literally.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Not legally no, but who cares? At this point their "claim" would easily be enforced by the same gravity well that has stopped everyone else from doing it yet. While its true, if someone else jumped their claim, nobody would likely care to enforce it and step in.... but.... as of right now.... making a symbolic claim is easily every bit as good, if not better, than having it enforced, simply because its harder to actually jump the claim than it is to ignore terrestrial powers..... so legal enforcibility is a

  • Unless they have Space Police out there. Who knows how this would turn out, but it does raise another issue - when we finally get off of our collective asses and start a more aggressive space program(s), who the heck is gonna regulate commodities, etc out in space?
    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      I always kinda figured it would be like old wild west, where the biggest gun gets you as far as the best of laws.

      • I always kinda figured it would be like old wild west, where the biggest gun gets you as far as the best of laws.

        Wild West, hell, that's an accurate description of how global politics work now.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Declare space outside geostationary orbit a zone where private parties are not subject to international law, and let them fight it out. The only way mining will ever turn a profit is if it's automated so there will be no casualties, and it should be fun to watch.

      • And then, once the winning corporation's mining fleet has wiped out the competition thanks to its new and advanced AI, it realizes that the greatest abundance of minable materials is on that blue rock! And the only obstacle left is that dang nuisance called "organic life"...
    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      Resources are so extensive once you go beyond the earth I really wonder if this will be a problem at all. Fighting over resources is only valid when their is a finite amount of them.
      • Really? I think the defining characteristic of space is the mind boggling emptiness of it all. Resources are not abundant, as there is a whole lot of nothing between us and anything else.

        If outer space really is the land of milk and honey, we'd be mining already. The reason we don't is because it is more expensive to do it "out there" than it is to do it "down here."

        • by dywolf (2673597)

          abundant compared to on the surface of the planet we call home. many of those iron/nickel asteroids have more of each than has been mined in the entirety of human existence.

          • abundant compared to on the surface of the planet we call home. many of those iron/nickel asteroids have more of each than has been mined in the entirety of human existence.

            Isn't that quite an understatement? Just look at 16 Psyche [wikipedia.org]. I believe that the amount would be sufficient to cover the whole planet with a layer of steel.five meter thick. Can you spell "Trantor"? :-)

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Unless they have Space Police out there.

      Dang! And Obama just declined to build that Death Star. What a lack of long term thinking!

  • Manifest Destiny... iiiiinnnnn spaaaaaaaaaace!

    • Luckily, this time there aren't any natives to genocide.

      • by JustOK (667959)

        got proof of that?

  • by Luthair (847766) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:25PM (#42957899)
    So I know whose asteroid crashed into my house.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:27PM (#42957929)

    This Valentine's day, give your mistress the gift that's out of this world. Claim an asteroid for her...

  • Absent international treaty or a national law (assuming their competition can be assailed in the court system), anyone with a plan like this will be forced to defend their claims the old fashioned way: by force. Will the beacons have probe-disabling lasers on board? The article doesn't say. But my guess is that the cost of getting a defense system on the rock is the same as the cost of getting mining equipment on it.

    A better defense plan is to scan 10 times as many rocks as you normally would and leave b

    • by Scutter (18425)

      You won't need space defense for your asteroid claims. If this process is held up by international treaty, you can simply control it that way. Space travel (at least at this time) isn't Firefly. You don't just hop in a grungy cargo ship and go where ever you want. It will be trivially easy for anyone who cares to track a mining ship launch to its destination asteroid. Smuggling space ore will be virtually impossible. When the poached ore is returned to Earth, the people who mined it are held accountab

      • It will be trivially easy for anyone who cares to track a mining ship launch to its destination asteroid. Smuggling space ore will be virtually impossible.

        I don't know, I've heard from a guy in Chelyabinsk that he can smuggle in significant amounts of asteroid ore right under the authorities' noses.

      • by mbone (558574)

        As I read the Outer Space Treaty [state.gov], they would have no legal recourse to usurpers, as long as they weren't actually using the asteroid. The reason is that countries cannot claim property in outer space (Article II), therefore claims recognized by one country need have no weight in another. Now, it is a no-no to interfere with the work of astronauts (Article IX), but this is worded in a very weak and ambiguous fashion, which I think is sure to lead to troubles in the future. Since countries are responsible for

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        why return it to earth at all? sure some, particularly iron and the like which are actually relatively rare in teh crust, might make it surface side to supplement what we have. but the whole point to keep it up there; mine it in space, refine it space, use it space. avoid the energy sink of sending it down to the surface, at least until we get the space elevators going.

        as for treaties...they are only enforced as long as its convenient. already the antarctica treaty has come under scrutiny due to possible oi

    • by medcalf (68293)
      The beacons are at best publicity. To own something, either others need to recognize your ownership and leave it alone, or some larger power (like governments on Earth with property physically located in their territory) needs to recognize your ownership and defend it, or you need to defend it. In the hypothetical case where I have the resources and will to do it, and I come across an asteroid I want to mine that has one of their beacons on it, I'd just take the beacon, too. At the very least, the power sou
      • To meaningfully own an asteroid you gotta have a way to actually exploit it. That, so far, is pure vaporware. Or vacuumware?
    • by Burz (138833)

      It fascinates me how the moment property and industrial extraction are mentioned as an imminent possibility, all the hallowed posturing about peace in space goes flying our the window and one of the first sub-threads is a discussion about whether guns w/bullets will work in space.

      If it comes to that then the escalation likely won't stop until eventually asteroids are directed against targets on the Earth.

      Space adventurism leads to a different outcome than the ones shown in popular science fantasy (and most

  • by mknewman (557587) * on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:33PM (#42957981)
    Why bother mining asteroids when there is a bunch of pre-refined materials floating in LEO. Re-refine the materials in Proton boosters, non-functional satellites and such. Stop throwing used up stuff back into the atmosphere to burn up. Build a refinery at the Space Station.
    • by medcalf (68293) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:40PM (#42958057) Homepage
      Two reasons. The first is that the volume of materials in orbit is really, really tiny. The second is that each of these different types of space junk would require (potentially) different processing techniques, equipment and so forth. Even discounting property issues, those simply make the idea financially insane. So I expect some national government somewhere will certainly try it at some point.
      • by Firethorn (177587)

        The second is that each of these different types of space junk would require (potentially) different processing techniques,

        I've actually looked at some of this.

        Property issues: Go by litter rules - they abandoned the materials in space; they're cluttering up the orbitals and thus you're just cleaning up and recycling the trash
        Volume: It's tiny in proportion to even a smaller asteroid, yes, but they're already refined materials. That helps. Plus the whole 'clean up the orbitals' thing. You don't actually need that much material to help the ISS or it's replacement on quite a bit.
        Different processing techniques: Initially I'd

        • ...water is good for other reasons...

          If you had a [near-]monopoly on the ready-to-use water supply in space, or even be one of several competing suppliers, you wouldn't even have to bother stripping the metals from the asteroids.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      That would actually make a lot of sense except for the international ownership issues. It would only work if we all got along and shared our resources... ... ... onto the space asteroids!

    • Why bother mining asteroids when there is a bunch of pre-refined materials floating in LEO. Re-refine the materials in Proton boosters, non-functional satellites and such. Stop throwing used up stuff back into the atmosphere to burn up. Build a refinery at the Space Station.

      Oh, this.

      What I can't fathom is how governments and private industry can't seem to get their heads around an idea that sci-fi book and game writers have been expounding for decades.

      • by mknewman (557587) *
        +1 exactly.
      • Because any usable ore refinery would take up just about 1000 times the mass of the ISS and require a daily input of energy and consumables which no one can actually generate in situ respectively lift to orbit at a reasonable cost?
  • Space Bacons? [nocookie.net]

    I bet in teh futuar, bacon will be a highly sought after luxury in space.
    Just imagine the immense wealth for the daring astro-prospector that finds a whole asteroid of bacon.
    Bets on what comes first, the maternity station (confinement asteroid for you belters...) or the bacon astro-farm?

    (just as long as it's not this type [kowabunga.org]...)
  • I am not sure how this fits in the Outer Space Treaty, and thus what recourse they would have if (say) the Chinese used their beacons as a prospecting tool.

    On the other hand, such beacons would probably make good VLBI targets.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    All they need to do is lick each one. Any four-year-old knows that.
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @03:57PM (#42958213) Journal

    People have been camping things in MMOs for years.

  • The Belt or ASTEX ?

  • by thelovebus (264467) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @04:00PM (#42958245)

    On the one hand, mineral claims have a long history and seem to have worked decently.

    On the other hand, how do we prevent an unscrupulous company from doing just enough work to *claim* these asteroids, with no intention of actually following through and mining them. Then, acting as a rent-seeker when another company actually does try to mine the resources?

    • Adverse possession could be applied.
    • by femtobyte (710429)

      Many past historical claim systems require active *working* of the staked claim within some time period after initial filing --- e.g. you actually have to be digging some amount of gold out of the ground and bringing it to the government refiner/inspector to maintain the claim. The same type of mechanism could work here to prevent claim trolls --- if you don't return the material to earth, or move the asteroid into a designated earth-centered parking orbit, within 6 months of the claim, it's up for grabs ag

  • Thanks for marking all the valuable 'roids for our firm.

    We'll let you know what we found. Maybe you'll get a finders fee, who knows ?
  • Now, they have told the CHinese were to go dig. And dig they will. At the very least, they will scan these and know what the company is interested in.
    • So you place dozens of beacons, and encrypt them. Only one will lead you to a valuable rock, the rest are less useful or empty space.
  • Lame (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @04:20PM (#42958457)

    Look, I don't care if you plant a flag or a beacon on some asteroid, if I can actually build a spaceship that can go and grab it and mine it before you do, your shit out of luck. I'll just kick your little beacon off, or move it to something else that has no value. What are you going to do about it?

  • by PhxBlue (562201) on Wednesday February 20, 2013 @04:21PM (#42958463) Homepage Journal
    Do they have a flag?
  • You can lay claim to anything you desire but it doesn't mean others will respect your claim. There has to be a consensus on what is needed to make a claim first and even that is blurry and will chance over time.

    The main basis of a claim is having the resources and will to defend it and publicly declaring it.

  • They'd better hope none of "their" asteriods hits the earth. The potential liability could be ruinous.
  • If you can stake a claim without having the ability to mine in space it allows early players to claim everything with little investment and tax mining that others develop. This would be against the best interests of everyone but the claimant. In order to stake a claim you should have to prove you can mine the resources you claim.

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