Space mining decades away; regulatory framework needed says expert

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Back in February we reported that private firms and space agencies the world over are looking to mine the Moon for rare Earth elements, but it seems that the prospect of mining space rocks is still a couple of decades away – a NASA scientist said while speaking at an event, which is part of the Canadian Institute of Mining’s annual convention.

The annual convention saw John Gruener, a planetary scientist at NASA, say that the space agency doesn’t expect space prospecting to happen any time soon. He added that space agencies are working on sending out robotic mission to the moon, and that will happen in the next five to ten years.

Initial robotic missions are likely to focus on ice water that’s already been discovered in lunar craters.

“The hope is we can separate the water from the other chemical constituents and then use the water to drink, use the oxygen to breathe and use the hydrogen and oxygen as rocket propellants,” Gruener said.

According to Gruener, Canada already has a range of rovers that may be used for lunar missions to search for water-ice deposits, but space-mining isn’t going to happen anytime soon as space-mining companies are still in the embryonic stages of prospecting and are studying to see if it’s economically viable.

“I see the real utilization of resources in space probably a couple of decades away — at the most optimistic,” Gruener said.

The annual convention also saw experts talk about a range of issues with space mining including ownership and management of resources in outer space. Experts rightly point out that space rocks currently have no owners and to iron out that issue, a Canadian geologist Joe Hinzer has suggested carving out a system that will regular future mining in space.

Hinzer said just like mining industry on Earth is regulated by an international committee under a United Nations umbrella, there has to be a similar kind of approach for extraterrestrial mining as well.

“I think that’s the kind of approach that might work for extraterrestrial stuff as well,” he said.

Hinzer also cited Europe as an example, noting it has developed its own parliament and legal system and operates in a manner similar to that of the United Nations.