Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) hold metal reserves that could sustain global consumption for millennia. Unresolved questions of technological and economic feasibility notwithstanding, NEA mining could ensure the accessibility and affordability of key strategic resources, contribute to sustainability transitions and displace environmentally and socially harmful terrestrial mining. Based on implicit and explicit normative commitments towards the common heritage principle in international space law, we develop the outlines of a regime for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits resulting from NEA mining. For doing so, we analyze the linkages between institutional design and regime effectiveness for benefit-sharing regimes in the areas of deep-sea mining and plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Attempting to control for differences in problem structure, we transpose this analysis to the case of NEA mining, where an effective benefit-sharing regime would revolve around the following elements: standardized exploration and exploitation contracts, back-end benefit-sharing as a percentage of commercial profits, research exemptions, compliance mechanisms for preventing and reducing space pollution, as well as a reserve banking system for mining claims. For the contemporary political debate on space resources, we thus aim to provide a feasible alternative to the exclusive appropriation of space resources through private property rights.
- The emergence of a global space industry requires that states develop operational rules for the regulation of asteroid mining.
- Strong normative grounds exist for ensuring that commercial and other benefits that derive from asteroid mining operations are being shared fairly and equitably between countries.
- An effective benefit-sharing regime for asteroid mining should incorporate standardized contracts, a reserve banking system, research exemptions and a compliance mechanism for reducing associated space pollution.
- The development of such a regime would be greatly facilitated if governments, including those of spacefaring nations, would resolve normative ambiguities in contemporary space law.
Photo by Şahin Sezer Dinçer