The U.S. Senate finally voted to legalize space mining

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Nov 12, 2015, 10:30 AM EST

With everyone from SpaceX, to NASA and half the developed nations on the planet eyeing plans for space exploration, the U.S. government is putting some rules in place for when we actually get there.

According to Popular Science, the Senate has approved the Space Act of 2015, which includes elements aimed at encouraging the burgeoning private space industry. As you probably guessed, the bill sets some ground rules for mining resources (water, platinum) in space. Per the bill, companies will be able to obtain the rights to the minerals they mine in space. That might seem obvious, but putting it in writing should help clear the path for companies to start mining asteroids (eventually).

Of course, just because the United States has passed a bill, that doesn’t mean other countries are cool with the proposal. The Outer Space Treaty declares no nation can own property in space, which makes any bill focused on space mining pretty complicated. The Senate covers its bases by adding: “It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.” So, yeah, things are still a bit complicated. But the fact that they’re at least trying to provide some guidance is encouraging.

Another major component of the bill extends the period that companies can operate with a reduced level of government oversight, which is designed to basically create a learning curve for companies to figure out the tech and processes needed to start branching out into the solar system. We’re in the early days of private space exploration, obviously, but if we ever want to get there — we’re going to need some ground rules.

The bill has passed the Senate with unanimous approval. Next up, it’s heading to the House of Representatives, then the president.

(Via Popular Science)