Outer space capitalism: The legal and technical challenges facing the private space industry

The private sector may need the Outer Space Treaty to be updated before it can make any claims to celestial bodies or their resources.

  • The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, is the basis of international space law. Its regulations set out what nations can and cannot do, in terms of colonization and enterprise in space.
  • One major stipulation of the treaty is that no nation can individually claim or colonize any part of the universe—when the US planted a flag on the Moon in 1969, it took great pains to ensure the world it was symbolic, not an act of claiming territory.
  • Essentially to do anything in space, as a private enterprise, you have to be able to make money. When it comes to asteroid mining, for instance, it would be "astronomically" expensive to set up such an industry. The only way to get around this would be if the resources being extracted were so rare you could sell them for a fortune on Earth.
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Space miners race to an asteroid worth quintillions

Could 16 Psyche make every person on Earth a billionaire? The space mining race is heating up.

Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • 16 Psyche is an asteroid full of metal in the asteroid belt that could be worth $700 quintillion.
  • NASA plans to visit 16 Psyche by 2026.
  • Commercial mining of faraway asteroids could still be decades away and some set closer targets, like the moon.
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Blood diamonds, stolen cars, sweatshops: Blockchain stops all that

The technology is poised to change how many companies operate.

  • Blockchain technology, as a digital ledger for economic transactions, is poised to "radically" impact companies across the board.
  • It may help reinforce the trust in certain markets as sensors collect data throughout production.
  • Blockchain might also create a marketplace for whistleblowing.

One-third of all slavery is visible from space

Advances in satellite imagery are shining a light.

Boyd et al., 2018
  • Today, there are 40.3 million slaves on the planet, more than the number of people living in Canada.
  • Slavery can be hard to find, but it commonly occurs in several key industries like fishing and mining.
  • Using satellite data, researchers and activists are using crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence to identify sites where slavery is taking place.
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Japan finds a huge cache of scarce rare-earth minerals

Japan looks to replace China as the primary source of critical metals

Rare-earth magnets (nikkytok/Shutterstock)
  • Enough rare earth minerals have been found off Japan to last centuries
  • Rare earths are important materials for green technology, as well as medicine and manufacturing
  • Where would we be without all of our rare-earth magnets?
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