September 10th Hearing, House Subcommittee on Space – Exploring Our Solar System: The ASTEROIDS Act as a Key Step

I went to this hearing, and frankly was a little disappointed by this aspect of it. The sole witness who dealt with the Asteroid Act was Joanne Gabrynowicz, Director Emerita, Journal of Space Law. I am not a space lawyer, much less a space law professor, but she took a viewpoint along the lines of “nothing should be done until there is an international consensus to clarify the Outer Space Treaty. She flat out said that the Asteroid Act was a “terrible bill” in discussion afterwards. I had discussion afterwards with David Gump (CEO, Deep Space Industries) and Dean Larson (the local Planetary Society rep and the recent author of the OpEd in the Wall Street Journal), together with Henry Herzfeld (Prof. at G. Washington) and i think it is fair to say that none of us agreed with that position.

My take, and believe that at least Dean Larson has a similar opinion, is that Asteroid Mining is clearly legal now but that there is a need for a US Law clarifying the rules for US companies (so that, e.g., two US companies got into an argument over the same minerals on the same asteroid, there would be some law to guide them). The Asteroid Act would do that, so I support it.

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Prof. Gabrynowicz and Deep Space Industries CEO David Gump discussing the Asteroid Act after the meeting.

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The Asteroid Initiatives Solar Scout CubeSat Explorer

Artist’s rendition of Asteroid Initiatives Solar Scoutâ„¢ CubeSat Explorer deploying Chipsat Sensors at a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) a few million kilometers from the Earth.

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These sensors (about the size of a credit card) will embed themselves in the asteroid (or go into or
bit around it) and measure the asteroid’s properties, such as the water and metal content of the body, its mass and magnetic field, and even its internal composition. This can be done for a fraction of the cost of similar measurements from a conventional spacecraft – the entire package (Solar Scout + chipsats and their deployment mechanism) would mass about 20 kg at launch. Asteroid Initiatives will make it possible for individuals to own their own sensor to be deployed at a asteroid.

Asteroid Initiatives will substantially lower the cost of asteroid prospecting by leveraging the technology already developed for cubesats, chipsats, and cubesat solar sails, with the Solar Scout being based on the NASA developed NEA Scout.

Before you can do asteroid mining, you have to do asteroid prospecting, and the Solar Scout will make prospecting affordable.