Mining for Meaning: An Examination of the Legality of Property Rights in Space Resources

In November 2015, the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 (“SREU Act”) became law. Private space companies hoping to mine asteroids for commercial gain rejoiced. For years, such private companies had struggled to obtain adequate funding and support for their revolutionary space missions due to a lack of legal certainty regarding property rights in space under the vague legal framework of the Outer Space Treaty (“OST”). The SREU Act purportedly eliminated this uncertainty by explicitly granting U.S. citizens property rights in any asteroid or space resource recovered for commercial purposes from space.


Nevertheless, much tension remains between this unilateral grant of property rights and the international obligations of the United States under the OST. This Note concludes that the SREU Act abrogates the United States’ international obligations and that the United States should have initiated discussions at the international level first to champion a more effective and long-lasting multilateral solution. Finally, this Note finds this abrogation to be all for naught, as the law itself fails to achieve its goal of providing the private space industry with the legal certainty it so desires and requires.