Below and linked here (Planetary Resources Letter to Congress) is the letter submitted by Planetary Resources to Representatives Steven Palazzo and Donna Edwards, Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Space Subcommittee regarding H.R. 5063 – the ASTEROIDS Act:
September 10, 2014
The Honorable Steven Palazzo 331 Cannon House Office Building United States House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Donna Edwards 2445 Rayburn House Office Building United States House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515
Chairman Palazzo, Ranking Member Edwards, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide input on H.R. 5063, the ASTEROIDS Act. We are very grateful that the Subcommittee will discuss this timely and important matter. We strongly support the bill, and commend Representatives Posey and Kilmer for their foresight in introducing it. This legislation is timely, well constructed, and will help ensure that the United States will lead the development of this economically and strategically valuable new market.
Planetary Resources is a company based in Redmond, Washington that is developing the capabilities to explore and recover resources from asteroids. The company was founded in 2010 by two leaders in commercial and entrepreneurial space, Eric C. Anderson and Peter Diamandis. Our company has staff with world-class engineering, scientific and software knowledge. Several of our engineers are alumni of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and were lead engineers, mission managers, and flight directors for complex and successful Mars missions such as Spirit, Opportunity, Phoenix, and Curiosity. Other staff have been drawn from innovative industry leaders including Intel, Google, and Space X. Planetary Resources is a company that has the technical expertise to achieve its mission of asteroid resource exploration and recovery.
Planetary Resources is privately funded, with investment from noted technology leaders such as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google, H. Ross Perot Jr. of the Hillwood Group, Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, and Charles Simonyi, formerly Chief Architect at Microsoft. This support has given the company the financial means to accomplish its goals.
Asteroid resource exploration and recovery may seem like a distant vision, but Planetary Resources has already completed construction of its first spacecraft and is awaiting launch. Once deployed, this satellite will demonstrate core technologies for Planetary Resources future missions. It will also be symbolically significant, because it will mark the beginning of private asteroid resource exploration and recovery. Planetary Resources will be launching a new spacecraft approximately every few months to discover and explore asteroids and ultimately to recover the valuable resources on those asteroids.
STRATEGIC AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
Asteroids are abundant in three classes of resources: volatiles and water (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen); platinum group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum); and structural metals (iron, cobalt, and nickel).
Water has a number of high value uses in space, but it currently costs in excess of $23,000 per pound to transport from Earth. Water will be useful for human exploration, as it provides hydration and radiation shielding. Water can also be changed into fuel, through electrolysis, thereby turning the water into its elemental components of oxygen and hydrogen. One 75-meter water-bearing asteroid has enough hydrogen and oxygen to have launched all 135 Space Shuttle missions. Spacecraft are launched with all the fuel they will ever have and therefore their lifetime is limited by fuel – the equivalent of throwing away a car when the tank is empty. Being able to store water and fuel in space fundamentally changes the ways we can explore space and conduct national and commercial operations in space.
PLATINUM GROUP METALS
Platinum group metals are extremely rare resources – even rarer than rare-Earth elements – and are necessary for the construction of catalytic convertors, electronics, medical devices, glass, turbine blades, and jewelry. Today, the major sources of platinum group metals are South Africa and Russia. A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains more platinum than has been mined in the history of humanity.
It is extraordinarily expensive to launch heavy structures into space, and in most cases, the engineering design is optimized for the 9-minute journey to space, not for its use in space. Planetary Resources is developing the long-term capability to recover metals from asteroids and build specialized structures in space utilizing emerging technologies such as 3D printing. The capacity to build structures in space will fundamentally change commercial, civil, and scientific space activities.
Planetary Resources is not alone in this industry. There are other competitors here in the U.S. There is also strong competition coming from China and Russia. Both nations have stated their intent to begin developing the technologies to recover resources from outer space.
ASSURING U.S. LEADERSHIP
Planetary Resources believes the ASTEROIDS Act does three things critical to developing U.S. private asteroid resource exploration and recovery: 1. Provides a clear statement of resource ownership in full compliance with international obligations 2. Begins the discussion on oversight and regulation 3. Establishes U.S. leadership in policy and a new market
The ASTEROIDS Act provides necessary clarity about who owns resources recovered in space by creating straightforward rules for U.S. courts to follow in adjudicating any future disputes between entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction. This clarity permits and promotes increased investment throughout the private sector.
The existing UN Treaties recognize, encourage, and allow the use of space by nations, and by non-government entities. The recovery and ownership of resources in space has been recognized for several decades. Specifically, it has been over 40 years since the United States and the U.S.S.R. each returned samples from the Moon, and more recently Japan did the same from an asteroid, and no nation or entity has raised serious objections to those nations’ right to use and control the property they have returned from space.
It was the intent of the nations negotiating the relevant treaties that space resource exploration and recovery should not be prevented by the treaties. In 1980, the then Legal Adviser to the Department of State, Robert Owen, provided testimony to Senate’s Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space. Mr. Owen noted that these treaties were negotiated with the understanding that it does not prevent the extraction of natural resources.
Planetary Resources believes that the ASTEROIDS Act was carefully written to be in full compliance with all international obligations. The negotiating history of those obligations makes it very clear that commercial resource recovery in space and ownership of those resources is allowed and protected.
OVERSIGHT AND REGULATION
According to the UN Liability Convention, ratified by the United States in 1972, states are required to authorize and supervise the space-based activities of private entities to ensure they are complying with international obligations.
There are currently no U.S. oversight and regulation mechanisms that govern asteroid resource exploration and recovery. Planetary Resources believes the ASTEROIDS Act does an excellent job framing the potential development of these oversight mechanisms without being prescriptive – and without prematurely creating a new regulatory entity or spending new money. Writing legislation now that attempts to prescribe every operational scenario and technology that needs to be regulated would be impossible because many of this market’s technologies and operations are new and still under development. The ASTEROIDS Act creates the framework for a productive exchange of ideas between Congress, the Executive Branch, and industry that can eventually lead to an informed, responsive, and productive regulatory regime.
LEADING THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
The ASTEROIDS Act is a domestic law and has no impact on non-U.S. concerns that may conduct asteroid resource exploration and recovery activities. However, Planetary Resources believes that the ASTEROIDS Act creates a foundation, in full compliance with existing international obligations, which could be easily adopted by other nations. The concepts of property rights, freedom from harmful interference, and safety of operations form the core components necessary for asteroid resource exploration and recovery companies from all nations to operate safely, predictably, and cooperatively in space. Planetary Resources firmly believes that the U.S. Government can use the ASTEROIDS Act to promote these core concepts in the UN and other international forums for international recognition and adoption.
Private asteroid resource exploration and recovery activities are currently underway. Planetary Resources applauds the actions of Congress on this important and timely matter. With the ASTEROIDS Act, Congress has made clear that it is the intention of the United States to lead in this critical market.
The ASTEROIDS Act complies with all treaties, agreements and conventions to which the United States is a party; recognizes the need to develop applicable regulations at the appropriate time; and clarifies the right of U.S. entities to mine resources from asteroids. The ASTEROIDS Act provides a strong foundation for asteroid mining companies like Planetary Resources to begin commercial asteroid resource exploration and utilization in space, provides confidence to investors, stability to the industry, and builds upon a foundation of domestic and international law.
Christopher A. Lewicki
President and Chief Engineer
Planetary Resources, Inc.