NASA launched an initiative on Thursday, September 10, to pay companies to mine resources on the moon, revealing that it would purchase rocks, soil, and other lunar materials from them as the U.S. Space Agency tries to encourage private mining of valuable off-world resources for its use.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a blog post accompanying the announcement that the plans would not infringe a treaty of 1967 which states that celestial bodies and space are excluded from national ownership claims.
The program, targeted at businesses intending to send robots to mine lunar resources, is part of NASA’s objective of setting what Bridenstine calls behavioral norms in space and encouraging private moon mining in ways that could help support future astronaut missions. NASA said it sees the mined resources as the company’s property, and after purchase, the products will become NASA’s sole property.
Under NASA’s Artemis initiative, the administration of President Donald Trump envisions a return to the moon by 2024 of American astronauts. As a guide to a possible first human voyage to Mars, NASA has cast a mission like this.
Bridenstine at an event organized by the Secure World Foundation (a space policy organization) said the bottom line is that they would purchase some lunar soil to prove that it can be achieved. Bridenstine said NASA will gradually purchase more resource forms like ice and other resources that could be found on the moon.
NASA released the main aspects of what it hopes will become an international moon exploration treaty called the Artemis Accords and set the stage for a global debate in May on the fundamental principles governing how humans will live and work on the moon. This will allow companies to own the lunar resources they mine, a key factor in getting NASA contractors to turn water ice from the moon into rocket fuel or lunar minerals to create landing pads.
According to the initiative released on Thursday, NASA offered to buy restricted quantities of lunar resources and invited businesses to submit proposals. Under contracts with different terms, a company that mines on the moon will collect lunar rocks or soil to sell to NASA without having to return the resources to Earth.
Mike Gold, the chief of the international affairs of NASA, told Reuters this is a small step for space resources but a giant leap for strategy and precedent.
Former chief editor of the Journal of Space Law, Joanne Gabrynowicz, said in an interview they are paying the company to give them a rock that the company owns. That’s the area a company needs to decide for themselves whether it’s worth taking the financial and technical risk to sell a rock on this process.