Analysis: Who’s in charge of outer space?

In space, no one can hear you scheme. But here on Earth, plans to go where few have gone before are getting louder by the minute. In February, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo passed its third glide-flight test, putting it on pace to offer suborbital space tourism by the end of 2018. In March, Goldman Sachs announced to investors that a single asteroid containing $25 billion to $50 billion of platinum could be mined by a spacecraft costing only $2.6 billion—less than a third of what has been invested in Uber. “While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high,” the Goldman report concludes, “the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower.” In April, NASA selected Trans Astronautica Corp., an aerospace company based in Lake View Terrace, Calif., for $3.25 million in technology study grants. Among TransAstra’s NASA-approved projects: an asteroid-hunting telescope whose stated mission is “to start a gold rush in space.” The final frontier is starting to look a lot like the Wild West. As more companies announce ambitious plans to do business beyond Earth, serious questions are emerging about the legality of off-planet activity.

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