The Laws of Space Mining

Guest Austin Murnane, Senior Legal Counsel at Blue Origin, on legal considerations around in-situ resource utilization from the Earth’s moon and other celestial bodies

If fishing in international waters is legal, what about mining asteroids and the moon for water ice and precious metals? Turns out in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) is lawful, as governed by the Outer Space Treaty and Artemis Accords, and embraced as advancing the cause of space exploration. Of interest to NASA and other civil space agencies around the globe, as well as a number of companies and academic organizations, ISRU actually offers lucrative opportunities for the rise of the world’s first trillionaire. So, what laws govern the pursuit of commercial space exploration, and what legal prohibitions or safeguards exist against disputes over resources?

In this New Year episode of Discovery, we explore the legal landscape of ISRU with Austin Murnane, Senior Legal Counsel at Blue Origin, a rocket launch and human spaceflight business based in Kent, Washington. In 2023, Murnane spoke at UW Law’s Space Course: “The Case for Space Stations” and inaugural Space Law Diplomacy Symposium. Murnane is a former U.S. Marine with a J.D. from Fordham University and published The War Storytellers in 2015. He also holds a master's degree in Space Resources and is currently working on his Ph.D.

Murnane shares insights about the regulation of space mining as well as multiple parties’ interests, the continued evolution of the partnership between government and commercial parties, and an anticipated timeline for the development of technology that will make ISRU possible in outer space.

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