In the past, access to space was reserved for government space agencies. However, the large influx of private investment into space-related industries by companies such as SpaceX has driven the costs of launching rockets, satellites, and other equipment to drastic lows. While most people are aware of the potential for space tourism, other industries may also experience a benefit from these reduced costs.
In particular, many of the companies which make up the $350 billion space industry have their sights set on the Moon. Here, they believe they can find key resources such as water, Helium-3 for nuclear fusion reactors, and important rare earth minerals for electronics. Of course, it remains to be seen as to what they may actually find and how they plan to bring it back to Earth.
Still, in an effort to help these future endeavors, President Trump signed an executive order back in April stressing that the United States would have unrestrained access to any resources found on the Moon by their companies or agencies. This lines up with a 2015 law change in which granted American companies and citizens access to moon and asteroid resources.
These policies go against the 1979 Moon Treaty, which states that any non-scientific use of space resources must be governed by some type of international regulatory framework. While neither the U.S., Russia, or China have signed it, the U.S. had generally followed the treaty in the past. Now, not only is the U.S. going in the opposite direction, but it’s believed they will also start trying to encourage other nations to adopt this stance as well.
In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Outer Space Treaty, which proclaimed space as being the “province of all mankind.” The Trump administration has stated that their executive order doesn’t go against this treaty, considering it doesn’t state anything about resource sharing. Some are concerned, though, that a rush to find space resources could lead to a new arms race as nations work to protect their space assets.