Monday, February 20, 2012

Opportunities for Mining Operations on the Moon & Mars

John Chapman.
John Chapman is a busy, behind the scenes ex-mining executive and current advocate for Canadian space activities who I first profiled in the September 16th 2010 post "Canadian Companies Sponsor Satellite Designers."

He's also been a strong advocate of funding space focused organizations though an extension of the tax credits presently provided to the Canadian mining industry, as outlined in my June 20th, 2010 article "Mining as a Model for the Commercial Space Industry."

More recently, Chapman has been involved with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) San Fransisco chapter and presented at the February 8th, 2012 small payload tech talks on the topic of "Technology Opportunities Related to Mineral Exploration & Mine Operations on the Moon and Mars."

It's well worth checking out and a nice counterpoint to his earlier presentation on "Our Cosmic Journey: The Importance of Mineral Exploration, Discovery and Development" which was presented in October 2010 to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

But it's also worth noting that Chapman makes his presentation from the perspective of a "mechanic, welder and mining engineer" who, over a period of decades, also managed to turn himself into one of the largest mineral land owners in British Columbia.

This reminds me just a little bit of other "crazy people" like another John Chapman (who they named the Canadian Space Agency headquarters after), or Albert Fia (who designed the first Black Brant rocket for Bristol Aerospace) or John Carmack (who founded Armadillo Aerospace) or Richard Branson (who owns Virgin Galactic) or Elon Musk (who founded Space Exploration Technologies) or even Guy Laliberté (the entrepreneur, philanthropist, poker player, space tourist and current CEO of Cirque du Soleil) who each used their time and efforts to help promote or build space focused business ventures.

We should be encouraging these activities. For example, here's a recent Laurentian University presentation covering much the same topic.


  1. The single most imprtant obstacle in the way of extra terrestrial mining & exploitation is the current inability of commercial enterprises to actually own the land and resources that they extract. The current outer space treaties prohibit countries from exerting territorial ownership of any body in the solar ssytem. Without that territorial "ownership" it becomes impossible , in today's business world, to create contracts and recieve legal protection that has any legitimacy on Earth. Withuot clear ownership of resoureces and an established method of litigating and resolving commercial disputes, businesses are never going to risk their own money on exploration and exploitation or on developing the technologies needed to harvest those resources.

    If Governments want to explore, aerospace-type companies will happily develop that ahrdware for the governments, but the real money is held by resource companies: mining, oil, energy, etc. These companies could easily fund 20 billion dollar efforts to harvest resources if, and only if, they could claim ownership of what they find. Otherwise, they're not interested. And that's another parallel to terrestrial mining and development; commercial enterprises need to own the profit for them to be willing to own the risk.

  2. Chapman discusses the legal aspects of mining in his presentation beginning on slide 16.

    His perception is that the concept of "legal possession" has historically been dependent almost entirely on actual, physical possession of the resources combined with the ability to defend the physical possession against intruders.

    So possession comes first and (over time) the legal code changes to reflect the actual ownership.

    He expects that this won't change in the near future, no matter where the claimed resources happen to be located.

  3. To provide a supportive but additional view point to Chuck Black, an old friend of mine who used to work at UNICOPUS said to me once: "There is no one on Earth employed to enforce the various Space Treaties "Common Heritage of Mankind" clauses."

    The very same friend also suggested that one could retrieve the resources from the Moon or asteroids and provide those resources for free to anyone who could pay for the service of retrieving those resources.

    One could also register the mining company in a country that did not ratify any of the various Treaties that discuss common heritage.

    But I will supposed Chuck's statement. The laws will adapt themselves once someone actually goes up and starts conducting real and serious mining efforts.


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