President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday that directs Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to seek further international support for the U.S. policy that allows organizations to collect and use resources in space.
"This Executive Order establishes U.S. policy toward the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage the commercial development of space," Scott Pace, deputy assistant to the president and executive secretary of the National Space Council, said in a statement.
In essence, Trump's executive order reaffirms a decision made by Congress in 2015, which Pace noted gives American individuals and corporations "the right to engage in the commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space." The U.S., through the State Department, will look to make joint statements and agreements with other nations about the use of space resources.
The U.S. and Luxembourg have each put in place legal frameworks that give companies a right to any resources collected in space. Trump's directive on Monday emphasizes the U.S. policy and that the country will seek to protect companies which make use of those resources.
"Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons," the executive order states.
A senior White House official told CNBC that the executive order has been in the works since last year but was recently catalyzed by NASA outlining its long-term approach to lunar exploration, which includes setting up a "base camp" on the moon's south pole. Trump's administration has also seen support for this view of space resources, the official said, including from Canada, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and even China.
The White House also hopes the executive order will help improve the scientific basis for using space resources, the official added – such as the state of water ice on the moon and how a company or organization could extract it to use for fuel. The existence of water ice on the surface of the moon is one reason NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has given for why the agency wants to reestablish a human presence on the lunar surface.
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