On 25 November 2015, United States President Barack Obama signed the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act into law.
The law is a first of its kind. It gives U.S. citizens the right to "engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of 'space resources' [including ... water and minerals]".
The main goal was to boost commercialisation of space. It's mainly focused on defining the property claims.
An example is asteroid mining.
Described as the next goldrush, its potential is huge.
Asteroid Mining: The New Gold Rush
Asteroid tracker Asterank estimates the value of the most valuable asteroids over $100 trillion!
Map of all asteroids in the Solar System - Asterank
That value is calculated based on current-day commodity prices if the asteroid could be fully mined for materials such as nickel, iron or cobalt.
In order to get to these asteroids, huge investments are needed to develop the necessary technologies to enable this level of space exploration.
And until this law, the lack of property claims made this a very unreliable and extremely risky investment. And it still is very risky, but this law took the first step towards establishing a new space law.
Since the signing, a number of companies like Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries and Moon Express have emerged. All hoping to lay claim to those trillions of untapped ressources that are floating in space.
Comet 67/P Poster
This image was taking by ESA's Rosetta probe on 10 September 2014, 2 months before the successful landing of the Philae on the comet's surface.
International Space Law Controversy
The 2015 SPACE Act is still a very controversial one law. Up until 2015, all laws with regards to space were part of a set of 5 international treaties, of which the Outer Space Treaty is the most famous one.
This new law is the first one put forward by a set to lay claim at something in space.
It might not seem like a big deal today because these are still the early days of space exploration. Few nations or private companies are active in space, so there aren't a lot of conflicts. But looking at the billion or trillion dollar asteroids, conflicts will definitely arise.
For a deeper dive into the SPACE act, check this 2015 VPRO documentary The Race To Space: