A New Zealand-based lawyer specialising in international space law says there are no laws preventing the mining of asteroids for commercial or scientific gains and she expects to see the practice begin within the next 10 years.
Christchurch lawyer Dr Maria Pozza said no legislation could restrict the practice as no one has legal jurisdiction over outer space.
A Bloomberg article published last week stated that NASA had identified around 12,000 space rocks orbiting Earth and a small group of investors had a novel plan to mine them for fun and profit.
However, the article stated that mining the asteroids could be illegal, citing an international treaty regime, including the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which forbids claims of national sovereignty in space - a point disputed by Pozza.
Pozza said mining asteroids "could very well be legal".
"The Outer Space Treaty doesn't make any provisions in relation to mining in outer space, or commercial advancements or ventures in relation to asteroids, celestial bodies, or mining generally," she said.
"It's an area of law which is unclear, but something that is clear is that I don't think there's anything that prohibits mining of any sort," Pozza said.
"The Outer Space Treaty looks at a variety of things, it's a multi-lateral international treaty.
"Space law doesn't recognise principals of sovereignty or territorial claims, so no one actually owns space - space is for everyone, so to say that mining is illegal is not factually correct.
"If you have the money to go up there and get on to a celestial body or an asteroid and you wanted to conduct some mining for scientific purposes to see what was there, you could very well do so."
Pozza says she specialises in offering legal advice to those wanting to venture into outer space for scientific and commercial purposes, but declined to name any current or previous clients, citing confidentiality agreements.
Mining asteroids for precious minerals was closer than most people thought, she said.
"Mining could go ahead, if you have the space assets to do it, you could do it tomorrow."
She estimated that asteroids would be mined within the next 10 years.