Nestled between Germany, France, and Belgium is Luxembourg, a country about the size of Rhode Island. We might not associate the small nation with space, but that’s about to change. Last week at the World Economic Forum, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg announced the country’s €200 million investment on space research and development and believes it can serve as a base for Europe’s space interests, particularly when it comes to mining asteroids.
Luxembourg isn’t a newcomer to extraterrestrial ambitions. In 1985, SES, the first private satellite company in Europe, was founded in Luxembourg. Today, the company—the second-largest of its type in the world—operates approximately 53 satellites, many of which provide video and TV to European customers. In 2005, Luxembourg became part of the ESA.
In 2012, a member of Luxembourg’s Advisory Board on Space Resources began talking to NASA engineers about mining asteroids—right around the time asteroid mining companies such as Planetary Resources announced their intentions to lead the way. Three years later, President Obama signed the Asteroid Property Rights Act, which enables American commercial enterprises to explore and retrieve resources from asteroids. Seeing great potential in the market, Luxembourg has been rounding up engineers, companies, and University of Luxembourg researchers to carve out a formative role in the emerging market.
Asteroid Vesta. Credit: NASA/JPL
The result is SpaceResources.lu, an initiative with the following mission statement: “Luxembourg is the first European country to set out a formal legal framework which ensures that private operators working in space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract, i.e. valuable resources from asteroids. Such a legal framework will be worked out in full consideration of international law. The Grand-Duchy aims to participate with other nations in all relevant fora in order to agree on a mutually beneficial international framework.”
In this artist’s concept, an astronaut performs a tethering maneuver at an asteroid. The Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) is close by, with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) docked to a habitat in the background. Credit: NASA
The initiative hopes to square the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which preserves the sovereignty of celestial bodies, with the asteroid mining industry and aims to figure out how legally to pave the way for European companies to make big bucks harvesting precious metals and other resources.
The initiative could pay off handsomely for Luxembourg, spurring the growth of technologies that could be used in the asteroid mining industry, as well as establishing the country as both a hub and a partner for other countries and organizations, including the California-based Deep Space Industries and the Washington-based Planetary Resources. Planetary Resources will conduct some of its operations from a base in Luxembourg and plans to start mining in 2020.