Luxembourg is stepping up efforts to become Europe’s centre for space mining by agreeing to buy a major stake in US-based asteroid miner Planetary Resources.
While it was not immediately clear what the government’s initial investment in Planetary Resources Luxembourg would be, the parties said in a statement that the agreement seeks to speed up the development of technologies and lines of business toward the exploration and utilization of resources from asteroids.
The tiny European nation is one of the euro zone’s wealthiest countries and already has a long-standing space industry, playing a significant role in the development of satellite communications.
While its drive to become a significant actor in the asteroid mining industry is rather new, the country has already taken major steps towards achieving that goal.
On Friday, it announced the opening of a €200 million (US$225 million) line of credit for entrepreneurial space companies to set up their European headquarters within its borders.
And last month, the government reached an agreement with another US-based company, Deep Space Industries, which will be conducting missions to prospect for water and minerals in outer space. Both parties are currently developing Prospector-X, a small and experimental spacecraft that test technologies for prospecting and mining near Earth asteroids after 2020.
Luxembourg’s administration is also working on a legal frame for exploiting space resources so that private companies can be entitled to the resources they mine from asteroids, but not to own the celestial bodies themselves.
The only international legal body available dates back to 1967. The Outer Space Treaty, signed by the US, Russia and a number of other countries, says that nations can’t occupy nor own territory in space.
“Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States,” the treaty says, adding that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
And while a discussion on the matter is bound to happen, countries such as the US, have decided to make their own rules. In November, President Barack Obama signed a law granting American citizens rights to own resources mined in space.
The ground-breaking rule was touted as a major boost to asteroid mining because it encourages the commercial exploration and utilization of resources from asteroids obtained by US firms.
Such law does include a very important clause, as it clarifies that US citizens are not granted “sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.”
Geologists believe asteroids are packed with iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars.