Luxembourg woos would-be asteroid miners with $223-million program

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg allocated 200 million euros for asteroid mining operations that could eventually provide a stream of resources from space.

Mark A. Garlick/Harvard-Smit­hsonian Center for Astrophysics/AP
An artist's rendering shows an asteroid slowly disintegrating as it orbits a white dwarf star. On Friday, Luxembourg announced 200 million euros in funding to mine asteroids for rare minerals.

Luxembourg this past week continued its efforts to remain at the forefront of the asteroid mining industry, setting aside more than $200 million for initiatives that would bring valuable resources back from space.

The financial commitment from the small European country is the latest step it has taken to remain a leader in the growing field, following its promise of legislation establishing rights for asteroid miners as well as the announcement of a partnership between its government, a public bank, and the mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI).

“Luxembourg's aims [sic] is to be in the top 10 space faring nations in the world,” deputy prime minister Etienne Schneider, who also serves as Luxembourg’s economic and trade minister, told Reuters.

“We have a first budget to get started but if we need more money, we will be able to provide it,” he said.

Luxembourg’s $223 million (200 million euros) investment in asteroid mining will help to attract mining entities like DSI or Planetary Resources, Inc., American companies with interest in establishing offices there.

“Luxembourg makes a huge difference by stepping in,” DSI chairman Rick Tumlinson told the Financial Times earlier this year. “It immediately shatters the myths that asteroid mining is either the fantasy of a wealthy Silicon Valley cabal or an imperialist American plot to take over the solar system.”

Luxembourg has been a player in space operations since the 1980s, when the satellite operating company SES was founded with support from the state.

The young asteroid mining business has yet to officially lift off in Luxembourg or the United States, although testing of the capabilities of space prospecting equipment has already begun and the first resource retrieval could begin within years.

Countries and companies interested in the industry hope that mining asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs) will yield access to water, minerals, and metals for terrestrial use and to aid in further space exploration.

“The results could be revolutionary in benefits to space exploration, and all of us on Earth,” Steve Eisenhart, senior vice president of the non-profit Space Foundation, told the BBC in January.

Technically, some asteroid mining has already occurred, as resources have been harvested from downed space objects on Earth. But the new industry could provide easier access to asteroids and NEOs still in space, despite some regulatory reservations about the privatization of space mining. While countries like Luxembourg and the United States have established outlines for their own asteroid mining programs, international law provides that space exploration should be open and benefit all countries regardless of their involvement.

Potentially, the first NEO extraction could happen as soon as 2020, when materials from one of the solar system’s more than 100 million asteroids will be harvested for human use for the first time.

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