Luxembourg’s government, determined to make the country the locus of future space mining operations, passed a law last week outlining the necessary legal framework to enable the commercial exploration and operations related to finding and extracting resources from near Earth objects such as asteroids.
“Luxembourg is the first adopter in Europe of a legal and regulatory framework recognizing that space resources are capable of being owned by private companies,” Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, said in a statement. “The Grand Duchy thus reinforces its position as a European hub for the exploration and use of space resources.”
The law grants private companies, operating within or outside of the country, ownership of space resources they’ve extracted, stating that space resources are now capable of being appropriated by private companies. The law also establishes a system for overseeing space resource mining operations.
The US passed a similar law in 2015, but Luxembourg is the first EU member state to pass such a law. Both laws are clear to grant ownership only for resources that are extracted, and only after they’ve been extracted. This framework establishes space bodies like asteroids as commons that no private entity can claim ownership over. Doing so also helps to make sure the laws are in line with the UN’s Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits commercial entities from claiming land in space.
Luxembourg’s Grand Duchy has been promoting the country as the future center of such operations since 2016, when the government launched its space resources initiative, called Spaceresources.lu.The government committed some 200 million euros ($230 million USD) to the initiative, and has promised to invest more in space mining companies if they come to Luxembourg. With the new law on the books, the country now has an agency through which it can partner with private enterprise to further space mining operations. Luxembourg will invest another 70 million to 100 million euros ($80 million to $116 million) into private space companies, it said.
Those aggressive tactics appear to be paying off. So far, at least two US companies focused on asteroid mining have taken bait. Last year, the company Deep Space Industries created a Luxembourg subsidiary. The company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government to co-fund development of the company’s spacecraft.
“DSI applauds Luxembourg’s forward-thinking government on their tireless efforts to develop space resource exploration and utilization regulations,” said Bill Miller, DSI’s chief executive. “This new legislation opens up the possibility for humanity to utilize space and its unlimited resources, while also empowering a quickened pace of discovery through science and exploration.”
Planetary Resources also opened up a Luxembourg office earlier this year. The Luxembourg government has since agreed to to 49 percent stake in Planetary Resources’ Luxembourg arm.
“Luxembourg’s new space resources law provides Planetary Resources with a strong basis for stability and predictability for our current and future asteroid mining operations,” said Peter Marquez, acting GM of Planetary Resources Luxembourg, in a statement. “We are appreciative that Luxembourg has taken this critical step towards the long-term sustainability of asteroid mining.”
Rumors are that SpaceX has also been exploring opportunities in the country’s Spaceresources.lu initiative.
And earlier this year, Tokyo, Japan-based robotics firm ispace Inc opened up an office in Luxembourg to take advantage of the country’s R&D incentives to develop technologies for identifying and mapping resources on the lunar surface.
Last week, Luxembourg’s government emphasized the need for cooperation among global leaders in developing the space resources sector. The country aims to “promote international cooperation in order to progress on a future governance scheme and a global regulatory framework of space resources utilization,” according to a statement.
To that end, the government has named several key international experts to an advisory board setup for the Spaceresources.lu initiative. Members include Jean-Jacques Dordain, former director-general of ESA; Dr. Simon Worden, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center; Professor Wu Ji, chief scientist and project leader of the Strategic Priority Program on Space Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Seoul National University Professor Emeritus Seung Jo Kim, former president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute; and others.
Earlier this year, members of the royal family and elected government officials met with investors and entrepreneurs to drum up interest in its space mining initiative. The government has said it will continue to offer financial and regulatory incentives to lure more business to the country, including co-investments in research and development for space mining operations.
Speaking at a press event last year, Schneider touted the benefits the country is offering to companies interested in exploring the nascent space mining sector. “Our R&D system gives me the opportunity to reimburse 45 percent of the company’s R&D investment,” he said. “It’s quite attractive for international companies to do their R&D in Luxembourg.”