What is an asteroid?
Asteroids are leftover material from the early formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. Many are unaltered collections of raw solar system material and some are debris from the destruction of partially formed planets that collided when the solar system was still young.
They are scattered throughout it: some pass close to the Sun, and others are found out beyond the orbit of Neptune. Vast majorities have been collected by Jupiter’s gravity into a belt between it and Mars – an area known as the Main Belt. As it turns out, astronomers have been discovering thousands of asteroids that do not belong to the Main Belt, but instead pass near Earth’s orbit – more than 11,000 to date, with over a thousand more discovered every year.
Outside of low Earth orbit, many near Earth asteroids are the most accessible destination in the Universe. Many also contain enormous quantities of accessible resources. We have learned a great deal about asteroids over the past few decades from the 50,000 meteorite samples that have been analyzed in laboratories, the modern investments in telescopic study, and from successful government space missions to 433 Eros, 25143 Itokawa, 4 Vesta, and other asteroids.
How to define an asteroid?
Asteroids are small, airless, rocky worlds with extremely low gravity that are too small to be called planets. They revolve around the sun in orbits similar to the larger planets. They are also known as planetoids or minor planets and those that are closest to Earth are also referred to as Near Earth Objects (NEOs) or Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). In total, the mass of all known asteroids is only a few percent of that of Earth's moon.
Does the term asteroid have a meaning?
It was Sir William Herschel who first coined the term “asteroid” (Greek for star-like) in 1802. He thought that Ceres and Pallas, discovered in 1801, were small remnants of destroyed planets.
Do asteroids impact Earth? Do they constitute a danger for life on Earth?
Ever since Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago, asteroids and comets have routinely intersected Earth’s orbit, and some impacted our planet. When an asteroid, or a part of it, lands on Earth, it's called a meteorite. The smaller meteoroids normally burn up before reaching the ground. Hazardous asteroids are extremely rare. On average, large asteroids strike Earth only once every 1,000 centuries, NASA says. Smaller asteroids that are believed to strike Earth every 1,000 to 10,000 years and could destroy a city or cause devastating tsunamis.
Where are asteroids found?
Most asteroids lie in a vast ring between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This main asteroid belt holds more than 200 asteroids larger than 100 kilometers in diameter. Moreover, scientists estimate the asteroid belt to contain more than 750,000 asteroids larger than 1 km in diameter and millions of smaller ones.
Some asteroids stray from this orbit, though, coming close enough to Earth to be easily accessible with existing commercially available spaceflight technology.
Why is water on an asteroid interesting?
Water, respectively ice, is of particular interest if it can be mined from asteroids because it is an essential and highly valuable resource on long duration space missions and for future space colonizers.
It could also be broken into oxygen and hydrogen for air and rocket propellant. The metals could be used to build or repair spacecraft off Earth respectively to build other structures for a space colony i.e provide material for the construction of hardware in space.
The case for asteroid mining
What is Asteroid mining?
Asteroid mining is the planned harvesting of raw materials from asteroids and other Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Minerals and volatiles could be mined from an asteroid or ‘dead’ comet and subsequently be used to support human habitation of space and economies on Earth.
Why mine asteroids?
The space industry is currently held back by the high cost of launching equipment and supplies into orbit. Because of today’s launch costs of several million dollars per ton, the number of satellites that can be launched is limited. Even more limited is the range of business activity that is viable in light of that cost. Asteroid mining will provide raw materials from space, to be used in space. Large quantities of raw material at relatively low cost can make current satellites more capable and less expensive, helping the current satellite operators improve the services they are able to deliver to their customers on Earth.
Once a supply chain of materials is established in orbit, it will encourage new applications and new business models as entrepreneurs attempt to introduce even more services that people on Earth find useful. The possibilities are truly endless.
Asteroid mining could open up a wealth of new resources and opportunity to build economies beyond what we have on Earth today, and allow humans to become an interplanetary species.
What could be mined in space?
Asteroids contain all the materials we need to live and do business in space. Mining operations will begin by serving the demands of current space businesses such as communications and remote sensing satellites, improving the services they offer. Those initial products will be water, hydrocarbons and structural metals. The long-term possibilities are endless.
The Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) alone contain enough of every element to support an affluent and fully recycling population of 500 billion people. The main asteroid belt contains 100,000 times as much of these resources. Materials that might be mined include: iron, cobalt, manganese, nickel, aluminum and titanium for construction in space; water, and oxygen to sustain astronauts; hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen for use as rocket propellant; and iridium, silver, osmium, palladium, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten for potential transport back to Earth.
Which asteroids could be mined? Are there specific targets?
Several international organizations have already completed rendezvous and return missions to study Near Earth Objects, such as ESA’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, NASA’s DAWN mission to asteroids Vesta and Ceres in the main belt, and JAXA’s Hayabusa mission that successful returned to Earth samples harvested from asteroid 25143 Itokawa. Building on the success of Hayabusa, JAXA launched Hayabusa 2 in December 2014 to rendezvous with target asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Hayabusa 2 is expected to arrive at its target in July 2018, survey the asteroid for a year and a half, depart in December 2019, and return to Earth in December 2020. Additionally, several private companies are developing plans to explore and ultimately benefit from these natural space resources.
These private companies utilize publicly available data, such as NASA’s Trajectory Browser, JPL’s Small Body Database and ESA’s NEO software system, to locate asteroids and calculate their accessibility. Using proprietary asteroid mineralization models, mining targets are selected based on their accessibility, composition, spin rate, and orbital period (length of a full orbit around the sun).
Initial targets are here in Earth’s neighborhood. These Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) are easy to access and will support short-period mining and resource return missions, allowing private companies to build a reliable supply chain of supplies for in-space customers.
Technology of asteroid mining
Asteroid Mining Technology
No one knows for sure what the first asteroid mine will look like, but several groups are working to develop sophisticated solutions to this problem. These solutions will need to be robust enough for the harsh environment of space, yet agile enough to perform delicate operations. Asteroid mining equipment will likely:
- Be solar powered, to reduce the need for fuel that would have to be hauled to the asteroid by spacecraft.
- Be lightweight enough to affordably transport it to the asteroid.
- Be robotic equipment to limit the personnel needed to carry out the mining project. This would reduce the amount of supplies, like food, required for a manned mission and greatly reduce risk and expense.
- Use techniques similar to those used in harsh environments on Earth.
- Use a bag- or canopy-like structure to collect floating debris and material that may be loosened from the asteroid by mining operations.
- Use grapples or drills to anchor themselves to the Asteroid, since these small bodies have very little gravity.
- Take advantage of the minimal gravity to easily move mined material around without having to use much power.
- Use local resources to support mining operations, such as creating fuel for the return trip by breaking down water from the asteroid into hydrogen and oxygen.
- Utilize a system of modularity that will allow spacecraft to attach to many different types of mining equipment, customized for the conditions specific to that asteroid. Much in the same way your vacuum cleaner comes with multiple attachments for specific uses, mining companies will be able to invest in assets that have long life times and are also customizable for unique conditions.
What are the implications of the low gravity environment of Asteroids?
Asteroids of interest likely will be less than 1 mile (1.6 Kilometer) in diameter, too small to have appreciable gravity. Spacecraft do not land on such small asteroids; they dock with them. A spacecraft will slowly approach, getting close enough to barely touch the asteroid's surface before deploying an anchor. Depending on the environment of the asteroid, the spacecraft may use grappling hooks or drills to attach itself to the surface. Docking with an asteroid can also be performed using a harpoon-like process, where a projectile penetrates the surface to serve as an anchor; then an attached cable is used to winch the vehicle to the surface, if it is rigid enough for a harpoon to be effective.
What are the economics of bringing back materials from outer space?
Initial asteroid mining missions and resource development projects are focused on “in situ resources utilization,” or using resources from space to support activities in space. This type of “live off the land” approach is crucial to the development of any frontier, and will drastically reduce the cost and risks of operating businesses and living in space.
Eventually, some materials mined from asteroids that are very rare on Earth, such as platinum group metals, may be returned to Earth for terrestrial use. However, with the current rapid growth of the space industry, it is likely that the vast majority of resources mined in space will also be used in space, helping humanity head to Mars and further into the solar system.
What is the link between asteroid mining and space travel/exploration?
Asteroid mining could potentially revolutionize space exploration. Currently, the biggest hindrance to the continued growth of the space industry is the limitations associated with rocket launches. Launches are expensive, risky, and payloads are limited by the size of the rocket fairing. Even as the cost of launches declines due to competition from new entrants such as Space X and Blue Origin, space operations will always be limited in the size and mass of equipment that can be launched into space.
The most economical way to solve this problem is to use the resources found in space to support activities in space, such as business, human habitation, and exploration. For example, the high abundance of water found in C-type asteroids could be used to produce fuel by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Having fuel available at a ‘petrol station’ in Earth orbit would drastically reduce the amount of fuel that would need to be launched from Earth, especially when considering long-distance, heavy mass missions such as manned trips to Mars.
Space resources mined from asteroids can also be used to economically manufacture habitats, solar arrays, antennas, and any other structures needed to support space activities such as satellite operations, science research stations, or space tourism activities. Additionally, some asteroids are rich in the silicates and minerals necessary for growing food and manufacturing finished goods such as spacecraft parts, and human habitation supplies such as toothbrushes and furniture.
The financial equation of asteroid mining
What are the potential financial benefits of asteroid mining?
Significant revenue opportunities exist by selling asteroid materials to customers in Low Earth Orbit now, and throughout the solar system as humanity ventures to Mars and beyond. Two specific resources that are abundant in asteroids, water and metals, provide significant revenue opportunities.
- Many types of thruster systems can use water or its derivatives (oxygen, hydrogen) as propellant, including many difference types of spacecraft, from CubeSats to manned rockets.
- Water is necessary for human habitation (drinking water, oxygen, radiation shielding, growing plants, etc).
- Water is easy to transport (unpressurized) and easy to manage (non-toxic).
Used for additive manufacturing to create:
- Large solar concentrators to generate power
- Large radio antennas to increase data throughput
- Structural components for long-duration habitats and spacecraft
In-space markets for these products are estimated to be nearly half a billion dollars by the early 2020s, and over $1.5 billion by 2030, providing significant room for growth in the asteroid mining industry.
What asteroid materials could economically be mined?
Not all mined materials from asteroids would be cost-effective, especially for the potential return of economic amounts of material to Earth. However, many resources that are abundant and easily accessible in asteroids are very valuable to business and government operations in space.
Materials such as water and metals (including iron and nickel), are extremely useful for activities in space, and will likely be the first products returned by asteroid miners.
For potential return to Earth, platinum is considered very rare in terrestrial geologic formations and therefore is potentially worth bringing some quantity for terrestrial use. Nickel, on the other hand, would be valuable for in-space construction.
How long does it take to get to an asteroid to start extracting value?
One asteroid that private company Planetary Resources has been tracking passes near the Earth’s orbit every 23 months and is a half-kilometer by one kilometer in size. A spacecraft could travel to it in around eight months.
Asteroid mining: the actors
Who are the institutional actors in the sector today?
Major agencies like ESA (Europe), NASA (U.S.), JAXA (Japan), CNES (France) and DLR (Germany) have concrete missions or plans concerning the development of technologies of direct interest for the future utilization of space resources. In addition, NASA and JAXA have specific plans for asteroid missions.
Who are the commercial actors?
Two US ventures have announced plans for asteroid missions, notably Deep Space Industries (www.deepspaceindustries.com) and Planetary Resources (www.planetaryresources.com).
Doesn’t the Outer Space Treaty specifically prohibit space mining by sovereign states as well as commercial entities?
Fact is that the Outer Space Treaty does not specifically refer to space resources. The prohibition deals with the exercise of sovereignty over the territories in space.
What is legally at issue?
Luxembourg is fully aware that the legal issue is not trivial. Luxembourg will therefore carefully explore the right way to support and promote space mining in a balanced and yet economically performing way.
The start of the project will have a rather scientific or research character, which is unproblematic under international law.
For later phases, proponents are operating under the assumption that near-Earth asteroids are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, a principle known from the International Telecommunications Union.
Are there legal analogies to existing activities on Earth?
An example could be fishing in international waters. Fishermen don’t own the water and they don’t own the fish, but they have the right to put the nets into the water and bring the fish onto the decks, and once the fish are there, they own the fish.
Is there existing legislation?
Existing international legislation was adopted in the 60ties when space mining was a science fiction. Today, it can be said that these rules prohibit any appropriation of space and celestial bodies, but not of the materials which can be found there.
What is the problem with the existing legislation?
Current international agreements seek to bind space resource exploitation to what is termed a global regime. To set up such regime, it is not excluded that long lasting and cumbersome negotiations would have to take place preventing the fast start of the mining activities.
However the Outer Space Treaty recognizes the right to explore and use outer space, provided that such a right is exercised in a manner consistent with the other principles of the Treaty.
Where does the U.S. stand on the issue of asteroid mining?
The United States « Space Act of 2015 » facilitating private development of space resources consistent with US international treaty obligations, passed the US House of Representatives in July 2015 and the US Congress in November 2015. President Barak Obama subsequently signed it into law
The Space Act 2015 notably states:
A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource… shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.
The bill specifically excludes ownership of asteroids themselves, which would violate international treaties.
What is the view of the legal community on the above law?
The International Institute of Space Law (http://www.iislweb.org/) on 20.12.15 adopted a Position Paper on Space Resource Mining. The paper notably states:
“In view of the absence of a clear prohibition of the taking of resources in the Outer Space Treaty one can conclude that the use of space resources is permitted. Viewed from this perspective, the new United States Act is a possible interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty. Whether and to what extent this interpretation is shared by other States remains to be seen.
This is independent from the claim of sovereign rights over celestial bodies, which the United States explicitly does not make (Section 403). The purpose of the Act is to entitle its citizens to these resources if “obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States”. The Act thus pays respect to the international legal obligations of the United States and applicable law on which the property rights to space resources will continue to depend.
It is an open question whether this legal situation is satisfactory. Whether the United States’ interpretation of Art. II of the Outer Space Treaty is followed by other states will be central to the future understanding and development of the non-appropriation principle. It can be a starting point for the development of international rules to be evaluated by means of an international dialogue in order to coordinate the free exploration and use of outer space, including resource extraction, for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.”
According to critics, the new U.S. law is nothing but a classic rendition of the "he who dares wins" philosophy of the Wild West.
Luxembourg is carefully considering these discussions. While there may be similarities in U.S. thinking, the Luxembourg Government prefers to liken potential legal similitudes to deep-sea fishing in international waters: Fishermen don’t own the oceans and they don’t own the fish, but they have the right to put nets into the water and bring fish onto their ship decks. And once the fish are on deck, they own the fish.
What happens if multiple countries pass a similar law to the U.S. and companies from around the world want to mine the same asteroid?
These countries would need to discuss and find a bilateral or multilateral solution. It would be in the interest of all involved players. Luxembourg will encourage bilateral and multilateral agreements between the concerned countries to find a way to deal with this. One solution to investigate is to follow the example of the International Telecommunications Union, regulating the access to the frequency spectrum and orbital positions on the geostationary arc.
Luxembourg and the quest for the use of space resources
Why does the Luxembourg government envisage undertaking this new initiative?
It is the aim of the Luxembourg government’s initiative and reflections to support mid- to long-term opportunities for the commercial use of space resources. By creating an attractive framework and by supporting the sustainable economic development of new activities in the space industry, the Government once again selects space as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg.
What is the economic rationale?
Ultimately, in the long-term, the innovative use of space resources could lead to a thriving new space economy and support the path of human expansion into our solar system.
In the short- and medium-term, the Luxembourg Government also sees return opportunities in the traditional space sector and other terrestrial industries. The synergies with research and development activities in various fields such as communications, additive manufacturing, earth observation, robotics, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing promise to deliver significant socio-economic benefits.
Why does the Luxembourg Government lead this initiative?
Similar to the private broadcasting and satellite communications visions formulated decades ago and successfully implemented by the Grand-Duchy, these reflections may lead to a new chapter in the government’s continued efforts to diversify the national economy and to further develop the national space sector in the short-, medium- and long-term. It is also in line with recently announced Government initiatives to propel the country into a Third Industrial Revolution.
When was the project initiated?
The Government of Luxembourg had first exchanges on this subject in 2013 with NASA’s Ames research center in California. Luxembourg Government representatives attended a workshop entitled “The Economics of NEOs” held at the Ames Research Center of NASA in September 2014.
Subsequently, regular meetings took place, also with private US companies that are already active in this sector. These different exchanges have led to the organization of a follow-up workshop on this subject that took place in March 2015 in Luxembourg.
Luxembourg’s Council of Ministers subsequently gave its go-ahead to investigate this subject in more detail in June 2015.
Who is involved at Government level?
The initiative is led by the Ministry of the Economy respectively the Directorate of Space Affairs in cooperation with several other Ministries (Foreign Affairs, Justice, Media and Communications). Coordination takes place through an Inter-ministerial Task Force.
Is the Luxembourg government in discussions with private entrepreneurs in the field?
Yes, representatives of the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy have had discussions with a number of private actors.
Deep Space Industries (DSI), a US asteroid mining company, chose already Luxembourg for its European subsidiary. DSI aims to change the economics of the space industry by providing technical resources, capabilities and system integration required for prospecting, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and marketing in-space resources.
Are national space agencies associated to the talks?
Yes, the Ministry of the Economy held an international workshop entitled “Towards the Use of Space Resources” on 20 and 21.3.2015 in Luxembourg. More than 120 participants attended the event from both the public and private sector. Major space agencies like NASA (US), ESA (Europe), JAXA (Japan), CNES (France) and DLR (Germany) were present. Luxembourg has also started specific discussions on that subject with ESA.
Is Luxembourg willing to invest in the sector?
Luxembourg may consider public-private partnerships to support the launch of innovative new space activities in the country. As a matter of fact, we have already established the PPP model as one of the pillars for development in the Luxembourg economy. The development of the Luxembourg satellite and space segment cluster is a perfect example of successful private public partnerships creating jobs and a real economic impact. One of the countries biggest successes in space was the government-supported SES created in 1985, which is today the largest commercial satellite operator in the world. A recent example is the LuxGovSat jointly operated by the global satellite operator SES and the Government to acquire, launch and operate a satellite for the provision of governmental and military communication services. In the same spirit, we want to replicate this success story in the space resources industry, with active participation of key stakeholders.
Why would Luxembourg, harbor ambitions of deep space mining?
Luxembourg actually looks back at a long tradition in terrestrial mining, dating back to 1850 with the birth of a major industrial basin. As a matter of fact, you could say that the First Industrial Revolution in Luxembourg is based on mining Earth. In 1913 the country was among the top ten producers of iron ore and pig iron in the world. Production record in 1957 is: 7.8 million tons. The steel crisis (1975) led to the closure of the last land mines on Luxembourg soil.
Will Luxembourg put claims on owning asteroids?
No, this would be contradictory to the country’s international obligations, notably the Outer Space Treaty to which Luxembourg is a signatory. Luxembourg will put no ownership claims on asteroids or other celestial bodies.
The country wishes to allow exploitation of space resources by companies properly licensed for the purpose of protecting international law and the interests of the general public on the basis of the freedom of space activities.
What can Luxembourg offer to support the exploitation of space resources?
Luxembourg is home to an increasingly important space sector as part of its continuous efforts to diversify the national economy. The countries first forays into space date back to the 1970’s as an active participant in the ITU’s international World Radio conferences which allocate geostationary orbital positions and the respective satellite communications bands. This culminated in the 1980’s in the creation of Europe’s first private satellite operator. The country became a full member of the European Space agency (ESA) in 2005. The space sector in Luxembourg today already employs some 750 people across some 25 companies and research institutes.
In combination with Luxembourg’s importance as an international Finance Center, a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual population which is steadily on the rise, its geographical location in the heart of Europe, and the governments declared ambition to provide an adequate legal and regulatory framework, Luxembourg aims to become « the space to be » for innovate new space applications as well as exploration.
Do you see synergies between Luxembourg as a Finance Center and the new Government initiative aimed at new space resources activities?
Certainly, the space sector in general and the exploitation of space resources in particular are financially highly demanding. As such, the new initiative offers real opportunities for the Financial Centre, for instance in developing new financing solutions, the funding of projects, the setting up of dedicated support programs, a.s.o.
The exploitation of space resources will prove to be highly data-intensive. Do you see synergies with existing data highway and storage facilities in Luxembourg?
As the utilization of space resources is very data-intensive, our state-of-the art ICT infrastructure, including over 20 highly secured data centers with excellent national and international connectivity coupled with very low latency, are among Luxembourg’s assets. Recently, Luxembourg decided to take part in the High Performance Computing Service and Competence Network, as a part of the European HPC roadmap.
Has the Ministry of the Economy conducted legal studies or sought legal opinion in order to ascertain the legality of its initiative as well as its conformity with the country’s international obligations?
Yes, the Ministry, in cooperation with renowned international space law experts, is currently conducting an extensive study of existing space law as well as the corresponding regulatory environment. The Ministry is comforted by expert legal opinion that, given the adequate regulatory framework, its initiative is fully consistent with existing space law.
What are the conclusions of these studies/legal opinions?
The preliminary results are as follows: There is room for an extensive interpretation of Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty, i.e. one that does not prohibit the acquisition of property rights over collected celestial bodies’ resources. Consequently a decision made by a State to license private space mining operations would not constitute per se a breach of its international obligations, provided that such an authorization is accompanied by appropriate supervisory mechanisms and that licensed operations do not undermine the rights of other Parties to the Treaty.
Does this constitute a conflict with any international treaty obligations Luxembourg has?
All actions will be conducted fully in line with the country’s international obligations, notably the Outer Space Treaty. The Moon Agreement has only been ratified by a limited number of States, not including any of the space-faring nations or Luxembourg.
Who would regulate such activities out of Luxembourg?
Luxembourg is analyzing the current national and international regulatory environment in order to elaborate the best approach to enable such activities while respecting its existing obligations. Reflections are ongoing on the mechanisms and procedures that would be required to supervise and control authorized space mining activities and on the entity that would perform such duties.
The US recently passed a law that states: A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource… shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess..
The US recently passed a law that states: A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource… shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States. Does Luxembourg plan to grant similar or identical rights to Luxembourg citizens or legal entities?
Luxembourg has not yet taken a decision on what exactly the appropriate legal and regulatory framework will look like. But everything will be done to ensure that commercial activities will be able to be implemented in most efficient way, while fully respecting the international obligations.
The U.S., it seems, is taking the position that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 permits "use"; this term is broad enough to cover mineral extraction and removal; and mineral extraction and removal does not constitute an act of "national appropriation.
The U.S., it seems, is taking the position that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 permits "use"; this term is broad enough to cover mineral extraction and removal; and mineral extraction and removal does not constitute an act of "national appropriation." Does Luxembourg share that opinion?
Yes, the Outer Space Treaty, to which Luxembourg is a Party, does not specifically talk about asteroids and thereby does not prohibit the use of asteroid resources. See also opinion of International Institute of Space Law (Question & answer 6.7)
Given the US’s new space act, what more has Luxembourg to offer to commercial entities willing to enter space mining?
Luxembourg aspires to become the European hub of the utilization of space resources”. The Government is dedicated to making this a success and willing to move fast to support corresponding commercial endeavors by devising an attractive framework. This framework will include a legal and regulatory regime providing clarity and assurance to the companies. In addition, Luxembourg will support the development of the companies through various financial instruments, including direct or indirect investments. Support to R&D activities will be granted through dedicated funding lines in the national space programme or optional programs at the European Space Agency.
Besides this dedicated measures, Luxembourg offers an open, diverse and stable economy, with top GDP performance, sound macroeconomic fundamentals, state-of-the-art infrastructures, access to a multilingual workforce, excellent connectivity to markets in the EU and worldwide, and a central location within reach of 60 % of total EU market in less than a day
Is Luxembourg considering offering tax advantages to such ventures?
No specific tax advantages will be granted to companies active in the utilization of space resources.
Is there a budget allocated to the initiative?
Yes, the Council of Ministers already allocated a budget for preparatory studies in a June 2015 Council meeting. In preparation of the Meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Space Agency in December 2016, the Government will also work out a dedicated budget line for research, development and innovation activities related to the utilization of space resources.
What is the amount of budget allocated?
At the meeting in June 2015, the Luxembourg Council of Ministers gave full support to the initiative. After the extensive study of existing space law as well as the corresponding regulatory environment in the upcoming weeks, the government will draw up a strategic plan of action till October of this year. According to this plan, the necessary public funding will be allocated to ensure its effective implementation.
The budget will be part of the national space R&D budget that will be defined in the frame of the preparation of the Meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Space Agency in December 2016. The government will decide on new means for a wide range of new activities and initiatives, including this one. It can be expected that the budget for the support of research and development activities targeting the utilization of space resources will match the ambitions.
Do you expect political opposition to the project within Luxembourg?
This cannot be excluded… However it is worth to recall that before the successful creation in 1985 of SES – at that time more commonly named ASTRA – the leader of the then political Opposition called ASTRA “a danger for Luxembourg, and a danger for Europe”. This during a public parliamentary hearing, and on the record….
SES is today the world’s leading satellite operator, worth EUR 12 bn + on the stock-market. Without initial Luxembourg Government support it would not exist.
Is the Grand-Duchy using orbital resources already today?
Yes, the country has been actively exploiting space resources in the form of geostationary orbital positions under the auspices of the ITU since 1988 (launch of Europe’s first privately owned commercial communications satellite, ASTRA 1A, into the geostationary orbital position of 19.2 degrees East). Luxembourg-based SES today actively exploits 44 geostationary orbital positions around the globe.
Do you expect reactions/competition from other states in this potentially lucrative business?
The extraction of minerals from asteroids i.e. lifeless rocks hurling through space, far, far away from Earth, does not pose a threat to any particular nation nor the world.
Do we expect competition? Most probably yes. As the technology becomes more accessible, space launch prices more affordable, and more and more financial investors prospecting the field, there is bound to be competition.
What is your best guess as to the timing of a first mission?
First prospection missions to asteroids are expected within the next 5 years.
Do you expect any technological or even economic benefits from the initiative prior to a first mission?
Yes, there are significant opportunities for short-term valorization of the developed technologies. For example, one of the challenges facing the initiative is how to communicate with extraction devices far away from Earth. We would expect significant progress in communications technologies which could eventually lead to an ‘Internet in space’ which would greatly facilitate mineral extraction from NEO’s as well as ultimately human space travel.
Other advances are expected in additive manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, earth observation, etc. Many of the developed technologies will find application in existing space markets but also other terrestrial markets.
Why was Jean-Jacques Dordain at the press conference? Is the former Director General of ESA involved in the initiative?
Yes, Mr. Dordain is advising the Government to help steer the initiative.