The Strategist

Luxembourg to become a trailblazer of asteroid mining

11/11/2016 - 14:15

In recent years, Luxembourg appeared on the world scene only with news about banking secrecy and dubious tax treaties. Now, however, this small European country is apparently pursuing a different glory of a pioneer in asteroid mining.

The country has already invested 25 million euros (185 million kroons) in US company Planetary Resources through state fund SpaceResources. Planetary Resources is one of two leading companies – developers of methods of metals and mineral resources production on asteroids of the solar system.

State Fund has acquired a capital of 1.5 billion kroons, and it should turn Luxembourg into a global superpower in this area.

It may sound like science fiction, but the project can be implemented very quickly, said General Director of Planetary Resources Chris Lewicki in a press release. 

"We are planning to launch the first commercial mission to conduct exploration work in 2020, and are looking forward to working with our European partners in this important new field», - he stressed.

The press release correctly states that presence of a Western country in the list of owners is a kind of breakthrough for innovative companies in such a speculative industry, says Danish-Norwegian lawyer Thorbjørn Lundsgaard, specializes in space law and, in particular, legal aspects of mining operations in space.

So far, only one country has shown bigger interest in the industry, which may almost entirely replace production of raw materials on the planet. This is the United States, which a year ago introduced the world's first state law on development of mineral resources in space.

"It is surprising that the United States and Luxembourg are two countries with a serious intention to invest billions into the industry."

The stake is great indeed. According to Asterank database, contains information on more than 600 thousands of asteroids, there is tens of thousands of billions of euro given prices for metals on Earth. 

As the Solar System developed, many asteroids collided with each other, and the collision was so great that now most of them are essentially compressed metal balls. This means that they contain large amounts of, for example, iron, nickel and cobalt.

One of eight asteroids, currently being considered by Planetary Resources, "may contain more platinum than has ever been mined in the world", the company said. 

Other asteroids mainly consist of ice, which is also important since the water can be used for fuel production. Flying in space and space colonies would become much cheaper if water and fuel could be extracted outside of the Earth.

On the other hand, high costs are yet to come. In September, the US space agency NASA launched a robotic drone, which in 2020 should reach the asteroid Bennu and gather about two kilograms of samples there. The mission will last for seven years at a cost of one billion dollars. 

If we find a way to mine minerals in space, then technologies will rush forward, and prices will fall. A successful project would mean astronomical profits.