The Luxembourg Government became the first European country to express serious interest in the potentially lucrative business of asteroid mining on Wednesday.
Some have gone so far as to say that asteroid mining could grow to become the world’s first trillion dollar business, but that still remains to be seen.
So far, Luxembourg and the US are the only two countries in the world who have begun to take legal action toward securing property rights for commercial companies who could, one day, collect rare and precious resources from asteroids.
Last November, President Barack Obama signed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law, which provides all private US companies the right of ownership over any non-living space resources it can retrieve, be them from asteroids or comets.
While Luxembourg has yet to establish any laws on this point, it’s taking definitive steps toward doing so. On Wednesday, the government announced in statement:
“Amongst the key steps undertaken, as part of the spaceresources.lu initiative, will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) such as asteroids.”
A lucrative business
The term Near Earth Object is used to describe any celestial body whose orbit crosses into Earth’s neighborhood.
This makes NEOs a popular target for aspiring asteroid mining companies – like the US companies Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries – who would rather have asteroids come to them than chase these objects across the solar system.
One step Luxembourg is considering that the US has not yet considered is directly investing in private companies looking to strike it rich in space. And Planetary Resources is excited at the prospect:
“We commend the Government of Luxembourg in leading the world by establishing this new resource industry, thereby enabling the economic development of near-Earth asteroid resources,” Chris Lewicki, who is the president and CEO of Planetary Resources, said on the day of the announcement. “Planetary Resources looks forward to working with Luxembourg.”
While scientists are still getting a handle on the exact chemical composition of asteroids, there’s evidence to suggest that these objects contain significant traces of a precious chemical element called platinum, which is used in everything from turbine engines to jewelry.
Right now, platinum is going for $29,000 per kilogram. And according to a 2000 paper, a modest sized asteroid – about half a mile wide – could yield up to 130 tons of platinum, worth about $3.5 billion.
NASA estimates that about 879 near-earth asteroids – at least 0.6 miles across – exist. While that’s potential for a lot of wealth, companies still have to develop the technology to mine these asteroids, and then purchase a rocket to transport that technology to space, which isn’t cheap.
Time will tell if these ambitious companies succeed in their endeavors. However, it’s safe to say that they’ve at least gotten the attention of wealthy countries like the US and Luxembourg that could help pave the way toward a future for space miners.