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Image: Asteroid mining
An artist’s conception shows a spacecraft extracting materials from a near-Earth asteroid. (Credit: Spaceresources.lu)

Luxembourg intends to one day become a major hub for deep-space commercial operations.

The country announced Wednesday it plans to help foster the growth of an asteroid-mining industry. Luxembourg, with a population roughly the size of Albuquerque (562,000), said it is the first European country to provide the legal and regulatory framework to ensure asteroid prospectors retain ownership of the precious metals they extract.

Luxembourg officials also said the country will invest in research and development, as well as into companies already “active in the field.” The goal is to stimulate economic growth on Earth and “offer new horizons” in space exploration.

“Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space,” Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister, said in a press release. “We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries.”

An artist's rendering of the Arkyd 100 space telescope in orbit. The launch of the Arkyd 3 engineering demonstrator Monday is the first big step in Planetary Resources' plan to find and mine near-Earth asteroids.
An artist’s rendering of the Arkyd 100 space telescope in orbit. The launch of the Arkyd 3 engineering demonstrator Monday is the first big step in Planetary Resources’ plan to find and mine near-Earth asteroids.

The United States has already made similar moves. Last year, President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law. This recognizes the right of U.S. citizens to own asteroid resources they obtain. All these efforts are no doubt reminiscent of sci-fi. In the “Alien” trilogy, the famed protagonist, Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, hauled freight through space for a commercial operation.

But the effort to mine asteroids isn’t all that futuristic anymore. A growing number of companies are making preparations to cash in once the technological hurdles are overcome. One of them is Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources. Reacting to today’s announcement, Planetary Resources President and CEO Chris Lewicki said in a statement: “We commend the Government of Luxembourg in leading the world by establishing this new resource industry. … Planetary Resources looks forward to working with Luxembourg.”

Yet another asteroid-mining company, Deep Space Industries, already has offices in Luxembourg as well as Mountain View, Calif. “By opening up the resources of space, Luxembourg will help take the pressure off the Earth,” said Rick Tumlinson, DSI’s co-founder and board chairman.

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