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Planetary Resources telescope
An artist’s view shows one of Planetary Resources’ telescopes in orbit. (Credit: Planetary Resources)

Planetary Resources says it will start ramping up an international asteroid-mining subsidiary in Luxembourg by the end of the year – and will think about expanding operations to other locales as well.

The Luxembourg deal was announced last week, but many of the details are still to be determined, said Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president and CEO.

To refresh your memory from geography class, Luxembourg is a tiny nation wedged between Belgium, Germany and France. It’s more than 5,000 miles away from Planetary Resources’ headquarters in Redmond, Wash. So, why Luxembourg?

“We are looking at things that amplify our presence in Seattle,” Lewicki told GeekWire today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference. By the end of the year, Planetary Resources plans to work out the details and make a “handful of hires,” he said.

Money is a big factor: Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, the government of Luxembourg will consider taking a minority stake in Planetary Resources’ European subsidiary through a state-owned investment bank. Luxembourg also has agreed to provide an economic development package worth €25 million ($28 million) to support the European operation, Lewicki said.

The package is part of Luxembourg’s €200 million ($225 million) initiative to invest in ventures that aim to make use of space resources, including near-Earth asteroids. Last month, Luxembourg made a separate deal to support research and development for an asteroid-prospecting project that’s being pursued by Deep Space Industries, which has its primary offices in California and Luxembourg.

Planetary Resources recently raised $21 million in private investment for the development of an Earth-observation satellite system called Ceres. In the short term, Ceres could bring in revenue. In the longer term, the satellites could blaze a trail for identifying promising asteroids.

Eventually, Lewicki’s company plans to send robotic spacecraft to those asteroids and extract valuable materials – starting with water, which can be turned into rocket fuel and other essentials for space travelers.

Planetary Resources Luxembourg is likely to help Ceres and future space-mining operations go global, Lewicki said. He joked that having a European operations center would avoid the need to “have folks in Seattle take the night shift.”

Within three or four years, Lewicki expects the Luxembourg operation to grow to around 50 employees. That’s roughly equal to Planetary Resources’ current total employment. By then, significantly more employees should be working in Redmond, Lewicki said.

Will Luxembourg serve as a model for other international space-mining subsidiaries? “It’s hard to say,” Lewicki said.

“There are a lot of business activities that happen where states or cities or municipalities incentivize a sports arena to be built,” he said. “Government is just doing this with a different type of business. They’re incentivizing or creating a particular type of industry in their country, and I expect others to try and follow suit.”

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