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Luxembourg proposes mineral mining from asteroids

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February 4
8:42 AM 2016

Luxembourg is the first European country to express its intention to go out into space and exploit the asteroids for minerals and metals. Of course, this endeavor will not be possible without some strong supporters, which is why the country has roped in Google founder, Larry Page.

As Business Insider points out, Luxembourg has already left its mark in this field, with the establishment of SES, one of the largest satellite operators in the world, some 30 years ago. Two private US companies had helped Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, Etienne Schneider, set up the satellite operator; these were Planetary Resources, founded by Page, and Deep Space Industries, an establishment with a goal to send tourists to space. It had taken Schneider almost two years to convince these companies to get on board with his mission.

Its current goal now is to build a space industry, SpaceResources.lu, which will house a legal framework, mapping out the rights of the private operators who extract minerals from outer space. Luxembourg is keen to join hands with the US and European commercial collaborators to breathe life into this seemingly futuristic plan. The country is ready to invest in all the necessary research and development projects, as well as provide financial backing to companies associated with the plan.             

The opportunities seem huge. The minerals that are scarce in the Earth are found aplenty in these mineral-rich near-Earth objects or NEOs which are mainly concentrated between Earth and Mars. Asteroids house metals and minerals that are much richer in their make than those found in our planet. Unearthing them and bringing back to earth could trigger huge costs but, in the long run, reap even bigger benefits.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency, told Financial Times that he believes "at the end there could be a market worth trillions." He had also stated, "I am convinced there is great scientific and economic potential in Luxembourg's vision." Even though the idea seems far-fetched, he says the basic technology and logistics are present. "We know how to get to asteroids, how to drill into them and how to get samples back to Earth."

The Luxembourg government announced on Tuesday that the national space budget will now allocate some amount to fund the SpaceResources.lu initiative that aims to stimulate the economic growth on Earth and expand the horizons of space exploration. The Financial Post reveals the goals for the new project as stated by the deputy prime minister. "Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats. We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg. At first, our aim is to carry out research in this area, which at a later stage can lead to more concrete activities in space."

This could mean an extremely profitable venture for establishments like NASA as well, which plans to get an asteroid to orbit around the Moon in order for its astronauts to access it and bring back mineral samples by 2025. NASA is confident that the minerals and metals cooled on the crust of these asteroids could "be used in developing the space structures and in generating the rocket fuel that will be required to explore and colonize our solar system in the twenty-first century." 

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