Luxembourg Is Planning to Be the First Country to Adopt Asteroid Mining
Cosmic objects like asteroids aren't just big rocks threatening the future of civilization in blockbuster sci-fi flicks (and, sometimes, in real life). They are chock full of water, precious metals like iron, nickel, and cobalt, ore, silicon, and a wide variety of other elements and substances. They are, in the eyes of some, solid chunks of potential profit hurtling through space. Luxembourg, a small country in Europe located near Belgium and France, has, for the past few years, been exploring the potential for space mining. Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg's minister of the economy since 2012, has made it a priority to work in collaboration with Pete Worden of NASA's Ames Research Center on this goal.
While skeptical of the practicality of such a venture at first ("I thought this was all science fiction"), Schneider has realized that space mining isn't a pipe dream anymore: "The question was not if that all would happen, but when. And there I saw a huge opportunity for Luxembourg." Schneider became confident, through his relationship with the research center, that space mining could help to build the economy of Luxembourg. But Schneider isn't just interested in a lucrative business opportunity: to create long-term, sustainable profitability within the country, Schneider is putting legislation in place, starting August 1st, that gives mining companies rightful ownership to whatever they might mine from asteroids or other cosmic objects. This will establish Luxembourg as an ideal location for such companies and create a hub for all space mining-related activities.
To Schneider, this is part of the country's strategy to stay relevant for the future: "Luxembourg is such a small country that we always have to reinvent ourselves and take on a certain risk to succeed." Previously, in the 1980s, the country invested in the first private European satellite operator (quite heavily, as they own a piece of it). So, while a sudden interest and investment in space mining might seem odd for a small European country, Luxembourg's history validates it as a leader in innovation.
The prospect of advancing space mining is exciting and a little unnerving. Space mining could help to boost the economies of countries like Luxembourg who are willing and able to invest in such innovation. It could simultaneously advance our knowledge of cosmic objects, which could, in turn, advance the field of astrobiology. Astrobiologists have been on a long quest to better understand how life originated on Earth, which could later help us to identify and study extraterrestrial organisms. Many have thought that the elements and substances inside of asteroids helped to create the conditions to support the first life on Earth, and so space mining could improve upon this understanding.