Luxembourg is officially going to go into space to mine minerals from asteroids — and it’s going to have Google founder Larry Page and others to help the country out.
Luxemburger Wort, one of the country’s newspapers, reported that Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Etienne Schneider told reporters late Wednesday night that the government will work with one of the world’s largest satellite operators SES — which he helped set up a decade ago — and two US companies to help make it happen.
Apparently, the two US private companies are Planetary Resources, which was founded by Google founder Larry Page, and Deep Space Industries, which is trying to develop the ability to send tourists into space. But it has taken over two years to get these private companies on board as Luxembourg’s Schneider first started working on the project in secret after visiting NASA’s research centre in August 2013.
In November last year, P
resident Barack Obama signed legislation that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon.
The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 says that any materials American individuals or companies find on an asteroid or the moon is theirs to keep and do with as they please.
While the Space Act breaks with the concept that space should be shared by everyone on Earth for scientific research and exploration, it establishes the rights of investors to profit from their efforts, at least under US law.
“I am convinced there is great scientific and economic potential in Luxembourg’s vision,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the European Space Agency
to the Financial Times in another report.”We know how to get to asteroids, how to drill into them and how to get samples back to Earth.”
But although the technology seems to be there and ready to be used for space mining, the cost of the project means it is obvious why the Luxembourg government wanted rich, private investors.
For example, it is estimated to cost NASA $1 billion just to bring back 60 grams of asteroid mineral from the OSIRIS-REx mission.
Dordain told the FT that he reckons the Luxembourg project will cost “tens of billions of dollars” but the pay off could be enormous. He says that “at the end there could be a market worth trillions.“
Asteroids might not look like much on the outside but actually they’re packed full of rare and precious materials.
Underneath the surface of some asteroids is a treasure trove of a type of mineral, called platinum, that is rare on Earth but extremely lucrative — 1,000 cubic centimeters of platinum is worth close to $1 million.
And this particular one, called asteroid 2011 UW-158, is thought to harbor anywhere from$300 billion to $5.4 trillion worth of platinum and other precious metals and materials. Astronomers can estimate this by studying the object’s size as well as its general composition with instruments called spectrometers that measure the intensity of light from an object.
Asteroid mining could be an extremely useful business for agencies like NASA, which hopes to capture an asteroid and bring it in orbit around the Moon soon enough for future astronauts to visit it and collect samples by as early as 2025.
NASA says that the materials frozen in 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.”