Luxembourg has just passed its space resources law on Thursday 13 July 2017 – to enter into force on 1 August. Private operators will then be able to harvest resources in outer space. Enforcing this law, the Grand Duchy becomes the first European country to set a legal and regulatory framework that allows the exploration and commercial use of resources from Near Earth Objects (NEOs). We analysed why space resources exploration is the cornerstone of the country’s strategy to diversify its economy.
Luxembourg – 30 years of space history
Luxembourg hasn’t jumped into the space industry from nowhere. Indeed, the country bet on satellites 30 years ago – becoming the home of Europe’s first private satellite operator – SES. This strategy paid off as the company has become one of the world’s leading satellite firms.
The Luxembourg space industry is currently employing nearly 700 full-time employees. It’s also enriched with research institutes and some 20 companies which are members of the Luxembourg Space Cluster. In 2015, the industry contributed to about 2% of the country’s GDP, generating +1 billion euros.
What’s more, Luxembourg has joined forces with the European Space Agency to further study technical and scientific aspects of space resources exploration and utilisation activities.
Space resources – a high-potential market
Luxembourg space resources law is part of the government’s plan to further develop the space industry that the country has already identified as a high-potential market for its economy. It is also part of the economic policy initiative spaceresources.lu which aims to further develop the country’s private space sector. The new space legislation confirms the country’s strong commitment to becoming a European hub for the exploration and use of space resources.
Why exploiting celestial bodies?
Because the Earth is running out of resources, scientists focused on what outer space could bring to our industrialised planet. Indeed, celestial bodies can burst with precious and rare materials, e.g. platinum, and particularly with water. In fact, more than 15,000 NEOs – meteoroids, asteroids or comets – pass near the Earth. Many of which contain minerals, metals and volatile gases. According to experts, a 1-km asteroid can contain more than 2 billion tons of minerals. In comparison, the annual production of iron on Earth in 2015 was just over 3 billion tons. Needless to say, the opportunities are huge. The development of new technologies will be the first major source of opportunities to grasp the full potential of space resources.
Becoming a space nation
Space resources exploitation and management is an additional opportunity for the country to diversify its economy.
Becoming a hub for companies active in the space sector and more precisely for those interested in exploiting celestial resources, Luxembourg will fulfil its objective to provide high value-added services. Attracting such companies will undeniably create highly skilled jobs, e.g. engineers. On top of creating economic substance, these companies can nurture existing research centres, e.g. the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology or the university, attracting more and more qualified researchers and professors.
Space resources exploitation is a long-term vision project. But it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, we can make the most of our expertise as a global financial centre boasting political, economic and social stability to fill a gap in the existing global landscape. Short and medium-term benefits for the country include hosting space companies. Other concrete, positive impacts include applying technologies developed for space application to more concrete solutions. This may include robotics and Artificial Intelligence. We will take advantage of the full spectrum of new resources on the longer term. Based on the country’s assets and government reactivity, we strongly believe that Luxembourg is the ideal place to make it happen.
Yet, there are still several challenges to answer. This includes ensuring that international regulations connect together, knowing more on celestial bodies, defining the potential markets and services as well as providing the right incentives to make the right investments.
All in all, this legal framework gives worldwide space companies a major opportunity to set-up their operations in a business-friendly, innovation-driven country. So far, four companies have already set up in the Grand Duchy. And nearly 60 additional companies have shown interest in what Luxembourg can provide.