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Space mining law comes into force in Luxembourg, guaranteeing future mineral rights

Luxembourg’s new space mining law comes into force today, making it the first country in Europe to offer a legal framework to ensure that private operators can be confident about their rights regarding any resources they extract in space.

The country is already working to make this science fiction-like mission a reality, the deputy prime minister said.

The law is based on the premise that space resources are capable of being owned by individuals and private companies and establishes the procedures for authorising and supervising space exploration missions. 

“When I launched the initiative a year ago, people thought I was mad,” Etienne Schneider said.

“But for us, we see it as a business that has return on investment in the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term,” said Schneider, who is also Luxembourg’s economy minister.

In June 2016, Luxembourg set aside €200m (£179m) to fund initiatives aimed at bringing back rare minerals from space.

While that goal is at least 15 years off, new technologies are already creating markets that space mining could supply, said Schneider.

He said firms could soon make carrying materials to refuel or repair satellites economically feasible or supply raw materials to the 3D printers now being tested on the International Space Station.

Lifting each kilogram of mass from Earth to orbit costs between €10,000 and €15,000 according to Schneider, but firms could cut these costs by recycling the debris of old satellites and rocket parts floating in space.

The small European country, best known for its fund management and private banking sector, will begin the work of making such deals shortly with the security of a legal framework in place, said Schneider.

Luxembourg has already managed to attract significant interest from pioneers in the space mining field, such as US operators Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, and also aims to attract research and development projects to the country.

A similar package of laws was introduced in the United States in 2015 but only applies to companies majority owned by Americans. Luxembourg’s laws will only require the company to have an office base in the country.

“I am already in discussions with fund owners for more than one billion euros which they want to dedicate to space exploration over here in Luxembourg,” Schneider said.

“In 10 years, I’m quite sure that the official language in space will be Luxembourgish.”

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