The race to mine space might very well run through the small nation of Luxembourg.
According to a report from CNBC, Luxembourg has an inside track to be a hub for the space mining industries thanks to experience gained by working with the global satellite sector and an welcoming regulatory market.
Two of the leading companies in the field have been operating for several years already: Deep Space Industries, based in Mountain View, CA, and Planetary Resources, based in Redmond, WA. Unlike the days of the Apollo missions, this new generation of exploration is being led by a private sector.
Luxembourg sees an opportunity to play host to entrepreneurs and start-ups with their sights on space, becoming the worldwide hub of the space mining industry in the process. Private space exploration is a brand new market with trillions of dollars in potential; the Federal Aviation Administration expects space tourism to be a $1 billion sector over the next several years. Meanwhile, noted experts like Neil deGrasse Tyson has said that the world's first trillionaire "will be the person who exploits the mineral content of metallic asteroids."
"Our goal is to put into place an overall framework for the exploration and commercial use of resources from 'celestial bodies' such as asteroids, or from the moon," said Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy.
Sandwiched by Germany, Belgium, and France, the country with a population of 582,000 and a per capita GDP of more than $101,000 is stable and largely politically neutral. Historically, it was a steel producer, but in more recent decades it is better known for private banking, low taxes, and, sometimes to the country's chagrin, as a tax haven; multinational companies use tiny Luxembourg for corporate tax avoidance much in the same way they use one of its neighbors, the Netherlands.
Luxembourg gained valuable experience in the mid-1980s with the commercial satellite industry. Up until that decade, satellites in space were government-funded or government-mandated. Luxembourg led the charge in the satellite communications industry when it launched Société Européenne des Satellites in 1985. Otherwise known as SES, it was Europe's first private satellite operator; today, Luxembourg's SES is the world's second-biggest commercial satellite operator.
In 2016 when Luxembourg established the Space Resources initiative and earmarked $223 million of its national space budget to provide early-stage funding and grants to companies working toward space mining. In the event more money is needed, Luxembourg "will be able to provide that money," Schneider said at a press conference announcing the funding in June 2016.
Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are already working closely with Luxembourg's government. The government contributed an undisclosed amount of R&D funding to Deep Space Industries. And in November 2016, Planetary Resources and Luxembourg struck a deal: $28 million in investment from the Grand Duchy in exchange for an undisclosed equity stake in the company. Planetary Resources doesn't disclose its total funding, but CEO Chris Lewicki said Luxembourg was “one of the largest investors” in the company’s Series A round.
“They believe it is a foundational business that will grow,” said Lewicki, a NASA veteran who was flight director for two Mars rover missions.