Is Luxembourg poised to dominate the asteroid mining industry?

3 Feb 2016

A growing cluster of businesses seem sure that asteroid mining has a massive future. But how can you capitalise on something that doesn’t yet exist? Well, getting backed by the state can help.

Asteroids flying around our solar system are chock-full of reserves we want. Iron, platinum, water, nickel, magnesium and even the odd precious metal like osmium and rhodium.

How do we access this? Well, through privatisation, pioneering and some very forward-thinking mining companies. And the thinking is that the industry is worth more money than you knew existed.

An example of what we’re talking about here: last summer an asteroid flew by Earth that was estimated to be worth $5trn, due to its composition – it was made almost entirely of platinum.

Focus on space

Companies like Planetary Resources have been established with the sole purpose of mining asteroids.

In the US, Barack Obama has gone so far as signing an act to ensure a ‘finders’ keepers’ rule for companies or citizens looking to profit from wayward rocks.

And now, Luxembourg has decided to take its stance, with the help of SES, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.

According to Luxembourg news source Wort, the economy minister Etienne Schneider has been working on the project in secret since visiting NASA’s research centre in August 2013.

“I am convinced there is great scientific and economic potential in Luxembourg’s vision,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the ex-director-general of the ESA, who is working on the project.

“We know how to get to asteroids, how to drill into them and how to get samples back to Earth.”

Costly endeavour

You have to speculate to accumulate though and, when it comes to asteroid mining, that speculation sounds extortionate.

NASA is budgeted up to around $1bn for its September OSIRIS-REx mission, which will recoup 60 grams of material from Bennu.

There are thousands of near-Earth asteroids, some more valuable than others. So, who knows, in a few hundred years maybe Luxembourg will be the mining powerhouse of a new industrial space age.

“At the end there could be a market worth trillions,” said Dordain. When that end is, though, is very hard to predict.

Asteroid image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic