Luxembourg's Government has invested 25 million euros in asteroid-mining firm Planetary Resources Inc, making it a key shareholder.
The investment was made via public-law banking institution “Société Nationale de Crédit et d’Investissement” (SNCI) and was agreed as part of Luxembourg's SpaceResources.lu initiative to mine resources from near earth objects such as asteroids.
The funds will be used to further the firm's technical advancements so that it can launch the first commercial asteroid prospecting mission by 2020.
This partnership follows a memorandum of understanding signed this past June to develop in Luxembourg activities related to space resource utilization. In May 2016, Planetary Resources, Inc. established a wholly-owned Luxembourg based subsidiary named Planetary Resources Luxembourg.
The public equity position is taken by the SNCI to become a minority shareholder and Georges Schmit, Government's Advisory Board member of the SpaceResources.lu initiative, joins Planetary Resources’ Board of Directors.
Prior to his current position, Georges Schmit was Consul General and Executive Director at the Luxembourg Trade & Investment Office in San Francisco, after being Director General for Enterprise Policy, Economic Development and Foreign Trade, Secretary General, and Director of Industry at the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade which he joined in 1981. From 1995-2002 he was Executive Chairman of the SNCI.
Planetary Resources, for its part, is strengthening the local space industry by developing several key activities exclusively in Luxembourg focused on propulsion development, spacecraft launch integration, deep space communications, asteroid science systems, Earth observation product development and mission operations.
Quelle: Luxemburger Wort
At the occasion of the 2017 Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Etienne Schneider visited the ESA pavilion and, together with ESA Director General, Jan Wörner, signed a joint statement on future activities concerning missions to the asteroids, related technologies and space resources exploration and utilisation.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the European Space Agency jointly agreed on the opportunity to further studying technical and scientific aspects of space resources exploration and utilization activities. To this aim ESA will undertake an analysis of the feasibility assessment and technical maturity of asteroids exploration and utilization. The analysis shall contribute to assess future missions, and in particular, at national level to help defining specific requirements related to the authorisation and the supervision by the State as well as regulatory matters.
Furthermore, this analysis will also contribute to Near Earth Asteroids classification, define methods to study the interiors of asteroids, look at multi-sampling technology, and address technologies for in-situ extraction and operations on asteroidal surfaces. It may also consider laboratory experiments with meteorites/ analogues as well as the conception of a virtual institute devoted to the science of asteroids and related technologies.
As any other ESA Member States so requesting, Luxembourg will be associated to the analysis as element of its SpaceResources.lu initiative that aims to offer an attractive overall framework for the exploration and exploitation of space resources.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Economy, Etienne Schneider declared:"The enhanced cooperation between Luxembourg and ESA is another significant milestone for our SpaceResources.lu initiative. It is the logical continuation of the collaboration we have had with ESA since the announcement of our initiative in February last year. The cooperation between ESA and Luxembourg joins the Grand Duchy’s commitment to helping the commercial sector realize its plans to develop space resources business. Luxembourg is ready and eager to support and nurture the growing number of commercial space initiatives, their many suppliers and customers – and the intrepid explorers that intend to make space mining a reality".
ESA Director General, Jan Wörner stated:"I am pleased of this opportunity to further enhance our cooperation with Luxembourg. Their initiative perfectly embodies my vision of Space 4.0 both as an example of and a driver in a new paradigm of conducting space activities."
By signing the joint statement, Luxembourg and ESA jointly recognized the benefits achieved by space exploration to the whole of humankind by furthering scientific knowledge, fostering technical innovation, inspiring the people and enhancing peaceful international cooperation. Moreover European accomplishments in space exploration foster European cohesion and identity and position Europe as an inspiring force globally. In this context, the important role of asteroids as potential resources to extend human presence in space as well as their potential risk of impacting Earth is jointly recognized.
Luxembourg has been cooperating with ESA for nearly 20 years now and has been an ESA Member State since 2005. At the latest ESA Council meeting at ministerial level Luxembourg increased its subscriptions also in fields associated with missions to Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and related technologies.
Conversely, ESA has been following with interest the Luxembourg’s SpaceResources.lu initiative. A joint Luxembourg / ESA working group has been meeting regularly to exchange information and prepare potential joint activities.
The Asteroid Science Intersections with In-Space Mine Engineering (ASIME2016) workshop held in September 2016 in Luxembourg with the support of the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy, Europlanet, the University of Luxembourg, and ESA was an example of cooperation to advance on understanding on the issues related to asteroid missions and the exploration and future utilisation of space resources.
Luxembourg is 'ready and willing' to invest, says Schneider
"When you mention the word Luxembourg in the international space community, everyone stops and wants to hear more," says Gary Martin, the former NASA Ames Director who has recently joined the Luxembourg Ministry of Economy as an independent advisor for its space affairs unit.
But people in the industry seem not only willing to hear more about Luxembourg, they are also heading to the country to attend the first ever NewSpace Europe conference.
Put bluntly, everyone interested in exploring the economic opportunities offered by space, SpaceX, GomSpace, ispace among many others, made sure to be in the Grand-Duchy on November 16 and 17.
In that sense, the government's wish has already become true. Luxembourg is shaping up to be an international meeting point and a European hub for the exploration and the use of space resources.
And the ambition doesn't end there.
Luxembourg's space dream
In his opening speech at the conference, Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider left participants in no doubt.
"Luxembourg is ready and eager to support and nurture the growing number of commercial space initiatives," he said.
Even more so, Schneider announced the launch of a space agency that would "take into account the needs of NewSpace companies". The agency will gather the private fund industry, venture capitalists and the government and will decide in which companies to invest.
"The Luxembourg government is even willing to invest into the more risky part of these businesses," added Schneider.
Luxembourg has committed to €200 million in funding for early-stage space ventures.
But perhaps for those who are are still left wondering why tiny Luxembourg is so keen on exploring and exploiting space resources, the answer is simple.
Luxembourg has always been focused on the future.
For Schneider, it has always been about "reinventing ourselves". He argued that the Grand-Duchy masters the art of combining "a liberal and extremely business-friendly climate with strong public support for innovation". So, focusing on the exploration and the use of space resources should be seen as a logical progression.
After all, Luxembourg has previously taken bets on industries that no one believed in at the time. Perhaps, space mining will turn out to be the new SES or will grow out to be Luxembourg's financial centre of tomorrow.
Seize the opportunity
In his speech, Schneider talked about 'recognising the opportunities' and acting on it.
"We have often been taking the world by surprise and have repeatedly demonstrated our strong ability to adapt and to take initiatives no one expected," he said.
And for the most part, Luxembourg is being praised for being a front-runner.
"It's great that Luxembourg is going in this direction...putting the country on the worldwide space map. I am really happy about that," says Johann-Dietrich Woerner, General Director of the European Space Agency (ESA).
"I welcome what Luxembourg is doing. It's the right way," he added.
The former NASA Ames director Gary Martin agrees. He believes Luxembourg is a small country, but a very agile one. It was this aspect that brought him to the Grand-Duchy, where he will be responsible for the creation and development of the local space ecosystem, involving national partners from research and academia.
Martin will be directly involved in the strategy of the SpaceResources.lu initiative and assist the Directorate-General for Research, Intellectual Property and New Technologies at the Ministry of Economy.
As Schneider noted, SpaceResources.lu was created 18 months ago to promote "the peaceful exploration and sustainable use of space resources" and provides a framework for such activities, including space mining.
Yet exploring space resources is not Luxembourg's first venture in space. It was over 30 years ago that SES was launched as a public-private partnership to become a global satellite operator based in the Grand-Duchy.
"In order to start SES, the Luxembourg government guaranteed the first launch, because no insurance was willing to do it," said the Deputy Prime-Minister.
"The guarantee represented 5% of the yearly government budget at that time, it was a "huge risk, he said, pointing out that the investment "paid out quite nicely".
Today the Luxembourg space sector amounts to 2% of the annual GDP and is one of the most dynamic in Europe.
Space mining law
Investing in space mining follows the same logic. And Luxembourg has taken the matter even further by passing the law on the mining and use of space resources last July.
The legislation, which puts Luxembourg at the forefront of European countries and second in the world, after the US, brings "key benefits" and "certainty" to companies and investors, according to Schneider.
"We confer to companies the ownership of resources they extract in space," he said.
"We now provide a unique legal, regulatory and business environment to all Luxembourg-based companies active in space technologies", he added, arguing that the approach is consistent with international law and in particular with the Outer Space Treaty.
Nonetheless, some voices in the business and academic communities are calling for more clarity on the laws governing space mining and the boundaries defined by the 1967 space treaty.
Luxembourg is also collaborating with a number of countries on the exploration of space resources and Schneider explained that Luxembourg authorities are advocating for cooperation on legal and regulatory matters as well as research and development (R&D).
Last June, Luxembourg signed a joined statement with ESA on future activities concerning missions to asteroids, related technologies and space resources exploration.
In October, Luxembourg signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Arab Emirates regarding the commercial exploration of space. Prior to that, a similar agreement was signed off with Portugal.
At the end of November, Luxembourg will sign an agreement around space activities with Japan, during a State visit, while discussions have also reached an advanced stage with China.
According to Schneider, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is also "willing to work with Luxembourg" at a European level.
"We are joining forces to accelerate the development of new space technologies. Luxembourg is being recognised as an "innovation leader," he said.
The Grand-Duchy will also deploy a Big Data Test Bed in the area of "Smart space" as part of a EU project in the field of Big Data enabled applications.
More commercial players
On the commercial side, seven companies active in space exploration and space resources have settled in Luxembourg since the launch of the SpaceResources.lu initiative, including US companies Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources as well as Tokyo-based ispace.
Blue Horizon - a subsidiary of the German space company OHB, Kleos Space - owned by a UK-based company and Sweden-based Gomspace have also set up entities in Luxembourg.
And the last one to join the local space ecosystem is Spire. Founded in 2012 in San Francisco, the satellite powered data company offers products for global ship tracking and high frequency weather data. Spire announced on November 15 it would open its European headquarters in Luxembourg and employs some 250 people.
"As every company registered in Luxembourg, they have access to national R&D grants, as well as to ESA programmes and funds," explained Schneider.
A 'win-win' situation
As Luxembourg is turning into the new space gateway for space exploration, the outcome of these activities are expected to be a 'win-win situation" for all.
"We are embarking upon a new phase which I hope will take mankind to the next level of civilisation and prosperity," he added.
Besides, "there is a chance the official language in space will be Luxembourgish", Schneider said upon leaving the stage.
So it turns out, conquering space will not only require specialised technical skills, it might also demand a higher number of Luxembourgish teachers.
Quelle: Luxemburger Wort