The Luxembourg Government announced a series of measures on Feb. 3 that will boost asteroid mining and the visionary use of space resources, according to a statement from the country’s Ministry of the Economy.
It’s the stuff of George Lucas, Jules Verne and James Cameron.
Yes, James Cameron, the film director of Titanic, The Terminator and Avatar, among other Hollywood blockbusters — and who’s also backing a company called Planetary Resources Inc.
In early-2012, Seattle-based Planetary Resources revealed that it planned to mine asteroids for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Asteroids can contain iron, nickel, cobalt, water and platinum group metals (PGMs), often in significantly higher concentration than found in mines on Earth, noted the company.
“We commend the Government of Luxembourg in leading the world by establishing this new resource industry, thereby enabling the economic development of near-Earth asteroid resources,” said Chris Lewicki, president and CEO of Planetary Resources, who added that his company “looks forward to working with Luxembourg.”
Lewicki was closely involved with the lifecycle of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers and the Phoenix Mars Lander.
Among the key steps, as part of Luxembourg’s spaceresources.lu initiative, “will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) such as asteroids.”
The mission “is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats,” said Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy. “We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg.”
Luxembourg already has a track record in related sectors, with satellite operator SES, established in in the country 30 years ago and now a major global player in its field.
Targeting liftoff for platinum
According Planetary Resources, a single 500-meter asteroid may contain the equivalent of all the platinum group metals mined in history.
“Because PGMs are ‘iron loving’, when the Earth formed, they all gravitated towards the core,” Planetary Resources explains on its website. “As a result, platinum does not actually occur naturally in the Earth’s crust — all platinum mines on Earth today are the result of asteroid impacts or igneous magma chamber intrusions.”
Right now, platinum holds strong enough value — about $860/oz — that Planetary Resources sees long-term potential to economically return platinum group metals to Earth.
“Such access to a new, abundant supply source would disrupt current price levels and serve as a catalyst for significant innovation,” the company says.
US also nearing the launch pad?
In late November 2015, President Barack Obama signed the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) into law. This law recognizes the right of US citizens to own asteroid resources they obtain and encourages the commercial exploration and utilization of resources from asteroids.
“This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” said Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources at the time. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space.”
Republican presidential contender Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also lauded the legislation’s passage last fall. “The reforms included here make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space and will help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before,” he said. “I’m proud the final bill includes proposals I had previously introduced in the Senate, including one related to commercial recovery of space resources. This bill is an important win for Florida’s space coast and the entire space exploration community.”
China in the space resource race
In 2013, China became the third nation to land on the surface of the moon. In recent days, the government has released some spectacular images from its Chang’e 3 lunar lander and rover.
In 2017, China plans to launch the Chang’e 5 to land on the moon and return with soil samples.
In 2018, China aims to land on the far side of the moon with the Chang’e 4. If successful, that mission would make China the first country to land there. What’s more, according to reports, the 2018 mission will be the first one in the history of China’s space program to be partially funded by private investors.
The US Apollo and Russian Luna missions revealed that several elements were in abundance on the moon — including iron, aluminum, titanium, manganese, magnesium, and silicon — which could explain commodity-hungry China’s race to the far side.
And there are other proposed missions to the far side of the moon: the crowd-funded Lunar Mission One, and the Russian and European Space Agency jointly-planned Luna 27.
If it all sounds far-fetched and far off, in the 1980s, how many of us thought we’d be talking into our watches or seeing cars drive themselves?