Luxembourg pioneers property rights laws for planets and asteroids

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Luxembourg’s ambitions to become a leader in the nascent space mining industry moved a step forward as it adopted a new law to create property rights on planets and asteroids and govern exploration and use of space resources.

The economy minister, Etienne Schneider, said on Friday that Luxembourg had become the first European country to offer a legal framework ensuring that private operators can be confident about their rights over resources extracted in space.

The law will come into force on Aug. 1 and is based on the premise that space resources are capable of being owned. The country’s law also establishes the procedures for authorizing and supervising space exploration missions.

“Luxembourg is the first adopter in Europe of a legal and regulatory framework recognizing that space resources are capable of being owned by private companies,” Schneider said.

Luxembourg in June 2016 set aside 200 million euros ($229 million) to fund initiatives aimed at bringing back rare minerals from space.

In February last year it announced plans to become the first state in Europe to give legal clarity to the commercial exploitation of asteroids. A similar package of laws was introduced in the United States in 2015.

The draft legal framework forms a key part of the country’s strategy to aggressively pursue and encourage economic opportunities and the development of new parts of the space industry, including mining, the statement said.

Luxembourg has already managed to attract significant interest from pioneers in the field such as U.S. operators Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries and aims to attract research and development projects to set up there.

The small European country is best known for its fund management and private banking sector. However it has high ambitions for its role in encouraging space exploration, detailing its mission in the initiative.

Schneider said the country will build on its experience and strong track record in the satellite sector.

In 1985, a public-private partnership effort launched Société Européenne des Satellites, now the largest global satellite operator with headquarters in Luxembourg.

Under international mining law, mining in space is a contentious subject as international treaties call for exploration to be carried out for the benefit of all countries.

Schneider said Luxembourg continues to promote international cooperation on a future “governance scheme and a global regulatory framework for space resources” use.

“In line with this, the Grand Duchy recently signed a joint statement on future activities concerning missions to the asteroids, related technologies and space resources exploration and utilization with the European Space Agency (ESA),” he said.