I posted a couple weeks ago about Luxembourg’s developing legal framework for private space exploration (specifically, mining space resources); the law went into effect today, August 1 (with at least one news outlet reporting it is more liberal than the 2015 SPACE Act provisions as it eases domestic registration requirements). Reuters has a report out that the country is coming out swinging, courting companies and looking to make deals even if the technology is a few years away. Two notes from this article: (1) it notes one measure of the cost of launching 1 kg of weight from Earth into orbit (and argues these costs can be brought down by recycling rocket and satellite components), and (2) offers this fun quote at the end from the Economic Minister: “In 10 years, I’m quite sure that the official language in space will be Luxembourgish.”
The law permitting private commercial actors to exploit space resources is a first for Europe, and follows America’s lead.
Forbes reports that Luxembourg’s Parliament approved a law permitting commercial entities to exploit space resources (resources such as water and minerals found in space). The appropriation of resources found in outer space is a major topic of contention in the legal industry.
While technical challenges remain, a legal framework for private actors reaching, utilizing, and owning materials in space (such as commercial mining of asteroids or other celestial bodies) will be imperative. Though we won’t see mining on any asteroid for awhile, it is only a matter of time.
These types of law are not without contention. Some contend that they run afoul of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, a foundational document in space law. That document states, at Article 2, that “[o]uter space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
I’ve gotten opinions across the board on this provision. Some adamantly hold that this bars ownership or appropriation only by national governments. Others view this law as prohibiting any actors, including individuals and companies.
Recall that the United States passed legislation in 2015, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (I’ve sometimes seen it called the SPACE Act (for “Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship” Act)). While dealing largely with commercial space transportation (its own complex and important area), that legislation also provided for “exploration” and “recovery” of space resources by private actors.
Want some further reading? Planetary Resources has an OpEd with Space Watch about gulf countries getting involved in space mining. Beyond capturing the public imagination, space mining and the ability to exploit space resources is a real topic being heavily investigated and even invested in by private companies.