US-Lux signing
Luxembourg Space Agency CEO Marc Serres shakes hands with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine after signing a space cooperation agreement Oct. 22. Also present were Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister Étienne Schneider (left) and Randy Evans, the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

WASHINGTON — Agreements with NASA and the European Space Agency are the latest steps by the government of Luxembourg to support its emerging space resources industry.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Marc Serres, chief executive of the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA), signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Oct. 22 to discuss potential collaboration in NASA’s exploration plans. That agreement outlined cooperation in several areas, from space-related applications to utilization of space resources.

The MOU stems from a separate space cooperation agreement between the governments of Luxembourg and the United States signed in May. “Our aim is to really develop together all kinds of new activities in space,” Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister of Luxembourg, said in an Oct. 22 interview during the 70th International Astronautical Congress.

The agreement is part of a broader effort to build links between the space industries of the two countries. “We’re trying to bring U.S. companies together with Luxembourg-based companies and see how they can cooperate,” he said. That cooperation, he added, could allow American companies to work on ESA programs and have Luxembourg companies participate in NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the moon.

The NASA agreement comes four days after Luxembourg announced a separate partnership with ESA to study cooperation on space resources. As part of that work, LSA will establish a Space Resources Research Center in the country.

That center will build upon the existing work with institutes and the University of Luxembourg. “We came to the conclusion that, in order to really progress in research in space resources, we should have a proper space resources research center,” Schneider said. “ESA is very much interested in cooperating with this research center.”

That ESA support, he added, is pending a decision by member states to fund ESA’s proposed European Exploration Envelope Programme at the upcoming ministerial meeting in late November. “We hope to get the support of member states to get ESA on our side developing this,” he said.

Luxembourg started its initiative in 2016, at a time when there was strong interest in asteroid mining by startups like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources. Luxembourg’s support included an investment in Planetary Resources and an MOU with Deep Space Industries, but both companies have since been acquired by other companies with no asteroid mining plans.

That has not slowed down the overall effort, Schneider said, which includes passage of a law granting companies in the countries rights to space resources they acquire, as well as the establishment of LSA last September. The agency expects to launch a venture capital fund by the end of the year, while the government will consider a new comprehensive national space law in 2020.

Schneider said that the initiative has led about 50 companies to establish offices in Luxembourg, with more than 150 other companies in the pipeline. However, he added, very few of them are as focused on space resources as those earlier asteroid mining companies, with most being more general entrepreneurial space companies.

“If you focus on space mining, you will not have revenues for many years,” he said. “You need to have short-term initiatives as well to make some money on the way.”

Schneider said that the demise of Planetary Resources in particular, which led the government to lose 12 million euros ($13.4 million) invested in it, did not have any long-term repercussions for the initiative. “Since the beginning, I’ve said this initiative is high risk,” he said. “You have to accept that sometimes you’ll fail. It’s not a dramatic situation. It’s life.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...