The government of Luxembourg is moving forward with an ambitious plan to profit from asteroid mining by passing Thursday a law that defines the conditions companies must fulfill to obtain a licence for launching a space mining mission.

The bill, approved by a vast majority (55 votes against only two), makes the tiny nation the first European country to offer a legal framework ensuring private capitals their rights over resources they mine in space, the government said.

The legislation, over 18 months in the works, is part of Luxembourg’s SpaceResources.lu initiative, which goal is to boost exploration and the commercial utilization of resources from near earth objects, such as asteroids.

Before trying to become Europe’s hub for space mining, Luxembourg already had a long-standing space industry, which has played a significant role in the development of satellite communications.

The legislation, over 18 months in the works, defines the conditions companies must fulfill to get a licence for launching a space mining mission.

Luxembourg, one of the euro zone’s wealthiest countries, had been studying a possible involvement in the emerging space mining industry since 2013. But only in February last year it officially announced an initiative to promote the mining of asteroids for minerals.

A few months later, the government reached an agreement with a US-based company, Deep Space Industries, which will be conducting missions to prospect for water and minerals in outer space. Both parties are currently developing Prospector-X, a small and experimental spacecraft that test technologies for prospecting and mining near Earth asteroids after 2020.

Weeks later, in June last year, the nation announced the opening of a €200 million ($228 million at today’s rates) line of credit for entrepreneurial space companies to set up their European headquarters within its borders.

And in November, it bought a major stake in US-based asteroid miner Planetary Resources in a deal worth $28 million (€25 million at the time). The goal of the investment is to help the Redmond, Washington-based firm launch its first commercial asteroid prospecting mission by 2020.

Luxembourg’s approval of space mining legislation follows a similar move by former US President Barack Obama, who in 2015 signed a law granting American citizens rights to own resources mined in space.

But the only international legal body available dates back to 1967. The Outer Space Treaty, signed by the US, Russia and a number of other countries, says that nations can’t occupy nor own territory in space.

“Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States,” the treaty says, adding that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

Geologists believe asteroids are packed with iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars.

Luxembourg becomes first European country to pass space mining law

Some asteroids are packed with minerals valued in the trillions of dollars. (Image by MarcelClemens|Shutterstock.com)