Spaceresources.lu: New space law to provide framework for space resource utilisation

Transcription of the press conference of 3 June 2016
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Xavier Bettel: Firstly, I would like to welcome all of you to this press conference to highlight the latest developments of the recently announced spaceresources.lu initiative.

I am joined today by Étienne Schneider, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. 

We hold this media event in the presence of Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of ESA, the European Space Agency, and Dr Simon Pete Worden, the former Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

They are both members of the Luxembourg Government Advisory Board on Space Resources, which met the first time today here in Senningen.

Its members are guiding the government in translating the spaceresources.lu initiative into relevant policies and their task is to advise the government on strategic issues and their implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The development of the entire space industry in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg over the last decades sends a very clear message: drawing on its success and proven expertise in the commercial satellite operations and services industry, Luxembourg aims to actively become a global leader in the exploration and sustainable utilisation of space resources.

During the press conference today, we aim to highlight the latest developments and present some major aspects of our strategy, which is divided into five parts:

The first one is to promote national and international political support.

The second one is to build an attractive legal and regulatory framework.

The third is to promote long-term public support through research and education.

The fourth is to offer dedicated support for research and development activities in Luxembourg.

The fifth is to provide funding through dilutive and non-dilutive funding.

Luxembourg joined the space adventure in 1985 through the creation of the Société Européenne des Satellites, a landmark for satellite telecommunications and now the major player in this sector. We should never forget that and be proud of the courage the politicians had at that time.

This initiative has not only led to the growth of SES, but also to the development of an entire space industry in Luxembourg. A number of companies are active in one or more of the space segments and fully engaged in research, development and service provision in areas such as satellite communications or infrastructure, microsatellites, electric propulsion, Earth observation, satellite-based air and marine traffic monitoring.

The second step in positioning the country in the space sector was Luxembourg's adherence in 2005 to the European Space Agency.   

Besides the development of opportunities combined with the technological capabilities of national actors, this membership has confirmed the commitment of my country to promote the Grand Duchy as a hub for innovative projects in advanced space technologies.

Besides several public research laboratories which are active in the space sector, Luxembourg is home today to highly advanced technology companies benefiting mainly from our state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure, excellent national and international connectivity, coupled with very low latency.

Together with Italy, Spain and France, Luxembourg has launched an initiative to develop a strong European High Performance Computing and Big Data ecosystem, as part of the European HPC roadmap. This issue is intimately connected to the use of space resources, which is very data intensive.

Luxembourg is eager to explore new opportunities that go beyond the boundaries of traditional business in the space sector. Luxembourg has proven in the past its open-minded and visionary mindset, which has culminated in new economic opportunities.

The spaceresources.lu initiative fits neatly into the government’s well-publicised objectives in the space sector:

First, to contribute to the generation of new economic value in Luxembourg.

Second, to consolidate and valorise the existing competencies in the domain of media and telecommunications, and to expand competencies in the sector.

Third, to contribute to the reinforcement of the competitive position of local industry and public research organisations in the space sector.

Similarly to the private broadcasting and satellite communications visions formulated decades ago and successfully implemented by the Grand Duchy, the space resources initiative constitutes a new chapter in the government’s continued efforts to generate new economic value and to further develop the national space sector in the short, medium and long term.

Mr Deputy Prime Minister, please, you take the floor.

Étienne Schneider: Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister.

Since Luxembourg announced last February that it was seeking to become the European centre for asteroid mining, events have moved rapidly and – I would also say – most excitingly.

After our announcement, we were contacted by a number of governments showing a distinct interest in potential synergies with activities in their respective countries.

The government discussed today with the advisory board, which came together for the first time today, the overall strategy to be implemented in different components and the corresponding actions as well.

We are building international political support for the initiative in particular and the use of space resources in general.

Luxembourg is willing to engage with other countries in cooperation agreements to build an international coalition for the promotion of the use of space resources. For that purpose, we are organising bilateral and multilateral meetings with relevant states. Some of these have happened already.

Luxembourg intends to play a key role in this process by participating in relevant forums on European and international levels in order to agree on a future international regime for space resource utilisation.

We are dedicated to working together with the international community in formal bodies such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and of course the European Space Agency, which I am chairing together with my Swiss colleague at the moment.

The sustainable use of space resources, in a respectful manner, and the issue of space debris are also important issues for Luxembourg that need to be addressed in the upcoming years.

Pete Worden and Jean-Jacques Dordain are – and that’s the least I can say – internationally known experts who will play an important role as ambassadors of the space resources initiative to international stakeholders, partners and investors.

A clear international regulatory framework for space resource activities is needed. Luxembourg aims to coordinate between other space-faring nations and interested states to find solutions for the current lack, respectively the out-of-date status, of the existing legal framework.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The existing international legislation was adopted in the 1960s when space mining was true science fiction. Today, proponents may argue that these rules prohibit any appropriation of space and celestial bodies, but not of the materials that may be found there.

In full respect of its international obligations, Luxembourg will strive to promote an attractive and internationally recognised legal regulatory framework supporting investments and growth opportunities for private ventures targeting the utilisation of space resources.

Simultaneously, Luxembourg aims to become the first European country to set out its own formal legal framework, which ensures that private operators working in space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract.

In cooperation with renowned international space law and policy experts, the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy has been conducting over the last months in conjunction with the University of Luxembourg an extensive study of existing space law as well as the corresponding regulatory environment.

The conclusions of the legal and regulatory study have been presented today to the advisory board and to the Luxembourg government. Two main options became obvious: pass a specific new law or adapt the existing legislation.

To create an environment of legal certainty, the Luxembourg government decided the enactment of a new comprehensive legislation regarding space mining activities.

This regulatory framework will ensure a stable legal environment for both companies and investors willing to undertake their commercial activities in Luxembourg.

Space resource-dedicated regulation licences will be issued under the new law and government supervision of the activities of operators and regulating their rights and obligations will be ensured by Luxembourg as a sovereign state.

The new space legislation will adopt a legal provision, which guarantees the operators the right to property of the minerals extracted in outer space in accordance with international law.

This guarantee will coherently enhance investor protection. There will be no conflict about the extraction or the use of minerals with present international law.

Luxembourg will offer an attractive overall framework for space mining activities, including – but not only limited to – the legal regime.

The government will resolutely continue to support private and public R&D in space technologies, in line with its established and recognised policy of continued support for Luxembourg’s ambitions to be within the top ten space-faring nations in the world.

We shall attract space research activities and technological capabilities to Luxembourg by offering international companies access to attractive different sources of funding. 

A good example of all these initiatives is our partnership with the asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries. DSI Europe will build in Luxembourg economic and technological substance by developing advanced products, systems and services focused on the utilisation of asteroid resources.

For its part, the Luxembourg government will provide funding for relevant R&D in this field, namely to build and operate a risk-reduction technology demonstration mission for small spacecraft asteroid exploration.

The funding will be sourced by the Luxembourg space programme LuxIMPULSE, the national R&D support programme, as well as from financing instruments of the public-law banking institution Société Nationale de Crédit et d’Investissement.

Planetary Resources is another US space mining company which has chosen Luxembourg to develop several activities focused on space hardware services, applied research and space services.

We will sign a memorandum of understanding with them setting out a cooperation in particular in the field of space resource utilisation and Earth observation.

Luxembourg is willing to invest in relevant R&D projects and the government is even considering direct capital investments in companies active in the field of space resources.

Drawing on the experience that Luxembourg made with SES, it is the intention of the government to encourage companies both from Europe and from outside of Europe to establish a presence in Luxembourg and to extend the competencies of currently existing companies of the national space sector.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the national and international level, the Luxembourg government sees in the long term in the development of space resource utilisation technologies many opportunities for traditional space – but also for other terrestrial – industries.

The synergies with research and development activities in various fields, such as additive manufacturing, robotics or artificial intelligence, promise to deliver significant socioeconomic benefits.

The innovative use of space resources could lead to a thriving new space economy and support the path of human expansion into our solar system. The in-space utilisation of materials might enable space tourism, energy from space and space exploration.

For instance, ice that can also be found on asteroids has tremendous value in space. Water can be turned into rocket fuel, allowing spacecrafts to refuel to extend their lifetime or long-distance flights to resupply and extend their trips.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

By creating an attractive overall framework and by supporting the sustainable economic development of new activities in the space industry, the government once again opts for space as a key high-tech sector for the Luxembourg economy.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Xavier Bettel: Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy.

Please, Mr Dordain.

Jean-Jacques Dordain: Thank you, Mr Minister.

I would like to make a few comments after the meeting of today, because with my colleague Pete Worden we have worked all day.

Just to repeat that, the way we take this initiative, the main goal is to attract entrepreneurs and investors in Luxembourg. That is very clear. It is to create jobs in Luxembourg.

And for doing that, first of all we consider that there is already a market. And the first market is the exploration programmes.

Because today, all the exploration programmes are constrained by the fact that we have to bring every litre of fuel, every litre of water, every kilo of hardware from planet Earth and that is a big constraint. The day we will be able to provide to the space explorers fuel, water and hardware made in space, coming from resources from space, will change totally the way exploration programmes will be implemented.

So there is a market.

Number two: Luxembourg will put in place a framework, an attractive framework, made of strong political support, as you can see. Not often in my career have I had a Prime Minister and a Vice Prime Minister supporting space. That is a demonstration of the political support.

There will be a legal framework. There will be a funding framework. But I would like just to insist on the fact that there will be also a lot of actions to attract students from universities, organising competition among international teams of students, to create the right expertise in Luxembourg. So that is it for the framework.

Number three: we have different actions to keep pace, because the pace is important. We have to act quickly and for that we have defined actions to be implemented within six months. We did already some results in six months, especially the framework and all elements of the framework and the instruments.

But also we have proposed to already announce an evaluation of the first achievements within three years to make sure that this is not an open-ended system. We need to see concrete achievements within three years and when I am speaking of concrete achievements, this is already projects and missions.

Number four: Since now I am associated with Luxembourg I can tell you that I have got a lot of interest from other countries in the world which are coming to me and asking me how I could help to have connections with Luxembourg. Also from big players – and not only from the space industry but also from the non-space industry – and especially the ones who are looking at terrestrial resources, the ones who are extracting resources on planet Earth and even offshore.

There is a lot of interest, because in the word ‘space resources’ the key word is ‘resources’, it is not so much ‘space’. This is opening the door to other resources.

And also from young entrepreneurs. There is a queue of young entrepreneurs ready to come to Luxembourg.

So I think that all that is a very positive signal. I think that the initiative is recent but there is already a lot of momentum and I think Luxembourg has a significant chance to become the global hub for space resources.

I am convinced of that.

Thank you.

Xavier Bettel: Thank you very much, Mr Dordain.

Dr Pete Worden: Thank you, Mr Prime Minister.

I am pleased and honoured to support Luxembourg space resources initiative as an advisor. As the former centre director at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, I was deeply involved in studies and analysis of lunar, asteroid and other near-Earth space resources.

From 2013 to 2015, NASA held several important meetings and workshops with experts from around the world, including representatives from Luxembourg. Particularly noteworthy – as Jean-Jacques Dordain noted – was the participation of mining experts from places like Canada and Australia.

In early 2015, a workshop was held jointly with the Luxembourg government. Based on significant opportunities, both near and long term, I am really pleased to see that Luxembourg has begun this critical initiative towards the commercial utilisation of space resources.

And since the initiative’s announcement earlier this year, I have spoken to a number of successful entrepreneurs from numerous nations including Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Japan, Poland and of course the United States. Some of the world’s most successful billionaires have recently postulated that much of our heavy manufacturing will move to space in the coming decades.

NASA has announced plans to send humans to Mars. The European Space Agency is talking about a lunar robotic village. And space agencies globally have indicated a road map that entails near-Earth exploration. And I believe the means to make these scientific missions possible, as Mr Dordain said, will be afforded by resources situated in space and will have a market value of many billions of euros.

But perhaps the most important aspect of Luxembourg’s space resources initiative is the excitement it is generating among young people across the world. Young scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Everywhere I go, I hear young people ask about these ideas. Recently, entrepreneurs from Poland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Colombia and Mexico, to name a few, contacted me and asked how they could get involved.

Now I come from Silicon Valley, but I am convinced the Silicon Valley for space resources and gateway to an unlimited future for resources for humanity will be here in Luxembourg.

Thank you.

Xavier Bettel: Thank you very much, Dr Worden.