There's a trillion-dollar business opportunity open for the taking--but you're going to have to land on an asteroid to get it.
In 2015, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson predicted that the mining of asteroids for metals like gold and platinum would produce the world's first trillionaire. Last week, Google co-founder Larry Page announced through Planetary Resources, a company in which he is an investor, a plan to pursue the exploitation of metallic asteroids in partnership with asteroid-mining company Deep Space Industries and the European country of Luxembourg.
Why Luxembourg? The tiny tax haven lodged between Belgium, France, and Germany is the first European country to establish a legal framework allowing private operators to claim the rights to resources extracted from space, according to a statement from the Luxembourg government. Believe it or not, President Barack Obama signed a law in 2015 that gives the U.S. ownership of any space rocks brought to Earth by a U.S. citizen, reports Mic, an online news publication directed at Millennials.
Luxembourg will also invest in research and development related to asteroid mining and look for direct investment opportunities into asteroid-mining companies.
"Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats," Luxembourg deputy prime minister Etienne Schneider said in a statement.
The asteroid-mining budget will be part of the national space budget Luxembourg will set as a part of its contribution to the upcoming multiannual budget of the European Space Agency, which will be determined in December 2016.
Schneider has reportedly been planning to launch a space-mining program since 2013, when he visited a NASA research center. NASA itself is planning to launch its Osiris-Rex "asteroid sample return mission" in 2016, Mic reports. The budget for the trip, which is expected to bring back 60 grams of asteroid matter, is estimated to be roughly $1 billion.
Banking a cool trillion on a single asteroid-mining trip is unlikely, however. Deep Space Industries pegged the value of an asteroid that flew by Earth in 2013 at just $195 billion in metals and propellant.
Still, the benefit of mining in space is not just monetary. Alleviating the dependence on minerals found on Earth could help reduce violent conflicts between nations, deGrasse Tyson told Mic.
"You have people fighting wars over fossil fuels buried beneath the soils across a line in the sand," he said. "Meanwhile, the universe has limitless sources of energy."
Deep Space Industries chairman Rick Tumlinson echoed deGrasse Tyson's remarks in a statement praising Luxembourg for its efforts in the field.
"There are moments when the world changes," Tumlinson said. "By joining the U.S. and private citizens and companies who are moving outwards into space, Luxembourg is making this time in history one of those moments."