An economic mission chaired by HRH the Hereditary Grand Duke, accompanied by HRH the Hereditary Grand Duchess, was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Étienne Schneider from 9 to 13 April 2017 on the west coast of the United States.

The mission to the US was dedicated exclusively to the space sector and represents one of the most recent highlights in what is projected to become an economic area of national and international interest, organised under the umbrella of the SpaceResources.lu initiative, which is developed and implemented under the political responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, Étienne Schneider.

The mission started in Seattle at Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company that has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Luxembourg government to be among the first to launch the commercial exploration of asteroids. Two days later the delegation landed in California to visit SSL, a company that produces satellite systems, followed by a visit to the NASA Ames Research Centre where Luxembourg’s ambition to harvest valuable materials from asteroids, moons and planetoids was further discussed.

Luxembourg has space history

In actual fact however, mining resources and space travel are not Luxembourg’s first involvement in space. For more than 30 years, Luxembourg has been at the forefront of commercial and co-operative developments to promote the use of space in practical and progressive ways. Most notably, Luxembourg’s SES operates a network of satellites in geostationary and medium earth orbits that deliver a staggering 7,538 digital TV channels to over 325 million homes as well as internet connections, data and voice to homes and workplaces around the world.

Luxembourg is an active member of the European Space Agency (ESA) and in particular of ARTES, the ESA programme to develop innovative satellite communications systems and services. The country contributes significantly to Europe’s 40% share of the global satellite business, supporting thousands of highly skilled jobs and keeping billions of people connected.

However the economic mission demonstrates the seriousness of Luxembourg’s efforts to play a leading role in the global space race. If the country’s ambitions first attracted attention for being perceived as bit of an oddity, the country is now not only attracting a slew of global media attention for its space initiatives, it is also attracting some very serious players.

Commercialisation of space

Luxembourg’s proactive approach has made it home to an increasing number of companies developing novel products and systems in the space and ground segments, and delivering services and downstream applications. Among them are recently established start-ups from the space mining industry that have set up European operations in Luxembourg with the support of the government. Both the Silicon Valley-based asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI) and Tokyo-based lunar robotic exploration company ispace, for example, signed a MoU with Luxembourg to co-operate within the SpaceResources.lu initiative.

Many of these industry players and their suppliers have joined the Luxembourg Space Cluster, manged by Luxinnovation, whose goal is to initiate joint R&D projects, mostly governed by ESA or EU programmes. Space resources businesses are logical new members of this expert community. One main player in company-research organisation collaborations is the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) who recently partnered up with NASA thanks to its expertise on mass spectrometers, valued in space to identify the elemental composition of matter. Another is The Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) of the University of Luxembourg, whose research activities in satellite systems include: applications and services, satellite hybrid networks, transmission and reception technologies, legal and regulatory challenges.

The race to space

The topic is so dense and the activities are growing at such a constant it would be impossible to fit them all in but everything is well documented on the website of spaceresources.lu. The government is providing substantial financial assistance to academic research and private sector projects developing the technologies that will be used to explore and exploit space resources. LuxIMPULSE is providing funding to help companies bring innovative ideas to market. Luxembourg’s contributions to, and involvement in, the European Space Agency and other international R&D programmes play a significant role in the exchange of technology, ideas and knowledge.

You have only to look at the timeline of press releases and articles to see how Luxembourg is becoming a galvanising force in the modern space race, an ambition in line with Étienne Schneider’s vision of the nation as a European hub for exploration and the use of space resources. This was even further cemented when in April of this year the Luxembourg government and executives of Asteroid Day announced the selection of Luxembourg as the official headquarters for the Asteroid Day organisation and that Luxembourg would be hosting “Asteroid Day Live”, a 24-hour live broadcast, on June 30 2017.

In the years to come, the focus on space resources exploration and utilisation will generate attractive opportunities in Luxembourg for established and start-up players in areas including materials science, additive manufacturing, remote sensing, communications, robotics, data analytics and artificial intelligence. All this space madness is becoming fascinating to follow, and as Minister Schneider said to CNN news man Richard Quest, “It takes some madness to have visions and take a country forward.”

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