The Luxembourg Government and Deep Space Industries (DSI) have agreed to develop and launch an aircraft capable of conducting asteroid mining tests in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
DSI, an asteroid mining company, forged an agreement with the government of Luxembourg to work on Prospector-X, a small spacecraft that would assess vital technologies they can use for prospective mining of near Earth orbits like asteroids and its compositions.
Luxembourg is the first European country to express interest in in-space commercial asteroid mining. The government announced in February that it is securing all legal and regulatory frameworks necessary for the project to push through. They have now sealed the deal with DSI.
"Our promising cooperation with DSI within the spaceresources.lu initiative clearly demonstrates the strong commitment of the Luxembourg Government to support the exploration and future use of space resources," said [PDF] Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, Etienne Schneider, in a press release.
DSI has a good space exploration portfolio, having previously worked with NASA in several contracts. The company is planning to open another research center in Luxembourg where Prospector-X would be partially built and tested.
The partnership is a novel way of using innovation and power of enterprise to open the space for all, according to DSI board chairman Rick Tumlinson.
Tumlinson shared that they are planning to test Comet-1 on Prospector-X. Comet-1 is an electrothermal thruster that uses a water propellant, which will prove to be useful when harvesting water from asteroids becomes possible.
Asteroids are composed of water ice, which can be harvested and processed to make fuel for rockets and other spacecrafts. They also have rare metals that can be valuable on Earth.
Asteroid mining is the process of getting resources that can be useful for the space industry. Harvested resources can be brought down to Earth from space to further space studies or kept in space to be used by several spacecrafts during their flights. For instance, asteroids can serve as gasoline stations for spacecrafts in transit.
DSI is planning to harvest water from these asteroids and this is why they are also developing a spacecraft that uses water as its propellant — it would be a lucrative business for future in-space applications.
"We are going out to places that are dead and deadly, and we're harvesting the stuff of life so that humanity can go out there and live and explore," said Tumlinson. "It's almost like as if we were drilling for the first oil and we were developing the internal combustion engine."
Tumlinson also shared that DSI is also hoping to widen its asteroid mining to include other gases and valuable metals. But their main focus is the development of thruster because it is already applicable to present commercial space explorations.
Once Prospector-X is launched in LEO, the company is planning to launch Prospector-1 spacecraft on an asteroid mission. The future mission hopes to bring back to Earth a wealth of information about the composition of an asteroid and its potential for mining activities. They are also hoping to send Prospector-1 to many different asteroids to investigate possible mining locations.
While the government sealed the deal with DSI, they are also looking to expand their space mining investments by collaborating with other established asteroid mining companies. Planetary Resource, with its successful asteroid prospecting spacecraft launch in July 2015, is a possible choice for the government.