Robotic asteroid mining might look like this.
Robotic asteroid mining might look like this. Deep Space Industries

If the next Gold Rush is in space, Luxembourg wants to become the new California. The wealthy little country in Western Europe announced yesterday that it intends to set up legal and financial incentives to encourage the space mining industry. It’s hoping to become a hub for space mining activity, reaping the economic rewards that could result.

Some asteroids contain valuable metals such as gold and platinum, while the moon and other celestial bodies contain water that could potentially be turned into rocket fuel. In 2015, the U.S. laid down the first legal groundwork to let companies mine for space resources. Luxembourg, too, will establish a regulatory framework, as well as investing in research and development for space mining technology, which is not yet ready for primetime.

“We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg,” said deputy prime minister Étienne Schneider. “At first, our aim is to carry out research in this area, which at a later stage can lead to more concrete activities in space.”

Luxembourg is working with representatives from the U.S., Europe, and China. SpaceNews reports:

Other countries have been hesitant to give space mining the green light because of disagreements over the interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty, which says that countries cannot own property in space. Whether the same holds for resource extraction–especially that done by private companies–has been up for debate.

Luxembourg signed but did not ratify the Outer Space Treaty. Nevertheless, Schneider argues that space mining wouldn’t violate the treaty. Just as nobody owns the oceans but fisherman can still fish there, he and others suggest space mining shouldn’t violate international law.

With two countries now moving forward on space mining, it seems the time for legal debates is over.