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Asteroid Mining? Luxembourg Announces Plan to Help Launch Industry

One small step for a man, one giant leap for a duchy: Mining asteroids for minerals is one step closer to reality after tiny Luxembourg announced plans Wednesday to help the fledgling industry get into orbit.

The Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy announced the first government initiative in Europe to develop a legal and regulatory framework on the future ownership of minerals extracted from objects in space, such as asteroids. It also said it would invest in related research and development projects and may directly invest in companies active in the field.

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"Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources on lifeless rocks hurling through space, without damaging natural habitats. 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 the country's deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, Étienne Schneider, in a statement published online on Wednesday.

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Asteroids are lumps of metal and rock left over from the formation of the solar system around 4.5 billion years ago. They can contain base metals like iron, nickel and cobalt and trace amounts of precious metals including gold, platinum and rhodium.

Luxembourg is one of the euro zone's wealthiest countries and has a strong track record in the space industry. Wednesday's move came after the U.S. passed the SPACE Act of 2015 in November, which aims to encourage the private sector to get into the meteor mining business by allowing citizens to explore and exploit space resources such as minerals.