Prospector-X may sound like a money-hungry comic-book villain, but it’s actually a spacecraft that might one day mine asteroids. The craft (which is still just a concept at this point) is the fruit of a partnership between asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries and Space Resources, an asteroid mining initiative developed by the government of Luxembourg. The group announced this week that they’ll soon launch Prospector-X into Earth’s orbit to test resource extracting technologies.
Asteroid mining is still a infantile industry. Our first probes landed on a comet just at the end of 2014. But countries like Luxembourg and the United States are gearing up for a competitive race to the asteroids within our reach, as they contain resources like water and minerals. Luxembourg has aimed to be Europe’s leading asteroid miner, while last year President Obama signed a bill that gave companies permission to mine –and own– resources harvested from outer space, asteroids included. Companies cannot stake claim to the asteroids themselves however.
The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 likewise prohibits countries from owning any extraterrestrial body, such as an asteroid or planet, according to Popular Science. That means the U.S. and Luxembourg cannot claim an asteroid as their own. However, a loophole in the treaty –which states “space shall be free for exploration an use by all States”– may give the country enough leeway to claim the asteroid’s resources.
Luxembourg’s Prospector-X will spend most of its time in low orbit to test its technology — and it won’t be alone. Last year, American asteroid mining company Planetary Resources launched its own spacecraft into orbit to test its sensors and navigation technologies, and to prepare future spacecraft’s for deep space flight.
On Luxembourg’s Space Resources website, the country responds to questions about the legality their outer space goal by drawing a comparison between asteroid mining and deep sea fishing. “Fisherman don’t own the water and they don’t own the fish,” they write, “but they have the right to put the nets into the water and bring the fish onto the decks, and once the fish are there, they own the fish.”