How Do You Mine an Asteroid? Luxembourg Wants to Pioneer the Practice

It's one thing for a business plan to aim for the stars, but it's another thing entirely for a country to pin their dreams on reaching asteroids. But that's exactly what Luxembourg has done. If the strategy pays off, it could earn the tiny European country an entry into one of the most hyped industries of the future—asteroid mining.

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has predicted that the first trillionaire will make their fortune by exploiting asteroid resources. That may explain why Luxembourg sees the financial potential of these rocky bodies.

"Our goal is to put into place an overall framework for the exploration and commercial use of resources from 'celestial bodies' such as asteroids, or from the moon," Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy said, according to CNBC.

Read more: Mars's Two Tiny Moons Were Formed After an Asteroid Hit the Planet, New Theory Suggests

Luxembourg has been approaching the field from a few different angles. The country is home to one of the largest satellite operators in the world, the government offers grants to and invests in companies hoping to pursue asteroid riches, and the country has made it possible for corporate groups to lay claim to space's resources.

There are two different resources to be found on asteroids, precious metals and water, and each resource tackles a different demand.

When it comes to precious metals, the appeal is straightforward: Bring it back to Earth, and make a fortune from selling ores like platinum. The most efficient method for metal-mining may be to drag an asteroid closer to Earth to reduce the commute. One more exotic tactic that has been proposed would involve using the sun to warm an asteroid in order to fish the more solid platinum out from its slightly melty surroundings.

Vesta, the fourth largest asteroid in the belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/PSI/IDA

And if water sounds like a surprisingly mundane resource to harvest from an asteroid, here's the missing piece of the puzzle: Water can be split to form hydrogen gas, which can power rockets.

Right now, rockets have to carry all the fuel they'll need for their entire missions. But that fuel gets heavy fast, and the heavier a rocket is, the more expensive it is to launch in the first place. In the long run, rocket enthusiasts hope that tapping into water on asteroids will create space gas stations, lightening the load needed to leave Earth. That would require reaching the asteroids and setting up fuel production systems.

Either way, there's a contingent of businesses that see dollar signs embedded deep in these space rocks, and Luxembourg wants to make sure they feel at home.