Date of publication: 10/08/2017
To develop a space industry in Luxembourg, the Luxembourgish Parliament has adopted the Law of 20 July 2017 on the exploration and use of space resources. The law, a part of the economic policy initiative www.spaceresources.lu aiming at developing legal, regulatory and business environment for space activities, regulates the authorization and supervision of missions on the exploration and use of space resources and it makes Luxembourg the first country after the United States to provide such a legal framework.
Appropriation of space resources
This law aims at providing legal certainty with regard to the ownership of minerals and other resources imported from outer space. In accordance with its first article, space resources are capable of being appropriated. The scope of this law is hence limited to space resources and does not apply to asteroids, comets and celestial bodies as such, whose appropriation is prohibited by the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, a.k.a. the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
The lawfulness of this provision has been subject to discussions during the legislative process in the light of international treaties applicable to outer space. The only international treaty prohibiting the appropriation of space resources is the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. This so-called Moon Agreement has nevertheless not been ratified by the Grand Duchy.
Hence, based on the lack of clarity of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty on the ownership of space resources, the Luxembourgish legislator has taken the step to transpose the Civil Code provisions on ownership to outer space. This initiative is to be welcomed even though several legal issues remain, such as the recognition by other states of an appropriation based on Luxembourg law.
The Law of 20 July 2017 creates a mission authorization to explore and use space resources. The Luxembourgish legislator drew extensively on the authorization regime laid down in the Law of 5 April 1993 on the financial sector, as amended.
Thus, such an authorization shall be granted to an operator for a specific mission of exploration and use of space resources for commercial purposes upon written application to the Ministers in charge of the Economy and Space Activities.
First of all, the applicant shall have its registered office and central administration in Luxembourg. Then, in view of the risks inherent to any space activity, but also with regard to the rules of liability provided for in international space law – in particular article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty – the applicant’s financial soundness is key. The application will have to be accompanied by a risk assessment of the mission and shall specify the coverage of these risks by personal financial means, an insurance policy or by a guarantee of a credit institution.
Luxembourg looks towards the future
The implementation of the Law of 20 July 2017 will require the development of ministerial master and business plans.
Next to the adoption of the Law of 20 July 2017, Luxembourg is actively involved in various international initiatives in the space field, such as The Hague Space Resources Governance Working Group, that aims to develop an international legal framework on space resource activities. The country will also host the space forum in May 2018 and is currently developing economic partnerships with important space actors.