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A Weird Canadian Tax Incentive Could Get Space Mining Off the Ground

“Space mining is going to happen whether Canada wants it to or not.”

Canada is a resource-rich country, but one mining executive in Sudbury, Ontario thinks we should take our mining efforts off Earth. He's petitioning the government to start taking this seriously, and has an idea about an obscure part of the Canadian tax code that could even help fund it. 

"Space mining is going to happen whether Canada wants it to or not," Dale Boucher, CEO of Deltion Innovations Ltd, told Motherboard in a phone interview. He thinks Canada should get in on the action before the field becomes too crowded.

Although no one has successfully mined an asteroid yet, these space rocks are believed to be rich in valuable minerals like gold and platinum. And retrieving them is looking increasingly possible. The NASA OSIRIS-REx probe is getting an up-close-and-personal look at asteroids called Trojans—space rocks that could exist in a gravitationally stable location along Earth's orbit. If they're indeed there, they would be prime targets for future space mining efforts.

Asteroid mining could one day be a multi-billion dollar economy. The tiny European nation of Luxembourg has invested in companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, which have begun the march towards one day exploiting potentially huge amount of minerals and water found in near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and the Moon.

An artist's rendering of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's survey pattern during its Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search. Image: University of Arizona

I called the Canadian Space Agency to find out where we stand. They referred me to a 2016 interview from the agency's Gilles Leclerc, who told the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum's CIM Magazine that space-based resource extraction will play a significant role in the future. "Whoever is going to be first to exploit space resources is really going to have an advantage," he said.

Boucher, the Sudbury executive, is no stranger to the industry. His mining-related robotics company was awarded $700,000 to develop a tool that can be used in many kinds of environments. PROMPT, or Percussive and Rotary Multi-Purpose Tool, is designed for tasks like drilling for scientific samples or affixing a solar panel to the surface of the Moon.

I asked Boucher why he thinks Canada needs to invest in this. "Space agencies around the world have collectively determined that future missions must rely on the availability of local resources [for] support," he said. That means we'll need to retrieve materials for fuel or building structures from other bodies, instead of bringing them with us from Earth.

As a way to support asteroid mining efforts in this country, Boucher points to the flow-through share. Called "Canada's quirky tax innovation" by The Financial Post, the incentive allows Canadians to invest in companies looking to find new natural resources.

Read More:  How to Start an Asteroid Mining Company Without a Mine

By working a pretty clever tax trick, flow-through shares shift expenses of exploration from the mining company to their investors to use against their own incomes. Ideally, everyone benefits: the company's expensive initial steps are financed, and investors get lower tax bills.

Boucher believes the incentive could kickstart off-planet industries in Canada. "[Flow through shares] were what really created that huge mining exploration industry in Canada," he argued.

Even with friendly tax policies, Boucher recognized that, at the end of the day, it's political willpower that would drive the creation of Canada's off-planet resource industry.

"Everything starts in Ottawa," he said. "The starting point is [for Canadians] to send an email to their MP or call their office and simply pose a question: what are you doing about space mining?"

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