A Primer on Asteroid Mining.
Space mining is an industry that has the potential to change humanity’s relationship with space and bring on a new wave of excitement towards space exploration. So let us look at a few questions regarding this exciting field.
-What is asteroid mining?
Asteroid mining is , in the simplest of terms, the mining of asteroids and near-earth objects for resources such as gold ,silver, platinum, tungsten and many more such raw materials.
What resources ?
What are the benefits of asteroid mining?
- Elements like zinc, tin are very important components of modern industry and its demand is only growing. It is estimated that in the next 50-60 years these elements could be exhausted. So these problem can be solved by mining asteroids and transporting the resources back to earth.
- Asteroids can also be mined for structural and precious metals. These can be used for construction of structures such as large spacecrafts, artificial habitats etc. in space with a lower cost. Transporting materials from Earth for construction is pretty expensive.
- It is estimated that there are two trillion tonnes of water available on near-Earth asteroids. Water contains hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used as propellant for spacecrafts.
- Water from asteroid can also be used for sustaining human life in space. Instead of transporting large quantities of water from Earth, using water from asteroids will make the process a lot cheaper.
-Any hurdles on Asteroid mining?
There are some econpmic analyses that indicate that the cost of returning asteroidal materials to Earth far outweighs their market value, and hence not profitable. One study found that the starting cost of asteroid mining to be $100B. But at the same time there are possibilities of massive wealth creation, which I'll talk about later.
Asteroids mining companies will have to construct large off world infrastructures for mining and storage of the materials. This will be a huge engineering challenge in itself.
-Companies working on Asteroid mining?
Deep Space Industries is a privately held American company that is developing end-to-end technologies to accomplish the job of asteroid mining.
Then there is Planetary Resources, a company founded by Peter H. Diamandis. Their primary aim is, as mentioned in their website, to " identify and unlock the critical water resources necessary for human expansion in space."
-Possibilities of wealth creation ?
It is said that the first people who will invest in asteroid mining will be the first trillionares. An asteroid named 2011UW158,which is about a kilometer wide , is estimated to be worth around $5 trillion USD. That's more than the market cap of the top 10 most valuable companies in the world. This gives you a measure of the potential of the space mining industry.
Asteroid mining along with Mars exploration, has bought in a newfound interest in space exploration.