All the Arguments for Space Exploration Ever — Part 6

Deep space exploration

Imagine the year 2030. A pilot mission is being carried out. An asteroid is intercepted by a swarm of man-made satellite rock-breakers. Once the rock splits into fragments, they are collected and are brought down to Earth. The satellites splash at a predetermined point in the Atlantic Ocean and are shipped to the headquarters of a start-up based in California. Overnight, the 100,000 tonnes of platinum they mined out of deep space makes them the richest company in the world, worth 20 trillion dollars!

That may sound like science fiction, but that isn’t a scenario that is completely outside of the realm of possibilities. There are about 400,000 100m-sized near earth asteroids (NEAs) and about 20% of them are easier to land on than the Moon. The most useful resources that can be found on these asteroids would be water, native ferrous ores, platinum-group metals and Group III and IV semiconductor material.

An economically feasible plan for resource extraction, exploitation and introduction of space sourced products into the mainstream will radically change the paradigm and the relationship between industrial resources and their availability on the planet. The realisation that resources are not running out should be a cause for celebration and a message for a more intelligent management of Earthly resources. This comes in light of the United States Bill H.R.2262 passed to be law on November 25th 2015, which includes Section IV — Space Resource Exploration and Utilization, championed by Planetary Resources, a private company.

As we speak, space mining technical demonstrators are being developed by private companies like Deep Space Industries, Planetary Resources and Moon Express. Private companies achieving technical feats such as these would be important first steps for humanity’s long-term future. In its own way, we maybe at the beginning of a gold rush, and when more people and companies get wind of it, they will all want to go for it.

It is a lucrative proposition, and even while the era of hydrocarbon based energy might be on the wane, Titan, Saturn’s smoggy moon, has hundreds of times more natural gas and other hydrocarbons than all known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth put together, and might be worth exploring for the sake of many industries that will continue to use hydrocarbon based products. Earth’s known gas reserves are expected to run out in around 60 years. This very possibly will drive private and government entities to explore space with greater vigour in the near future.

Helium-3, an isotope of Helium could possibly be the biggest game changer. It is a possible fusion fuel with an energy yield of 12 to 18 MeV per reaction, which is comparable to the conventional Deuterium-Tritium reaction, but without the damaging effects of releasing a neutron (only a proton is ejected in a Deuterium-Helium-3 reaction, whose kinetic energy can also be harnessed to increase total yield). Although, He-3 based power generation has not had a technology demonstrator yet and has invited criticism, there are strong reasons to be optimistic.

Also read other parts of the series:

Did you enjoy this article? Please recommend it to others by clicking on the ❤ below. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated on our Moon mission.