Asteroid Mining

Asteroid Mining - Science Fiction or Future?

Not so easy to land on one

February 3, 2019, Bruno Jacobsen

Space: The Final Frontier. From colonizing mars to deep space exploration and space tourism, there's recently been a revival in what appeared to be a long-lost dream - conquering space. One important piece of this puzzle, of course, would be asteroid mining. We can't really hope to colonize the solar system without proper supplies, and Earth kind of seems to be running out of them. So what's asteroid mining?

Asteroid Mining - Science Fiction or Future?

Despite sounding like science fiction, there's a real possibility asteroid mining will be a thing in the future. 

 

Rich in resources

Asteroids can contain most of what we need for our long-term space exploration goals. From nickel to gold and even water, asteroids can be an important source of resources, as resources here at home become scarcer.

 

Images of the largest known asteroid known to us, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, suggest that it may contain more water than our planet does. According to Physics World, this water, among other things, could be used to fuel our rockets, making space travel and exploration much more feasible.

 

We also know that many asteroids can contain nickel, iron, and magnesium. Scientists even suspect that some may contain gold and platinum.  

 

Indeed, according to CNBC, NASA claims the minerals that can be found in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter could hold an amount of wealth that would be equivalent to 100 billion US dollars for every single person on Earth. Now, that's a lot of wealth.

 

As we can see, mining asteroids could give us the opportunity to enlarge our resource pool. Whether we use it for our endeavours at home, or for exploring the final frontier, these resources would come in handy.

 

But how do you mine it?

Of course, talk is cheap. It doesn't matter how valuable asteroids might be, if we can't get to them, mine them, or retrieve their resources.

 

To mine an asteroid, you first need a significant amount of capital and other resources. Sure, it's cheaper than carrying supplies from Earth up into space, but it's still expensive.

 

Then you need a crew and a spacecraft. It will land on the asteroid, so that the process can begin. But then it gets a little harder. According to HowStuffWorks, one of the challenges involves stopping the asteroid from rotating, so that it can be mined. One suggestion is to attach rockets to it and take the spin out of it. But that's just the beginning.

 

The equipment will likely have to be light, so we can carry it back and forth, and will have to be attached to the asteroid (there's almost no gravity on the surface of an asteroid, so things just fly off). On top of that, while the machinery and the techniques may be similar to those used on Earth, they will have to ensure enough material is properly collected (again, since things might just fly off).

 

After the material has been mined, it needs to be sent back to Earth, or some space colony. The rocket would likely have to be fuelled up again (meaning  water-containing asteroids are preferable), and then we could start transporting the material. Once all this is done (it might take a few trips back and forth), all the equipment is taken back to Earth or the space colony, or taken to another asteroid. 

 

So it could really happen?

Yes. We're already making progress.

 

The best examples are corporations such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, which are already searching for viable asteroids, and developing the necessary mining technology.

 

On top of that, we have companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin successfully building reusable rockets, a necessary component of space exploration.

 

An expensive project, asteroid mining promises to bring an incredible amount of wealth to our species. But as many people have claimed, the world's first trillionaire will be made in space. While that's fine, one should also hope that we all get to benefit from what once seemed like science fiction, but now seems to be only a couple of decades away.

 

With space tourism, asteroid mining, space colonization, and space exploration now all within our grasp, it seems like Star Trek will stop being something that brings us nostalgia of a more hopeful time. Instead, it will be a reminder that we're always making progress, even if slower than expected.

 

 

 

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