For millennia, anyone who had a shovel, a pick, and a dream could become a miner. New technology will change this. Not only will it make shovels and picks obsolete but miners too. The reason: Mining will be done in space.
These changes will make a direct impact on the $1.7 trillion mining industry, which produces things like iron, copper, aluminum, titanium, and gold. These metals are crucial in making everything from skyscrapers to smart phones, from roads to cars and trucks, postal boxes, and countless other items.
The benefit of these products is that they make our lives easier. The disadvantage is that they are bad for the environment. Business has been working overtime to find a solution to this problem and they’ve found one: mine asteroids, the moon and some planets in our solar system.
Who Wudda Thunk?
Scientists are anxious to mine them to learn more about our solar system. Entrepreneurs have a different objective. Some asteroids and other celestial bodies have incredible quantities of gold, platinum, and other valuable metals and minerals. They want to mine them, bring them back to Earth, and become fabulously wealthy along the way.
Space mining is incredibly complicated; new technologies and equipment will have to be developed, and this is very expensive. The only way a company will fund such a complex mission is if the potential payoff makes the risks worthwhile. And in this case, they certainly do.
According to the website Mashable, “Many, many asteroid mining pioneers will become trillionaires… Beneath the dust on their surface are platinum, gold, diamonds, rare Earth minerals and other treasures there for the taking in ridiculous quantities.”
There are literally millions of asteroids in space and most have not been analyzed yet. But some have and those are generating a great deal of excitement in the scientific.
One of them, Bennu, has an estimated value of $669 million. Another, Ryugh, is worth $82 billion. And Davida is worth an incredible $100 trillion. And that’s not even close to being the most valuable one. That distinction goes to Asteroid 16 Psyche. NASA estimates the value of the nickel, iron, gold and platinum on it at $700 quintillion, which is 700 followed by 19 zeroes. Asteroids became legal to own in 2016.
Asterank tracks some 6,000 asteroids in NASA’s database and estimates the value of each one. Based on recent market prices, more than 500 are worth “$100 trillion or more.” The estimated profit on just the top 10 asteroids judged “most cost effective” - the easiest to reach and mine, minus related expenses, is approximately $1.5 trillion.
Several companies and start-ups have already taken steps to mine the gold, platinum, and other precious metals in our solar system. One of these is Planetary Resources, which was founded in 2012. Funding came from some of Wall Street’s heaviest hitters, among them Larry Page, a co-founder of Google; Eric Schmidt, a former CEO of Google, H. Ross Perot, the former head of Electronic Data Systems and presidential candidate in 1992, and the country of Luxembourg. The company also had various dealings with the space firm Virgin Galactic. Planetary Resources was purchased in October 2018 by a blockchain software company.
Another company, Deep Space Industries, also was funded in part by very savvy investors and the nation of Luxembourg. It was sold to Bradford Space, owned by a U.S. investment group called the American Industrial Acquisition Corporation.
Until now, only dust particles of an asteroid have been brought back to Earth, and that was on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa mission in 2010.
Japan Aerospace launched Hayabusa 2 in December 2014. This craft surveyed the asteroid Ryugu for a year and a half and collected rock samples. It left for Earth in November 2019 and will bring those samples when it returns on December 6, 2020.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in the developments in space mining. Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest people and head of Space X, has indicated that he will get involved in space mining. In August 2022, NASA and Space X will launch a probe of 16 Psyche and analyze it with gamma rays, neutron spectrometers, and other very advanced scientific instruments.
Musk, Deep Space, and Planetary Resources have also expressed interest in mining an asteroid called “2011 UW 158,” which is twice the size of the Tower of London and worth nearly $6 trillion. And NASA scientists found evidence that there may be concentrations of iron, titanium, and other metals beneath the surface of the Moon; mining could begin there as soon as 2025.
NASA awarded Houston-based Intuitive Machines a $47 million contract to deliver drilling equipment to the Moon by December 2022 and drill one meter below the surface. This mission is in preparation for more ambitious projects.
Astrophysicist Michio Kaku predicts that asteroid mining is very close. “NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Program could be used to send SLS boosters, the largest and most powerful boosters ever built for flight, to intercept an asteroid and bring it back to orbit the Moon or back to Earth. This is now beyond the phase of science fiction. We’re talking about an actual plan.”
Separately, some experts believe that asteroid mining is the best way of building a fleet of solar powered satellites, which could collect solar power more effectively than any solar panels on Earth can.
As improved rockets are developed and new mining equipment introduced, more players will likely get involved in this industry. Some entrepreneurs, companies, and their shareholders will earn tremendous profits along the way and their early successes will encourage even more companies to get involved.
The future for space mining is very exciting. The line from the Robert Browning poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” comes to mind: “The best is yet to be.” If so, it may become very crowded up there.
resourceworks.com; scientificamerican.com; tribuneindia.com; Wikipedia.org;
YouTube: Elon Musk Is Mining A Golden Asteroid; Michio Kaku Predicts
Asteroid Mining Will Happen
Sooner Than You Think