Asteroid mining is making the leap from science fiction novels and into corporate boardrooms as new technologies bring the idea within reach.
As humanity gobbles up natural resources to satisfy the demands of economic expansion, a growing number of enterprising corporations are eyeing outer space as the next source of valuable commodities. Asteroid mining is making the leap from science fiction novels and into corporate boardrooms as new technologies bring the idea within reach. We’ve already landed a probe on a comet, satisfying the first requirement for potential mining activities. Figuring out how to extract potential resources and return them to Earth is the next step of this project .
Big investment from a small country
Asteroid mining ambitions received a boost when Luxembourg announced that it would commit $223 million to developing and carrying out the first asteroid-mining expedition. The tiny European country has already made steps toward becoming a player in the space race, but its latest proposal solidifies a commitment to pursuing cosmic resource extraction operations.“Luxembourg’s aim is to be in the top 10 space faring nations in the world,” said deputy prime minister Etienne Schneider. Luxembourg is already developing legislation aimed at protecting the rights of future space miners — the United States has done the same — and has partnered with Deep Space Industries, an asteroid-mining company based in the U.S., to produce their Prospector-X satellite, an experimental nano-spacecraft that will test key cosmic mining technologies. They say that they could potentially begin scouting operations within the next five years.
Asteroids could provide new sources for the rare metals used in smartphones and computer chips. While these elements are scant on Earth, there are countless resource-rich asteroids scattered throughout our solar system that could serve as potential sources. Asteroids are also sought after for their water content — a necessity for lengthy human missions, and a potential source of fuel for spacecraft. Today, the big challenge is developing a means to ship astro-mined resources back to Earth. Towing asteroids closer to Earth using rockets, or deploying small robots to mine resources and ship them back to Earth piecemeal are two proposed solutions for the shipping problem. But both would require significant amounts of fuel or machinery, which increases payloads and costs.