For ages, we have exploited the Earth for your selfish reasons. We have changed the geographies and nature as it was just so we can derive profit from it. But as the proverb says, “EARTH HAS ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE’S NEEDS BUT NOT ENOUGH FOR ONE’S GREED”. We have reached a limit of how much more we can mine from Earth.
What if there was a way for you to get the minerals without disturbing the ecological balance of Earth. Would we try it? If yes, then how can it be achieved? There is a way to do that. However, it does include mining but the location and techniques have changed. And the solution is SPACE MINING or ASTEROID MINING.
Mining in Space? Have I gone nuts?
These might be some of the questions that you guys might have. But the title of the article does justice. There is an infinitely large reserve of valuable elements in the outer space. If it was easy to mine them, the earth could have more of everything than the demand. There are asteroids that have their worth in billions and trillions of Dollars. No matter how scarce the element is on earth, there is a possibility that it is abundant on one of those astronomic bodies.
Ted Cruz, Texas senator said “I’ll make a prediction right now. The first trillionaire will be made in space”.
He made this statement when an increase in NASA’s Budget was given the green flag in 2018. This proposal might not yield results very soon but in the times they do, the returns will be (pun intended) “astronomical”. The finance company Goldman Sachs gave an assurance to its investors that space mining will give them huge returns. Currently, popular companies like Elon’s SpaceX and Bezos’s Blue Origin are one of the tough contenders in the race to achieve it.
What could be mined?
Achrondrites are the asteroids that are rich in platinum group metals. These metals are found buried deep in the earth’s core. Whereas in the case of these asteroids the crust of them is broken away due to the turbulent force of the galaxy. And all the rare-metals which were supposed to be in the core have surfaced and cooled down. So the only problem we face is how to do the procedure on it? Just to put it in our perspective, a rare-earth metal mine costs an average of $1 Billion to set up. If we manage to mine an asteroid of the length of a football field, we could manage to mine platinum worth $50 Billion.
Not only rare-earth metals if we could mine water from the moon then it could save a huge amount of money that is spent in sending water as a load in cargo rockets to the ISS. Water being heavy is quite expensive to be sent in space. The cost of sending a water bottle to the ISS costs as much as $9000 to $43000 to be sent in the ISS (that’s why they recycle water). There’s an asteroid in the asteroid belt that can hold more water than earth. The technique used is called Optical Mining, where we use the heat of the sun to bake out water from the rocks.
An estimate shows that an initial investment of $4 billion in the mining of water could generate a revenue of $2.4 billion annually.
Not only metal and water but space mining might also open a new chapter called Space Tourism. If feasible the water from the chondrites could be split into Hydrogen and Oxygen to provide as a fuel for the rockets and act as an oxidizer. On an average 90% of the rocket’s mass is due to the fuel it takes. So if the above method was possible we would have to only fill the fuel for the rocket to reach the near outer space and get a refuel there. This will cut the operational costs and enable us to send people as cargo, hence making space tourism less expensive (still very expensive for us *sad noises*).
Why it might not be a profitable idea in the remote future?
Initially whichever company manages to mine in space at a bearable operational cost will be the real winner. Because, as this method becomes successful, there is going to be competition among different companies to do so. Since there is abundance in space of what’s scarce here, so we might have more supply than the demand. Precious materials like Gold, Diamond, Platinum, and so on might lose their monetary value. Space mining would be out of obligation due to scarcity on Earth and not as a profitable business model.
Owning an asteroid is out of bounds for anyone (and it shouldn’t be allowed too). However, the US Space Act 2015, allowed the companies to have the right over the material mined from space bodies. So, the company that can claim to be the first company to do so will make the first Trillionaires of our world.
If you need an interesting read about the space, check out the article on Space Debris.