What is... Asteroid Mining?

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What is Asteroid Mining?

Asteroid mining is a proposed method of extracting raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets. Although hypothetical, asteroid mining poses a potential solution to Earth’s growing carbon pollution and resource depletion problems.

 

What Are the Benefits of Asteroid Mining?

The mining industry is responsible for pollution on a huge scale. It contaminates our air, water, and soil, destroying entire landscapes through the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine, sulphuric acid and cyanide. In addition to producing harmful by-products, these processes are quickly adding to Earth’s resource depletion issue.

Even as we strive to become more sustainable through tools like solar panels and wind turbines, we’re creating additional needs for mining. These tools contain platinum, which requires harmful methods of extraction.

Whether we like it or not, rare and precious materials are a staple of modern life. They’re a key part of modern technology, medicine and aerospace. Currently, we seem to be stuck in a cycle of high demand, only satisfiable through harmful mining. However, we could potentially outsource these valuable elements from space.

While Earth has finite resources, there are over a million asteroids – that we currently know about – containing precious materials like platinum, gold, iron, magnesium and palladium. If we found a way to safely extract these materials, we could potentially satisfy humanity’s appetite for millions of years to come.

In the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – where the majority of known asteroids orbit – some asteroids measure over 60 miles in diameter. NASA has estimated this belt to contain $700 quintillion of materials – that’s $100 billion for each person on Earth.

This amount of raw material could provide us with close to unlimited resources. However, while asteroid mining may seem simple in principle, there are some roadblocks that humans are yet to overcome.

 

What Are the Problems With Asteroid Mining?

One issue is cost – travelling into deep space is expensive. While there is little doubt about its benefits for sustainability, asteroid mining is not profitable enough yet. Regardless of how much an asteroid’s materials are worth on Earth, the price of getting to it and returning the resources could eclipse this figure. Considering the high initial investment cost, as well as the time it would take for a return on this, investors can be reluctant to get involved. To be truly profitable, space mining operations would need to be scaled up massively.

Another problem is deciding the best method of reliably identifying suitable asteroids, then securing them and safely extracting the materials.

In addition, sudden access to this number of materials would crash their markets back on Earth. Metal-rich asteroids could supply us with so many commodities that their prices would drop drastically.

 

How Would Asteroid Mining Work?

Firstly, we would have to identify resource-rich asteroids. This can be difficult to do from afar, so powerful telescopes may be the most effective way to do so.

Once identified, processing could be done by propelling the raw ore into near-Earth orbit for easy mining access. However, this would require a lot of fuel, so an alternative method could be mining them in space to return only the processed materials.

If we were to mine for materials on-site, robot prospectors could be used to automatically identify and mine specific targeted areas. Once identified, we could use heat to evaporate the desired elements with the help of giant mirrors, separating them from unwanted waste products to return to Earth.

Alternatively, ‘strip mining’ could be used. This would involve scraping away the asteroid’s surface, tunnelling into veins of materials and scraping off valuable substances. These resources would then float off the asteroid and be collected by a large canopy.

 

A Career in Asteroid Mining

  • Astronautical and space engineering: the design, creation, and testing of spacecraft and their components, aimed at asteroid mining missions.
  • Planetary science and exploration: examining celestial bodies, including asteroids, to comprehend their formation, makeup, and potential resources.
  • Robotics and automation: development of robotic systems and autonomous robots for use in asteroid mining.
  • Mining and extraction: the removal of minerals and resources, such as precious metals, water, and volatile compounds, from asteroids.
  • Business and finance: management of financial and business aspects of asteroid mining operations, including investment and revenue generation.
  • Marketing and communications: promoting and creating awareness about asteroid mining operations and the advantages of space resource utilization.
  • Policy and law: formulating and implementing policies, regulations, and laws regarding space resource exploration and exploitation, specifically asteroid mining.

 

Asteroid Mining Geographic Hotspots

  • US
  • Luxembourg
  • Japan
  • UAE
  • Russia
  • China

Asteroid mining could pave a path to a greener planet for all of us. Once the stuff of science fiction, this fascinating and innovative theory might just be the answer to some of Earth’s biggest problems. If this excites you, now is time to join this exciting and rapidly developing field.

 

Check out our space jobs page to take the first step in your space career journey.

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