Profiting from the riches that asteroids, stars and even planets have to offer is closer than ever, with two companies launching missions within three years. But experts say before going for the gold, platinum and diamonds that may be up there, they need to find the most precious of all: water.
Investors eager to get the new industry off the ground know this. That is why new ventures that have backing from some loaded business figures, and even the NASA, have decided to focus on using space minerals in interplanetary “gas stations.” According to Reuters, the other alternative for them is to build, support and fuel colonies on Mars.
Geologists believe that asteroids hold iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth. In fact, an asteroid that flew by the earth earlier this year had an estimated value of $195 billion in metal and fuel.
Scientists have said asteroid mining is a necessity as many metals that underpin our modern economy are quickly being depleted. Without any new technological advances, metals like zinc and gold are expected to run out in 100 years, they claim.
So far there are at least two asteroid mining companies —Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries —and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)looking into the feasibility of the extraterrestrial endeavour.
Not a competition
Experts say that while viable, asteroid mining is not and will probably never be a completion for our planet’s industry. The real value in space mineral extraction, they say, is for further space travel – and so hydrogen and oxygen reserves are as attractive as any metal.
“It’s ridiculous to believe that asteroid resources will ever compete with terrestrial alternatives and Earth markets,” Brad Blair, a mining engineer and economist, told Reuters.
When asked about the planned city-sized settlements on Mars, he noted the reason asteroid mining makes sense is because people might be some day where those resources actually are.
“You can’t put an 80,000-person colony on Mars without using the local ‘timber’ (…) and if you’re going to use chemical propulsion, it’s going to take a lot of water to get them there,” he was quoted as saying.
No everyone shares his opinion, in March this year the head of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), Arny Sokoloff, said he had “no doubts” that space mining will go farther than earth mining one day. He added governments should encourage the industry by offering tax benefits similar to those given to mining companies.
Image from Wikimedia Commons