While many still see space mining as science fiction, the development of a resources industry and manufacturing supply chain out off-Earth is both plausible and beneficial, according to former NASA researcher and current University of Central Florida professor Dr. Phil Metzger.
In an extensive proposal released earlier this month, the academic — whose work at NASA included developing Lunar and Martian architecture — says that the main challenge for mining near-Earth celestial bodies is neither technology nor cost, but simply “convincing people it is realistic.”
Metzger also argues that taking mining beyond this world would be beneficial for the economy, the environment, and science, adding that making it a reality would take up about 3% to12% of NASA’s budget each year for the next few decades.
The researcher even describes a three-stage plan to achieve what he calls a Self-sufficient Replicating Space Industry, or SRSI, in which mainly robotic mining operations would extract resources that would be transformed into useful goods at robotic manufacturing facilities located out of this world.
Geologists believe asteroids are packed with iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars.
Not only private companies are planning to mine celestial bodies. Governments have joined the race too — US President Barack Obama signed a law in November granting American citizens rights to own resources mined in space. Shortly after, Luxembourg inked a deal with two US space research companies, in an effort to become a global centre for asteroid mining.