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Space Commercialization Is Making Asteroid Mining a Real Thing

It’s been more than sixty years since the first space mission on October 4, 1957, by Soviet Russia, when the…

By Emelia Murison , in Space , at November 12, 2019 5:13 AM EST Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s been more than sixty years since the first space mission on October 4, 1957, by Soviet Russia, when the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched into space. Four years later on April 12, 1961, Soviets sent, Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit Earth in Vostok 1. Can you imagine the flight which lasted for precisely 108 minutes has opened new frontiers for the world?

After Soviets, the U.S. space agency the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched Lunar Landing Mission Apollo 11, and Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on Moon. Since then, the U.S has been leading the space research and exploration industry.

The race of reaching an intangible finish line that started of curiosity to know what’s there beyond the sky has widened and further widening every day. Along with the primary purpose of addressing questions about our place in this big universe and the history of the solar system, space exploration has taken a commercial path today. Thus new endeavors such as space tourism and space or asteroid mining have emerged.

Space/Asteroid Mining a New Endeavour

Science fiction writers have talked about asteroid or asteroid mining in their books. But now it is going to turn into a reality. Today, multiple ventures, including Planetary Resources Group and Deep Space Exploration, are coming forward and betting on space mining as a next big industry.

Definition of Space mining reads: Space mining is the exploration of minerals from an asteroid and other planets including near-earth objects. In this process, as experts are betting, precious metals such as Platinum, Gold, and Silver can be mined from an asteroid and sent back to Earth and iron group metals, and other common ones can be used for construction in space.

Minerals and metals available underneath will go extinct in the next 50-60 years. To meet the future consumption of vital metals and minerals, scientists are now aiming to dig the space. They are looking forward to obtaining minerals such as phosphorus, antimony, zinc, tin, lead, indium, silver, gold, and copper in space mining.

Mining friendly Asteroids

An asteroid is a material deposited from the formation of the Solar System. Many asteroids have the structural combination similar to that of Earth and other planets. There are nearly 150 million asteroids in the Solar System, and that’s merely the ones that measure 100 meters. Asteroids used for mining can be classified into three major categories: Type C, Type S, and Type M. These asteroids correspond to those that are mainly made of clay and silicates, nickel-iron and silicates, and metals.

Type C Asteroid
Type C Asteroid

Type C (carbonaceous): The majority, i.e., 75% of asteroids fall into the category Type C. They are very dark having an albedo of 0.03-0.09. The composition of asteroids is similar to the Sun. These asteroids are mainly found in the main belt’s outer regions.

 

 

 

Type S Asteroid
Type S Asteroid

Type S (Silicaceous): 17% of the asteroids fall under this category. These are fairly bright in color having an albedo of 0.10-0.22. Type S asteroids are made up of metallic iron mixed with magnesium-silicates. Silicaceous asteroids are mainly found in the inner belt.

 

 

Type M Asteroid
Type M Asteroid

Type M (Metallic): Type M include the majority of the rest of the asteroids. These asteroids are known to be brighter than ones found in Type S, having an albedo of 0.10 to 0.18. As the group suggests, these asteroids are composed of metallic iron and reside in the middle region of the belt.

 

 

 

Purpose of Asteroid Mining

Type M and Type S asteroids are rich in useful minerals such as platinum, gold, silver, copper, cobalt, zinc, tin, lead, and various rare-earth metals. For years, these metals and minerals have been mined from the Erath’s surface, and they have been vital to economic and technological advancement on Erath.

Purpose of Asteroid Mining
Purpose of Asteroid Mining

Also, there are many comets and asteroids are composed of water ice, ammonia, methane, and other volatiles. Water ice could be explored to meet the booming demand of freshwater on Earth, for everything from irrigation to drinking. Such Volatile minerals could also be used as a source of chemicals like hydrazine, thus facilitating further mining ventures. One of the space mining startups, Planetary Resources Groups, states that there are around 2.2 trillion metric tons of water ice in the Solar System.

Process of Asteroid Mining

Process of Asteroid Mining
Process of Asteroid Mining

It will not be the way to go if you simply start digging asteroids or planets. Asteroid prospecting, meaning identification of asteroids is the first step of the space mining process. Scientists will have to design equipment capable of identifying, cataloging, and assessing asteroids for the value of their minerals and resources.

In 2012, the U.S. space agency NASA launched a project called Robotic Asteroid Prospector(RAP) meant to test the feasibility of space asteroid mining. They discovered four different categories of asteroid mission that could be possible through already available technology. The process included prospecting, mining, processing, and transportation.

• Prospecting involves examining and identifying asteroids that would give excellent economic returns.
• Mining of asteroids would require a significant amount of infrastructure to be built in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) and past the support activities.
• Procession of mined minerals from asteroids would require a considerable amount of money. Once the exploration moves beyond near-earth objects (NEO), new set up would be required near Moon, Mars and the Asteroid Belt or wherever mining operations are happening.
• Once the infrastructure is built, the process of mining and processing can start. There are possible techniques that can be used:

1. During surface mining, minerals could be extracted by spacecraft utilizing nets, scoops and augurs. Shaft mining is another possible way, where spacecraft equipped with drills bore into asteroids to extract the minerals within.

2. Asteroids can also be caught in nets and then carried near Earth. Once they come in lunar orbit, asteroids could be mined by smaller, spacecraft, which would then carry the resources to revolving platforms.

3. Steam-propulsion is one more process that has been coined for asteroid mining. In this method, robotic spacecraft would extract the oxygen in water ice to produce fuel, giving them the ability to mine for an indefinite period.

Companies up for Asteroid Mining

  • Deep Space Industries (US)
  • Planetary Resources (US)
  • Trans Astronautica Corporation (US)
  • Moon Express (US)
  • Ispace (Japan)
  • Asteroid Mining Corporation (UK)
  • JAXA (Japan)
  • ESA (France)
  • TransAstra (US)
  • ROSCOSMOS (Russia)

Future Growth for Asteroid Mining

Yet, the asteroid mining market is in its nascent stage. In 2017, the market was calculated at $0.49 billion. Looking at the commercialization of space exploration, dozens of companies are betting on the asteroid mining market. It is projected to touch $2.4 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 23.6%. The United States is currently holding the crown, followed by Europe and Japan.
Rising interest of billionaires and top executives of tech giants such as Alphabet’s Larry Page is giving a boost to the asteroid mining industry. Google’s co-founder Larry Page has invested in the Director James Cameron Planetary Resources Group.
Commercialization of Space exploration and scarcity of essential minerals are one of the significant factors of growth in the asteroid mining market. Today, although, Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellites deployment are helping generate a huge amount of revenue, the next generation of technologies is paving the way for asteroid mining.

FAQs

1. What are the three types of Asteroids?

Dark C (carbonaceous) asteroids, which make up most asteroids and are in the outer belt.
Bright S (silicaceous) asteroids and are in the inner belt, closer to Mars. …
Bright M (metallic) asteroids.

 2. How much gold is in the asteroid best?

Including the gold, iron, nickel, water and other valuable elements that can be found there, NASA has estimated the mineral wealth of the entire Asteroid Belt could be as much as $700 quintillion, or a seven followed by 20 zero. That’s $100 billion for every one of the 7 billion people on Earth! We like that fact.

3. How would you mine an asteroid?

1. Step 1: Get prospecting. To mine an asteroid, a company like Planetary Resources first has to find one that promises a good return on investment.
2. Step 2: Assay and stake a claim.
3. Step 3: Start digging.
4. Step 4: Deliver the goods.

4. What are the benefits of Asteroid mining?

Asteroids are enticing for several reasons. They have small gravity fields, so it makes it easier to place spacecraft and mining equipment on the surface. It’s also easier to launch off an asteroid than say the Earth or the Moon.