engineering

Asteroid drilling could be a gold mine

United States-based firm Planetary Resources, pioneer in asteroid mining technology has been in discrete communication with the entrepreneurs about developing the space-faring vessels in the aim of “expanding Earth’s natural resource base.” To do this, Planetary Resources plan to develop long range space telescopes and orbital probes to seek out potential “gold mines” that are falling through space.

Planetary Resources expect to sell these observations, ultimately offering the mining service, all of which could be possible within the next 15 years. “If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it’s the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land,” explained Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the company.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gold, platinum, and even water are some of the resources expected to be harvested after the project gets fully underway. “Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth… is in near-infinite quantities in space,” Diamandis said in an interview with Reuters. Water has been estimated to fetch a high price if it is genuinely sourced from asteroids. This could be broken down into large quantities of hydrogen based fuel for use in spacecraft launches.

Despite these exciting opportunities, some have expressed issues with the project. While gold would fetch up to $20,000 per ounce, the initial launch and maintenance of any specialised spacecraft may not be worth the trouble, argues some. NASA are expected to bring home around 60 grams of material from an asteroid, but at a cost of over $1 billion.

One scientist, Professor Jay Melosh of Purdue University in the U.S., has said that the costs involved in such an operation are simply too great, saying that exploration such as this is “a sport that only wealthy nations, and those wishing to demonstrate their technical prowess, can afford to indulge.” But Eric Anderson, another potential investor from the orbital-tourism company Space Adventures said: “We have a long view. We’re not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time.”

Diamandis apeared on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s commercial radio show StarTalk Radio to talk about asteroid mining. If you want hear an in depth discussion on the topic, you can easily download it here. My favourite quote from the episode is this: “Everything we fight wars over on Earth – metals, minerals, energy, real estate – those things are in near infinite quantities in space. The Earth is a crumb in a supermarket filled with resources.”

We fight wars over Earth’s natural resources. Countries are invaded over oil, people commit their lives to the acquisition of gold, some burgle and murder for fine jewelery. Starting to mine asteroids for similar materials will not solve all these problems, but it is a step to realise how futile the greed is.

[Cover Image via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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