In April, Planetary Resources, a newly formed private space company, announced that it would begin mining asteroids for water in 2020. Asteroids, the firm said, could also be a valuable source of platinum-group elements (PGEs), six metals used in industrial chemical reactions and devices such as catalytic converters. Earth contains only four high-grade PGE deposits, and the demand for the metals is increasing. But is there enough information to know where to dig? The basics are clear—how asteroids form, where they are located, and, roughly, what they're composed of—but details are scarce. Upcoming missions, including those by Planetary Resources' own prospecting spacecraft, may fill in some of the holes. But if space mining is to work, prospectors will need much more accurate information about the solar system and its minerals.
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Unfortunately, this sort of mining operation will be incredibly expensive and speculative. The on-earth price of the materials they might mine would have to increase many-fold for this to be remotely lucrative.
All the money spent looking for exo-life ought to be re-directed towards this type of research. At least we know there are usable resources in out there.
In the ISS, they sure do a lot of experiments in a weightless environment. I would think by now, they have found something cool to make and manufacture with a profit in space by now.
I mean, besides finding and bring back minerals and such from asteroids; can't someone put a profit making automated manufacturing plant in space and make money too?
If we could find any means possible to profit in space, then we Earthlings will really begin to venture out into the heavens!
JayArr, you may not be correct.
First off, they aren't NASA and therefore won't have to waste time and money because they aren't government.
Second, it may take them a couple billion dollars to research, locate and actually extract the metals but with our ever improving technology at lot of the work/research is already done.
Third, asteroids could contain hundreds, if not, thousands of tons of material. One ounce of platinum is selling for a bit over $1500 which means just one ton is worth almost $50,000,000.
Yes, it would take a while to get going and it would be quite expensive but I think the return would come quite easily. It would also expand the capabilities of the human race and truly bring us into the space age.
They claimed space solar power would also be in big use by now. The fact is it's just way, way too expensive. Eart based solar power as gotten all the more competitive.
And to harvest water because space is easier then launching it is an old idea. Lauch costs are decreasing so getting things up is getting cheaper. On top of that you need multi year mission spacecraft to go to astroids and come back. That's not easy let alone price competitive. Those spacecrafts and technologies are hugely expensive. Waiting years to get something back is hugely expensive. It needs to be filtered and cleaned in space. And now they are working on space elevator technologies that will make access to earth orbit as cheap as 1 or a few plane tickets.
It might become interesting for certain minerals. But not within a few more decades. These people are underastimating launch costs, failures in spacecraft, the enormous distances and multi year missions and they are under estimating the fastly competitive mining business on earth. South-Africa as a recent example.
We should be talking about mining the moon, not asteroids, there is enough helium-3 on the moon's surface keep the lights on for the next 10,000 years. That to me seems like a more exciting target for space mining.
“In April, Planetary Resources, a newly formed private space company, announced that it would begin mining asteroids for water in 2020.”
2020 is in 7-8 years. Considering the technological state of the space transportation industry, I would say that this goal is more than just a little ambitious.
According to their website, the have some talented people working on this but there are not many of them… seven “Advisors” and fewer “Technicians”. The technicians are seen in the video.
They do have some investors with considerable funds though.
Also on their website they list several technologies that they intend to develop and apply to accomplish their mission.
The first is a private space telescope to help in the prospecting. Apparently this, which seems to be the first step, has not yet been launched. Next will come the interceptor then the Rendezvous Prospector followed by the asteroid mining where “Initial space resource development will focus on water-rich asteroids.”
I am happy to see that someone is trying to advance the state of the art of space transportation technology and I hope that they accomplish their goals. However, with the state of development that was presented on the website, I believe they will be more than hard pressed to meet their stated goals for 2020.
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Theses guys are ahead of their time, perhaps a little too ahead, but its nice to see the ball rolling. I speculate that when full scale mining begins it will be involved in the terraforming of mars. Most of the asteroids are close to mars, it doesnt have much atmosphere so it wouldnt disintegrate most asteroids entering the atmosphere. Over time its atmosphere would increase as more asteroids are directed in to be mined.
Towing asteroids to a near earth orbit seems sucicidal to me, eventually a giant piece will get loose and someone will be sued and or put in jail for a long time. The extra water could go a long ways to terraforming mars, and the material could be extracted in low pressure suits as opposed to the high pressure ones used in the vacumn of space, it would be much easier to work in those conditions.
I think the big game changer technology will be the advanced 3d printers that have yet to be developed. The desert solar powered instant pottery 3d printer that uses sand is probably the best example, a scaled up version of it could be used to make refining and living facilities on mars or the moon.
All it really takes for feasible geo-engineering and terraforming of mars as a springboard into the stars is a new technology for propulsion. At the rate that popsci has brought out new technology to be gawked at, i would say it would happen within the next 15 years or so.
Step One: Collect Astro-underpants
Step Two: ?????
Step Three: Profit!!!!!!
Space Gnomes aside, there is profit to be had.
(A) From the technoligies developed to get to, mine, and move asteroids.
(B) From spin off techs that come from (A).
(C) From having resources that are already in space.
The most exspensive part of space travel is getting off of this rock. How many thousands of dollars does it cost to put 1 gallon of water on the ISS?
With a small asteroid, resource removal is a low to no cost opperation. In fact, on many of these rocks, simple mechanical tortion (catapulting) would be sufficient to move the materials off site and towards Earth.
Also, to MAKE it profitible, you first have to do it - then you become more efficient at it (and the first one there usually wins that race).
Compare it to the New World colonies. How many colonies, shiploads of supply, and the like were sent at a loss before a profit was turned?
Yes, decades is a LONG turn around in today's instant profit markets - but space is a paradigm shift into vastly different scales. When billion dollar envestments start yielding trillion dollar returns, people who scoffed will wish they had backed whoever (not necessarly these guys) got their first and locked in the profits and the tech.
To be profitable, launch/return costs would need to fall below where they currently are, even with platinum at almost $1600/oz. There is also the fundamental effect on prices of supply and demand. A sudden glut of platinum would depress prices.
Think some one missed the boat!
If platinum is supposedly worth approx 1500 /ounce on earth
WE may be buying it from space miners for 1500 / milligram!
Or even higher! There is no cheap way to mine anything in space
Especially when things don't look Rossie at home on earth
Clean the mess up you made here first.
Like the waste you created world wide before you mess up that which you can't achieve now or in the near future.
Or just rob what you can and run like a thief in the dark and leave the mess for those who haven't which you have already done on earth!