If Asteroid Mining Was A Thing Today Here’s How It Would Have Worked!
Hello Aluxers, welcome back! As we’re sure you’re aware, many resources on earth – like rare metals and water – which the world’s industries are dependent on, are depleting sooner than we anticipated. That’s why many intellectuals and tech entrepreneurs are targeting asteroids as the future source of black gold. In today’s article we will explore the possibilities that surround this latest cosmic venture and try to understand the new opportunities it can create in space industry-
- What if?
- The Pioneers
- Targeting the right Asteroids
- Mining the Asteroids
- Challenges and Threats
For those of you who are much rather interested to see colorful visuals over dull texts, we have the whole article covered for you in the form of a video!
with that out of the way, let’s discuss how Astroid Mining would work:
What if we could set up mines on the asteroid surfaces just like the ones we have in various parts of the world? What if we could meet the scarcity of water and mineral resources on earth by using the once in the asteroids? What if we could refuel our space rockets using the fuel stations set up on the asteroids in Earth’s orbit?
Although these ideas sound crazy, let us first understand the potential these Asteroids hold before we explore the ways in which they can be mined-
Asteroids are somewhat similar to our planet, and just like Earth have huge deposits of water and rich minerals deposited in their surfaces. It is estimated that there are over 16,000 Asteroids in the Earth’s orbit and they carry about 2 trillion tonnes of water. Whereas some of the asteroids have heavy deposits of platinum and other precious metals that can be synthesised and used in various electronic devices or can be industrialized in their purest form.
Just to give you an idea of the market value of precious metals the asteroids contain, we would like to tell you about the asteroid “2011 UW158”. This platinum rich asteroid was very close to earth in July 2015, and it was estimated that it contained 90 million tonnes of platinum in its core and along with the other precious metal deposits it held, this asteroid was worth anything between 300 billion USD to 5.4 trillion USD.
Well, with those numbers on the table for a single Asteroid, you must have understood the potential of asteroid mining, so let us take a deeper look at the companies who are already betting their money on mining these Asteroids.
Aluxers if you are still thinking that Asteroid mining is far from reality, we would like you to know that few entrepreneurs are already investing in this latest cosmic venture. Companies like Deep space industries and Planetary resources are considered to be one of the biggest players in this space.Both the companies are funded by numerous tech entrepreneurs and co founders of world famous tech giants like Google and are doing some pioneering work in the field.
The company Planetary Resources (PR) formerly known as ARKYD Astronautics was founded in 2009, with an aim of mining asteroids for water and other rich mineral resources. The folks at PR believe that if we are successful in mining asteroids and find water, it will be possible to construct refuelling stations for rockets in the space. Water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen both of which when cooled down can be used in a liquid form as a fuel for rockets and for survival of the astronauts.
Apart from water, asteroids as mentioned earlier are also rich in other rare minerals, and once accessible can help in drastically changing the future space missions.
Intellectuals believe that once turned into reality, asteroid mining will reduce the cost of space travel and help mankind in becoming an interplanetary species. If you would like to know more about such ambitious space ventures, you can check our earlier Trends video- “What colonizing Mars means for business”
Now that you have got a flavour of where the asteroid mining industry is heading to, let us understand in two simple stages how asteroid mining could actually work-
Targeting the right Asteroids
Now as we mentioned before there are numerous asteroids in our solar system and in Earth’s orbit, but not all of them consist of useful minerals and water that we are looking for. So the first step towards Asteroid mining is to identify the asteroids which can be targeted for mining the useful resources.
Now unlike on earth where we can identify a resource rich area with the help of soil samples and group of human expertise, asteroid surfaces are not easily accessible. Right now, companies like PR are targeting the near earth asteroids which are easily accessible and require less energy for launching an automated space vehicle on their surface.
These near earth asteroids pass over earth and in case of some of them their orbits also intersect the earth’s orbit, making it easier to understand their composition using remote sensing technology. This technology helps to develop RADAR images of the asteroids which can be analyzed to understand their usefulness in terms of resources.
Such data collected over a number of years by various space research organizations has made it possible to develop high potential asteroid targets. Apart from the richness in terms of resources, other factors like asteroid’s orbital path, its size, spin rate and composition are also taken into consideration for identifying it as a prospective target for mining.
Now the next step after identifying the Asteroid targets accurately will be to mine them for the resources, so let us understand how this can be done in the future-
Mining the Asteroids
Given the fact that the idea of asteroid mining is in very primitive stage, the initial mining operations would be completely automated in nature. Unlike earth and the other planets, Asteroids do not have any gravitational field, that’s why very little energy is needed to enter an Asteroid’s surface and escape it. Given this fact, PR is right now working on various designs of automated space vehicles which can be launched for Asteroid mining.
The basic concept behind these designs is to develop an automated space vehicle along with a container that can identify a targeted area rich in resources on select asteroid.Once the vehicle manages to do that, it can mine the targeted area and collect the resources extracted in the container vessel, this container vessel would then return back to earth’s surface where the resources can be utilized.
PR aims at launching its first automated probe for proof reading its asteroid mining concept in 2020, this probe will not actually mine or collect any resources, but collect data to verify the presence of resources on the targeted asteroid.
Well Aluxers, as you can guess once this endeavour is successful, the company will be working on launching its automated space vehicles for conducting actual mining. The company is aiming to conduct the actual asteroid mining operations by 2022, well we know some of you would love to be part of such fascinating space endeavours, but till the time they become reality, we suggest you to make the most of your time by exploring our very own beautiful planet.
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Challenges and Threats
Apart from the fact that a lot of resources will be needed for beginning the very first mining operations, there are numerous technical challenges that need to be addressed.
As we mentioned before, pinpointing the right asteroids which are abundant in resources is not an easy job, and even if the researchers manage to do that, it should be noted that these rocky bodies are not stationary in nature. Which makes it even more challenging to launch an automated space vehicle that can mine them.
Also many of the asteroids are like a pile of loosely held giant rocks, which means that we need to develop a technique of holding them together so that the very first automated vehicles are in position to land on their surface.
As some of you must be aware, many intellectuals believe that asteroids are humanity’s greatest challenge, and they fear the destruction that will happen on earth in case of massive asteroid strikes. But we would like to believe otherwise and would prefer to look at these space rocks as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Time will tell if we are able to overcome the associated technical challenges and harvest these mines in outer space, but unlike some of the critics we would like to stay optimistic about this fascinating space venture.
All the space missions so far relied heavily on the fuel and resources that were carried from earth by space shuttles or rockets, but if asteroid mining becomes a reality it will definitely change the economies of space travel.
Not only will it serve as a base for refuelling our rockets but it will also serve as a backup in case of extinction of the resources on earth. But considering the fact that this technology is in primitive stage, we should try our level best in conserving the resources we have by the time the first asteroid mines open.
Aluxers, we would love to know what you think about asteroid mining and do you believe that it will become a reality in the near future? If yes, will you bet your money on the companies that are working towards it?