What is Asteroid Mining? It’s a very novel concept and could have some positive upsides in the future. But there are currently a few hurdles that have to be crossed before asteroids and other space bodies could be mined for human industrial consumption in areas such as manufacturing.
What is asteroid mining?
Asteroid mining is the exploitation of raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets, including near-Earth objects.
Another definition of asteroid mining is sending a spacecraft to asteroids, comets, or other planetary bodies to exploit their natural resources for the purpose of human use. Once mined, these resources would be returned to earth for industrial use and the targets would be selected based upon a number of factors such profit or required materials.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of asteroid mining to humanity would be the potential to gather more resources than are currently available on Earth and the potential for moving industrial manufacturing to space. By being able to provide additional resources that are otherwise scarce on Earth,
How Would Humanity Mine Asteroids?
There have been several different options that have been thrown around for how to make this a reality.
- Bring raw asteroidal material to Earth for use.
- Process it on-site to bring back only processed materials, and perhaps produce propellant for the return trip.
- Transport the asteroid to a safe orbit around the Moon, Earth or to the ISS. This can hypothetically allow for most materials to be used and not wasted.
The issue with asteroid mining is that currently, the technology to do so still needs to be developed. Plus, these new developed technologies will need to bring the cost of space flight down, as the construction of “space infrastructure” will help to reduce long-term running costs. Plus, with new space companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin working on parts of this infrastructure such as reusable rockets to reduce price, there are definitely developments being made.
There are several legal issues that any potential miners will have to deal regarding space law before one can mine planetary bodies as easily as just getting a permit or making sure nobody else is mining that body.
- The Outer Space Treaty–Treaty signed by over 100 countries that is a very broad treaty that explicitly and implicitly prohibits only the acquisition of territorial property rights, but extracting space resources is allowable. This means that extracting resources from asteroids should be allowed.
- The Moon Agreement–Signed by 18 countries and explicitly designates the Moon and its natural resources as part of the Common Heritage of Mankind. Might be allowed to mine the moon if overseen by an international organization
- Legal regimes of some countries–Countries such as the US are creating laws that says that space based companies must stay within the frameworks that the country has to live by. Other countries such as Luxembourg are doing work to encourage asteroid mining by creation of a new legal framework.
We will be taking a deeper dive into space law in a later article.
Who is working on asteroid mining?
|Planetoid Mines Company||Seed company with 11-50 people|
|NEO Resource Atlas (NEORA)||Implement a process that allows for high-level analysis of NEOs, even within days of first being discovered.|
|Deep Space Industries||Acquired by Bradford Space on January 1st, 2019|
|Planetary Resources||Planning missions and investing technologies|
|Moon Express||Was in running for XPrize. Has a few contracts.|
|Kleos Space||Launching satellites to help communicate with satellites going to mine asteroids in the future.|
|TransAstra||Helping to turn thousands of asteroids in refueling stations for NASA and commercial spacecraft|
|Aten Engineering||Provides technical solutions in the areas of detection, discovery, follow-up and characterization of Near Earth Asteroids,|
|Air Space and Beyond (ASB)||Asteroid Mining Research|
|OffWorld||Developing a new generation of universal industrial robots to do the heavy lifting on Earth, Moon, asteroids and Mars.|
|Asteroid Mining Corporation Ltd. UK||Small company building satellites to help prospect asteroids.|
What progress are they making?
The asteroid mining companies have gone through a period of growth and recently consolidation. There is definitely potential for money to be made and for resources to be mined, but it looks like at this time, there are some hurdles. These hurdles include designing, building, testing, and launching a spacecraft for the purpose of mining, plus returning the materials. As of this time, the potential looks great on paper, but only national agencies have been to asteroids. Once a ready, the opportunity awaits as the costs come down!