Humans love space. You could say we have an obsession with it. Whether we’re stargazing, sending men to the moon, or arguing over the likelihood of extraterrestrial life, man is fixated on the big, endless vacuum. But for the most part, we’re earthbound, because sending people to space costs a shit-ton. Sure, we’ve been to the moon, and soon Mars, but then what?
A lack of fuel, funding, and the ability to efficiently refuel in space make it impossible to travel farther than our closest cosmic cousins. Thankfully, one company is set to change all that. Deep Space Industries, a California-based asteroid mining company, recently announced their plans to undertake the first ever commercial deep-space mining mission. The mission, called Prospector-1, will travel to a near-Earth asteroid to investigate its potential resources as early as 2019.
The craft, weighing only about 110 lbs when fueled, will determine the composition of the asteroid using visual and infrared scanning. Once a full scan is complete, the craft will land on the asteroid’s surface and continue studying its geology. Although this is only a prospecting mission, the company plans to be mining resources in the 2020s.
Space is expensive. Sending a pound into orbit can cost as much as $25,000. If we’re to become a true space-faring civilization, we’ll need to build orbital/space infrastructure. Asteroid mining companies are working toward a future where ships can stock up at mining stations already orbiting Earth. With resources on millions of asteroids circling the sun, asteroid mining could make exploring the solar system that much easier, and, let’s be honest, that much more awesome.
Photo: Deep Space Industries
But wait, I thought we were mining the asteroids to send resources back to Earth?
We are, but they will be used twofold. Because of the costs involved transporting goods to and from space, most of the material will be used to create an in-space economy. Asteroids will play a vital role in helping us spread ourselves throughout the solar system, creating an orbital/space infrastructure that will be used to create an in-space refueling system. If successful, we would have the ability to hop between planets, refueling at asteroid “gas stations,” probing deeper into space than ever before.
Deep Space, Deep Pockets
There is big money in asteroid mining. An asteroid the size of your house can contain hundreds of tons of metal and about your weight in gold. It’s estimated that of the 9,000 near-Earth asteroids (the ones we can reach), the wealth value equals approximately $100 billion per human on Earth. Each asteroid alone is potentially worth trillions.
An asteroid is full of precious, platinum-group metals, and there’s big money in it. These are metals that are rare on Earth, but essential for manufacturing electronic and high-tech goods. There are approximately 1,500 of these near-Earth asteroids known today that are easier to reach than the moon.
What’s in an asteroid?
I C-Type (Carbon Type)
Carbon-rich asteroids are the most common, making up 75 percent of asteroids. They mostly contain water and other elements for life.
II S-Type (Silicate or stony asteroids)
Stony asteroids come in at a distant second, making up 17 percent of asteroids. They are less common but mineral-rich.
III M-Type (Metallic)
Much less numerous. Mostly nickel and iron. We would not be looking at bringing it home to Earth, rather for building stuff in space.