Asteroid-Mining – ‘Is this the portal to Human survival’

Asteroids are fascinating masses of rock, ranging from just a few meters across to over 1000km in diameter. It is indeed asteroids that are thought to have killed the dinosaurs over 60 million years ago when a pair of asteroids, greater than 100km wide, smashed into the earth causing a series of colossal and deadly shockwaves. However, as dangerous as these large clumps of rock may seem, they may well be the key to our continued existence in the near future. With the population of the earth rising exponentially and the demand for vital resources such as metals becoming greater, asteroid-mining may no longer be just an idea for the story books. It is expected that, if plans go accordingly, we could be extracting vital materials off nearby asteroids within the next 10 years.

Asteroid-mining is simply the idea of ‘digging up’ asteroids in order to obtain metals such as iron, aluminium and titanium which are growing in demand. Although the technology for this sort of undertaking does not yet exist, the technological developments are rapid. Deep Space Industries Inc. is the more recent of two asteroid-mining companies. Having announced in early January their plans to launch a fleet of prospecting spacecraft’s by no later than 2016, chairman Rick Tumlinson said in a public interview, “We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper and faster than ever before.” Deep Space Industries Inc. is the second of the two asteroid-mining companies, the other being Planetary Resources. This raises the question amongst many members of the public, ‘Is space really big enough for two asteroid-mining companies and is it really worth the money?’

Many people believe that the money would be better spent on medical research or searching for other forms of renewable energy. However, it is argued that asteroid-mining could be the answer to our energy needs as the technologies that arise from it could soon lead to further space exploration; this includes uncovering already well-known sources of energy such as natural gas. Titan for one of the many moons of Saturn is known to have hundreds of times more natural gas and other liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth. The question that faces scientists is, ‘How many near earth objects could hold these types of precious materials?’ A further advantage of asteroid-mining as suggested by officials from Deep Space Industries Inc. is that it will provide thousands of jobs; each of these 32kg space probes that intend to build, fireflies and dragonflies, will need an aviator via a live feed to direct the space probes from Mission control. With over 900 asteroids sweeping past Earth every year, the total number of potential ‘mining sites’ is massive!

Deep Space Industries Inc. will also focus on extracting iron and asteroid water (which can then be broken down into Hydrogen and Oxygen) which are the two main constituents of rocket fuel. Although it is for now just another of many ideas, it is hoped that this particular type of mining could one day lead to the formation of space ‘gas stations’, which would consequently allow journeying spacecraft to stop and refuel as part of a greater journey to unimaginably distant planets. Even more so, this may one day lead to the expansion of the human species beyond Earth and far into the cosmos.

Contributed by By Darshan Desai

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