A Mine That’s Out of This World
A new company plans to mine valuable minerals from outer space
All across Earth, companies mine for metals, minerals, and other precious resources. Now, a new company has announced plans to mine for valuable materials beyond this planet.
The company, Planetary Resources, is developing robotic spacecraft that would hunt for and mine asteroids—rocky objects in space. The spacecraft would try to gather water and metals.
“[Many of these asteroids are] full of resources, and we can bring [them] back to humanity,” says Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis.
Millions of asteroids exist, and nearly 9,000 of them are near the Earth. Of those, more than 1,500 are as easy for us to reach as the moon because they have Earth-like orbits and small gravity fields.
Here’s how the mining would work: The company would send telescopes into space to locate asteroids. Robotic spacecraft would then dock on the asteroids, study their water and metal content, and beam the results back to Earth. When the company finds a suitable asteroid, a swarm of mining robots would gather the water and metal from it and deliver the materials wherever they are needed.
THE FUTURE OF SPACE EXPLORATION
Water mined from asteroids could help advance human space exploration in many ways. It could be used to make rocket propellant to refuel rocket engines at fuel depots set up in space. That would mean that rockets wouldn’t have to carry propellant all the way from Earth. This would save energy and money. Water could also be used to fuel satellites, resupply space stations, shield spaceships from radiation, and more.
Some of the metals mined from asteroids, such as platinum, would be sent back to Earth. Other metals, including iron and aluminum, could be moved to collection points in space and eventually be used in space construction, spacecraft shielding, and industrial processes at space stations.
Planetary Resources, which employs former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials, plans to launch its first spacecraft into low-Earth orbit within two years. NASA is supportive of the company’s efforts.
“This project aligns well with our national space policies and goals,” says NASA spokesman David Weaver. “We will certainly look to take advantage of [its] resources and data.”