Asteroids are often ripe with valuable materials. In addition to water and gases, certain minerals and precious metals can be extracted from near-Earth asteroids.
In less than a century, the human population has almost quadrupled, going from 2 billion in 1920 to 7.5 billion today, and it is expected to soar to over 11 billion by 2100.Asteroid mining could soon provide REEs to Earth.Click To Tweet
With Earth reaching its limits, sustaining the world population and ensuring economic growth could require tapping into resources beyond the planet, such as the Moon and near-Earth objects (NEOs).
Asteroids, the Low-Hanging Fruits of Outer Space
It’s estimated that of the 600,000 NEOs in the solar system, about 16,000 of them pass “close” to Earth–within 1.3 Astronomical Units, 1 AU = 150 million kilometers–ranging in diameter from few meters to tens of kilometers and many of them come closer than the Moon.
As leftovers from the formation of the solar system, near-Earth asteroids are rocky, irregular bodies that oftentimes contain gases and water in addition to minerals and other elements.
Luxembourg, the tiny, landlocked European duchy, is becoming a world center for asteroid mining, and is taking steps toward that goal.
Last year, the Luxembourg government has signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with asteroid mining startup Deep Space Industries (DSI) regarding their prospecting, extraction, and commercialization of space resources.
What can be Mined From Asteroids?
The composition of asteroids, and NEOs in general, is determined by their distance from the sun. Closer ones are mostly carbon, while the far ones are mostly made of silicate. Apart from water and gases, NEOs are ripe with elements and rare metals that are becoming more and more scarce and expensive on Earth.
Metallic NEOs are mainly made up of a mixture of 7 minerals: mostly iron (about 80%), gold, nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, and magnesium, with other rare elements, such rhodium, osmium, and ruthenium.
An asteroid could contain far more platinum than the richest mines on Earth. According to Goldman Sachs, a single asteroid 500 meters in length may contain up to 175 times more platinum than the output of all landmines worldwide in one year.
You could even imagine asteroids serving as a rest area for long space missions, where crews could refuel and get necessary supplies.
But, as we were taught by Moon Express, the legislative framework for space mining missions–at least, in the U.S.–hasn’t been ironed out. Countries interested in mining resources from NEOs may have to address this problem sooner rather than later.