Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos became the first man on the Earth to officially amass over $100 billion wealth. The staggering number may be mind-boggling for some but experts claim that the record could soon be broken. As per the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. which is an American multinational investment bank and financial services company headquartered in New York City, someone on the Earth will cross the $1 trillion mark soon and that massive wealth will come from asteroid mining.
Asteroids are a rich source of minerals and precious metals. Also, mining from an asteroid is getting feasible and cheaper day by day. As per the Goldman Sachs report, we will soon find an asteroid rich in precious metal like platinum and its mining will be a hugely profitable business.
“While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high, the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower. Prospecting probes can likely be built for tens of millions of dollars each and Caltech has suggested an asteroid-grabbing spacecraft could cost $2.6bn,” the report says.
$2.6 billion (£2 billion) sounds like a lot, but it is only about one-third the amount that has been invested in Uber, putting the price well within reach of today’s VC funds. It is also a comparable to the setup cost for a regular earthbound mine. (This MIT paper estimates a new rare earth metal mine can cost up to $1 billion, from scratch.)
There is just one problem: That same asteroid would instantly tank the entire platinum market: “Successful asteroid mining would likely crater the global price of platinum, with a single 500-meter-wide asteroid containing nearly 175X the global output, according to MIT’s Mission 2016.”
Nonetheless, Goldman is bullish. “We expect that systems could be built for less than that given trends in the cost of manufacturing spacecraft and improvements in technology. Given the capex of mining operations on Earth, we think that financing a space mission is not outside the realm of possibility.”
“The first trillionaire there will ever be is the person who exploits the natural resources on asteroids,” said renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. “There’s this vast universe of limitless energy and limitless resources. I look at wars fought over access to resources. That could be a thing of the past, once space becomes our backyard.”
According to Dr Will Davies, co-director of the Political Economy Research Centre at Goldsmiths College: “While much philanthropy is entirely virtuous, there are obvious risks. When corporations make donations in areas, often they are pushing their strategic interests. The worry with extreme wealth is that it allows individuals to support potentially more outlandish agendas, and to cultivate pet projects that can grow into whole new academic fields.”
Davies agrees that “the moment is ripe for a populist reaction against these concentrations of wealth”, which could be channelled against technology monopolies such as Amazon, but fears regulators and governments have lost much of their authority in our current political culture. For Davies, the rise of the super-wealthy has gone hand-in-hand with a “successful conservative ideology which, supported by the right-wing media, has created the sense that the super-rich are less dangerous than government bureaucrats.”
Asteroid mining is the exploitation of raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets, including near-Earth objects. Minerals can be mined from an asteroid or spent comet then used in space for construction materials or taken back to Earth.
These include gold, iridium, silver, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten for transport back to Earth; iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, aluminium, and titanium for construction.
Due to the high launch and transportation costs of spaceflight, inaccurate identification of asteroids suitable for mining, and in-situ ore extraction challenges, terrestrial mining remains the only means of raw mineral acquisition today. If space program funding, either public or private, dramatically increases, this situation is likely to change in the future as resources on Earth are becoming increasingly scarceand the full potentials of asteroid mining—and space exploration in general—are researched in greater detail.:47f However, it is yet uncertain whether asteroid mining will develop to attain the volume and composition needed in due time to fully compensate for dwindling terrestrial reserves
An important factor to consider in target selection is orbital economics, in particular the change in velocity (Δv) and travel time to and from the target. More of the extracted native material must be expended as propellant in higher Δv trajectories, thus less returned as payload. Direct Hohmann trajectories are faster than Hohmann trajectories assisted by planetary and/or lunar flybys, which in turn are faster than those of the Interplanetary Transport Network, but the reduction in transfer time comes at the cost of increased Δvrequirements.
Near-Earth asteroids are considered likely candidates for early mining activity. Their low Δv makes them suitable for use in extracting construction materials for near-Earth space-based facilities, greatly reducing the economic cost of transporting supplies into Earth orbit.
The table above shows a comparison of Δv requirements for various missions. In terms of propulsion energy requirements, a mission to a near-Earth asteroid compares favorably to alternative mining missions.
An example of a potential target for an early asteroid mining expedition is 4660 Nereus, expected to be mainly enstatite. This body has a very low Δv compared to lifting materials from the surface of the Moon. However, it would require a much longer round-trip to return the material.
Multiple types of asteroids have been identified but the three main types would include the C-type, S-type, and M-type asteroids:
- C-type asteroids have a high abundance of water which is not currently of use for mining but could be used in an exploration effort beyond the asteroid. Mission costs could be reduced by using the available water from the asteroid. C-type asteroids also have a lot of organic carbon, phosphorus, and other key ingredients for fertilizer which could be used to grow food.
- S-type asteroids carry little water but look more attractive because they contain numerous metals including: nickel, cobalt and more valuable metals such as gold, platinum and rhodium. A small 10-meter S-type asteroid contains about 650,000 kg (1,433,000 lb) of metal with 50 kg (110 lb) in the form of rare metals like platinum and gold.
- M-type asteroids are rare but contain up to 10 times more metal than S-types
A class of easily recoverable objects (EROs) was identified by a group of researchers in 2013. Twelve asteroids made up the initially identified group, all of which could be potentially mined with present-day rocket technology. Of 9,000 asteroids searched in the NEO database, these twelve could all be brought into an Earth-accessible orbit by changing their velocity by less than 500 meters per second (1,800 km/h; 1,100 mph). The dozen asteroids range in size from 2 to 20 meters (10 to 70 ft).