The concept of mining asteroids has been tossed around in the scientific community for years, and renewed interest sparked when a valuable solid platinum asteroid passed the Earth. Thousands of space rocks reside in our stellar neighborhood that could accommodate the precious metals we demand, even after depleting the Earth’s natural supply.
Nevertheless, taking the first steps to turn space mining into an actuality proves to be a challenging venture. To date, no one has accomplished it, and many experts speculate that we might not achieve such a challenging feat until several decades in the future.
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Despite the circumstances, asteroid expert J.L. Galache of Aten Engineering has a separate thought process. He's confident that the first space rock mining efforts could happen as soon as 10-20 years from now, citing that the most challenging part this long-term goal is taking the primary step.
“The first step is always the hardest, but once it is taken and a concept is proven, investment will follow,” Galache said.
Galache aspires for Aten Engineering to be one of the first organizations to take part in space mining so that it can shape the future of exploiting space-based resources. After moving forward with the first steps, he presumes that others will follow suit, refining the methods used to get these resources back to Earth as they go along.
“Asteroid mining on a regular basis, such as terrestrial mining takes place today, with an established industry and an ecosystem of supporting services businesses for the mining companies, could start anywhere from 20 to 50 years is my personal opinion,” he continued.
“But any industry must start somewhere, and I think we will see the first asteroid being mined 10 to 20 years from now, at which point the surrounding ecosystem will begin to grow.”
Many questions linger about the feasibility of space mining, but answers are few and far in between. One subject that comes to mind is how we’ll improve our prospecting efficiency and develop the tools required to mine the plethora of different resources accessible from space rocks.
“For example, you will not send the same equipment to mine an iron-nickel asteroid as you would a carbonaceous asteroid, and you will not send the same equipment to mine a fine regolith-covered asteroid as a rubble pile,” Galache explained.
“I do believe we have figured out what all the unknowns are and it is just a matter of finding answers and solutions to those unknowns.”
It should be intriguing to see if future headways in technology will impact our space mining capabilities; more importantly, whether we’ll tackle this feat in 10-20 years or not.
If anything’s for sure, there are trillions of dollars’ worth of precious metals just above our heads, and all we need to do is bring it down from the skies. Wishful thinking... right?
Source: Spaceflight Insider