4.23.2012

Asteroid Mining: James Cameron and Larry Page Might be up to Asteroid Mining, but it’s not in Earth’s Budget


By on 7:39 PM


“[Planetary Resources] will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources'.”

After hearing the cryptic and mysterious press release about a space exploration company named Planetary Resources, the Internet has been hopping about the various resource-related possibilities. Do they mean solar power satellites? Space colonies? Using dark matter as fuel? So far, asteroid mining has been the top (and, really, only) item on the list.

Why, how, and, above all, what?

Don’t get me wrong, this would be awesome. The potential boon to space exploration that asteroid mining would be is pretty immeasurable, especially when the venture has the face of culturally-accepted business icons James Cameron, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Figuring out the logistics to tap into infinite metal resources is like pressing a button labeled, ‘Automatic Space Colonies.’ What it is not, however, is like pressing a button labeled, ‘Automatic Terrestrial Wealth and Increased Quality of Life.’

So let’s sit down and think about this for a second.

Space is filled with a lot of stuff that humans need. Titan has propane lakes, the Sun puts off virtually infinite energy (and we really should be tapping into that before we get too caught up in anything else), and asteroids carry quite a lot of valuable metal. There’s even a giant space cloud filled with enough water to, as National Geographic says, “fill all the oceans on the Earth over 140 trillion times.” These resources certainly exist and are – as far as we know – free for the taking. The supply isn’t the problem, and the problem most certainly isn’t demand, because increasing populations and the increasing volume of materials belonging to said populations probably won’t go down any time soon.

The problem is access. By access, I don’t just mean how we’re going to get our hands on it (though that has quite a few logistical issues of its own), I mean, how are we going to get our hands on it and drag it down to Earth’s surface?

Most likely, we’re not. Why? Money.

To get something into low Earth orbit (LEO) in the average American space shuttle cost $10,416 (2000 US$). I know that’s with kind of old technology, and I know the public sector is far less efficient than the private sector (let’s give a quick round of applause to SpaceX, featured in last week’s news). But that’s per pound just from Earth to LEO. That’s not from the asteroid back down to Earth, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the actual mining and exploratory costs. Asteroid metal just isn’t worth it at the moment.

Wikipedia cites NewScientists’s “Earth’s natural wealth: an audit,” and says we might run out of our favorite metals like antimony, copper, gold, indium, lead, silver, tine, and zinc – all things we might anticipate in nearby-asteroids – pretty soon, but until that happens, or is close enough to happening that the costs of terrestrial metals and asteroid-mined metals are the same, the metal won’t be used on the surface. It’s not yet worth it as anything more than a novelty or a promotional piece.

So, asteroid mining, as it stands, isn’t tremendously useful for surface-based industries. It’s a bit like space tourism: awesome, but exorbitant. It costs about $20,000,000 per person to go to orbit, so very few people are willing to go until it costs less; however, it won’t cost less until people go. Maybe, somehow, demand and use will make the cost of transportation per pound (and per person) go down, but probably not too terribly soon.

At least, I don't think so. But I'd be really happy to be wrong.

If you think asteroid-mining is about to become the next big thing in global economic history or have other ideas for what Planetary Resources is all about, be sure to leave a comment!

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

About Syed Faizan Ali

Faizan is a 17 year old young guy who is blessed with the art of Blogging,He love to Blog day in and day out,He is a Website Designer and a Certified Graphics Designer.

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