|11/21/2014 by mdc|
|Christopher Rawluk reports that at first glance off-world mining sounds ridiculous. Why would anyone consider mining in space when even the largest Earth-based mining operations seem to have trouble managing costs. After all, mid-grade and marginal deposits seem to have trouble finding any money and the process of moving a project from prospect to mine can take decades and cost hundreds of million of dollars. He was the first to admit that the whole idea of asteroid mining was initially right up there with Star Trek-style transporters and desktop cold fusion, but a few recent events have piqued my curiosity on the subject. The reason is - the scale of such a project and the lack of gravity.|
The recent landing of the Philae spacecraft on comet 67P stirred all of our imaginations in a way that was reminiscent of the moon landing, first shuttle launch or first Mars rover. If we can effectively land a bullet on a bullet 500 million miles away from Earth, then the idea of grabbing a near-earth asteroid does not sound nearly as crazy. The economics might still seem crazy, but the technology not so much.
While the prospect of harvesting resources from space for return to Earth is still more fiction than science, the idea of locating resources that may be useful for in-space development or as fuel sources has some merit. Considering the cost of transporting goods into space, a large water-bearing near-Earth asteroid could have significant economic value were the accompanying extraction and processing technology successfully developed. This is a long way off, but public and private groups have already started looking into ways that this can happen and investing significant resources into testing the waters.