|2/6/2016 by mdc|
|Clive Cookson reports that the Luxembourg government announced this week that it will promote a commercial asteroid mining industry astonished even seasoned space industry observers. He opines that doubters, like himself, had many questions. Is it feasible to extract materials from asteroids, rock and ice hundreds of millions of miles away, and process them into useful products and commodities? If so, can anyone make money out of it? And even if the economics stack up, why should little Luxembourg be involved?|
Further consideration and conversations with the project promoters are beginning to convince me that it is not a crazy science fantasy. Space agencies from the U.S., China Europe and Japan have already sent probes to the Moon, asteroids and comets. This year NASA will launch a mission to visit asteroid Bennu and bring a sample back to Earth, with the explicit aim of helping us learn how to mine asteroids.
These bodies are generally richer in valuable materials than current mines on Earth. This is because heavier elements, such as platinum metals, sank down into their cores as the young planets cooled. Sending small scout satellites into interplanetary space to find the best prospects for exploitation is relatively simple and affordable.
Potential returns will depend on the types of resource exploited. At one end of the scale are precious metals such as platinum, which are richly concentrated in some asteroids. But a plentiful new supply from space would certainly cause the price to crash if large volumes were to be made available to industry.
The Luxembourg government plans to offer hard cash to space resources companies. It will also provide Europe first legal framework giving private operators property rights to resources they extract in outer space. U.S. also announced right to U.S. citizens a few months ago. No wonder both Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries responded enthusiastically to this announcement from Luxembourg.
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