The debate about whether or not Earthlings are dwindling away their resources and leaving future generations with the possibility of a fruitless planet has been raging forever. But the argument may be seriously altered as we attempt to tap into a brand new supply of resources — in outer space. The $330 billion space mining industry is gaining traction and attracting investors and scientists alike. So exactly what is is? In a nutshell, space mining is the concept of gathering resources from outer space for use on Earth. Space mining opens up new portholes into previously unexplored options for our problematic planet.
Unfortunately, however, not everything about space mining is so straightforward. Countries all across the globe are bargaining for space chips and, much like an orbit, the rules to the game are perpetually circling. There are other ethical and other ramifications to consider as well. Would colonizing space give Earthlings even more excuses to disrespect the inhabitable planet they already have? Could it lead to intergalactic nuclear war? Because of all the resources abounding through the constellations, could turn our entire economy upside down.
Is space mining the next gold rush? Many say yes. After all, there is a treasure trove of mineral rich asteroids hovering just above us, ripe for the picking. Unlike in the past, though, we now also possess the necessary technology to plot, extract, and harvest these unparalleled gems. Here’s an in-depth look at the burgeoning interstellar industry that has tycoons and space addicts mesmerized.
What Is Space Mining?
Space mining, sometimes referred to as asteroid mining, is exactly what it sounds like — the act of extracting various necessary materials from space and bringing them back to Earth. This sort of extraterrestrial excavating was once the stuff of science fiction. However, as Earth’s resources reach all-time lows, scientists are looking into this prospect as a serious possibility.
Space mining is not an entirely novel idea, although it may seem that way at first glance. Scientists believe asteroid collisions with Earth are one of the main reasons the planet’s crust is abundant with precious metals like gold, nickel, and platinum. These materials were, essentially, brought here by the asteroids themselves. This “new” approach is really just that same idea with a twist. Rather than waiting for asteroids to hit, humans are starting to take a proactive approach by tapping into all those natural materials.
Space Mining Is Important Because Earth Is Depleting Its Resources
As you read this — on a laptop, a smartphone, or an equivalent electronic device — you might find it difficult to envision a future where basic resources like water have run dry. But don’t let the technology around you make you so naïve. It’s estimated that within the next 50 years or so, many of Earth’s most vital resources will be completely diminished. Fortunately, for our children and their children, and so forth, the prospect of space mining is projected to be right on the horizon. Some say it could even happen within the decade.
An Interstellar Ecosystem Might Just Be The Future Of Energy
In modern society, most of the power generated by humans is reliant on inorganic compounds that are growing scarcer by the second. Space mining remains a controversial intergalactic solution to this exacerbating dilemma. As it turns out, everything we need to power the planet at the rate to which we’ve grown accustomed is hovering just above us in the atmosphere. In the future, tapping into the stars could, literally, recharge all of Earth’s batteries. Planetary Resources claims there are 16,000 near-Earth asteroids that contain easily accessible resources like water and other minerals.
But there’s a dark side to reaping more resources, too. Helium-3, the critical component found in today’s nuclear power, is ample on the Moon. Should competing entities be harvesting nuclear capabilities, the question shifts from who will be the General Electric of the Cosmos to who would be the Emperor Palpatine.
Using The Moon To Harvest The Sun’s Energy Is A More Efficient Way Of Generating Solar Power
If you’re an advocate for solar energy as an alternative to other, seemingly more destructive approaches to harnessing electricity, then you might want to brace yourself for this factoid. High-yield solar power, like the kind you need to run electrical items at home, is not so easily accessible on our planet. The biosphere can only currently access approximately .03% of it and you would need 2.7 million square miles of the landmass on Earth in order to efficiently collect 20 terawatts of power. Comparatively, lunar solar power, which is generated by the Moon, requires 40,000 square miles per 20 terawatts of power, giving it a clear edge over the competition.
Lunar solar power systems convert solar energy into electromagnetic waves, making the energy collecting process significantly safer and less expensive, at least in theory. Several scientists counter that the expense of space travel itself wildly outweighs the price of the 55% of solar energy Earth loses due to absorption and reflection. Other advantageous aspects of collecting solar power from the Moon include the ability to amass solar energy from a place where there is no night, along with extended collection rates and longer collection durations.
The Solar System Is Overflowing With Precious Metals, Gemstones, And Minerals
The solar system is a futuristic cave of wonders begging to be explored. According to NASA’s rep at the JPL Kevin Baines, outer space rains a surplus of over 2 million diamonds annually. Diamond glaciers flow through Jupiter, the Venus mountains are capped in pyrite, and Class M asteroids are made of iron. They’re covered in cobalt, platinum, and precious metals. According to Forbes, asteroid 3554 Amun-NEA contains $600 billion worth of nickel. Dear space pirates, your time is now.
We Now Possess The Technology Needed To Assess The Abundance Of Water In Outer Space
In an elite industry of intergalactic prospecting, the space mining pioneers at Deep Space Industries are on a mission like no other. Their state-of-the-art scientific equipment is designed not only to extract, but also to calculate. Their tiny, avionic spacecraft called Prospector X is scheduled to explore a near-Earth asteroid in the very near future. On its odyssey into outer space, the craft is equipped to map out the asteroid’s water content, using an advanced method of visual and infrared imagery. The next step will be to harvest — mine — the asteroid for the goods.
This Approach Could Serve To Make Intergalactic Travel More Affordable
One counterargument often made regarding space excavation is that the journey doesn’t yield what it costs. For example, at an estimated market price of $56.5 million per launch at low altitude, it doesn’t initially seem worth it to send satellites flying through space in search of riches or even resources, particularly when the net profits are purely speculative. However, it’s becoming apparent that space mining can actually pay for itself. The water and other minerals found in orbit can easily be used to fuel the equipment. This serves to make space mining and space travel more cost effective across the universe.
Space Water Has Immense Transformation Properties And Can Be Turned Into Almost Anything
If you’re ever traveling through space, you won’t have to spend any time riding around in search of a gas station. That’s because water found in space can be converted into all sorts of things. Astoundingly, when its hydrogen and oxygen undergo a process known as electrolysis, space water turns into rocket fuel.
Asteroid Mining Is A $330 Billion Enterprise And Growing
The Interstellar Gold Rush is already underway and major players like NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have multiple hands in the pot. The venture of space mining is not only potentially profitable, it’s also incredibly exciting. The mere thought of a realm containing millions of nutrient-rich asteroids seasoned to be mined, is enough to hit any adventure hearted tycoon right where it hurts — in the wallet. As of late, the UAE has invested $5 billion into the business and Luxembourg has allegedly dropped $227 million, all in hopes of shining bright like a diamond.
As is the case with every business venture, interstellar excavation comes with its share of risks. One failed mission could easily put a company tens of millions of dollars in the hole. There’s always the chance that an asteroid’s gems will be completely worthless, useless, or both. So why, with such potentially devastating risk factors on the line, would anyone exchange a fortune for a starship? Simply put, NASA estimates that the treasures in the asteroid belt alone are worth $700 quintillion or about $100 billion per Earth citizen.
Discussing The Ethics Of Colonizing Space Is Vital To The Industry
One of US President Obama’s arguably most overlooked actions was legalizing space mining while he was in office. Believe it or not, during the Cold War and early days of the space race there was actually a treaty signed called the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which prevented humans from capitalizing on intergalactic resources. At the time, they might not have realized there were quintillions of dollars worth of materials just floating around up there — or they might have been trying to curb the Soviet Union’s growing competition beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
But in 2015, President Obama penned a new law allowing commercial entities to capitalize on interstellar resources. In doing so, however, he also put the power of managing such resources in the hands of the US government. With several other countries vying for prominent asteroid excavating positions, the race to rewrite history might just happen all over the constellations. For now, the rules are that there aren’t any rules. Maybe that’s only because there aren’t any space pirates yet with which to contend, but the ethics of colonizing space is certainly an omnipresent discussion.
Space Mining Has A Four-Step Process, But Much Of It Is Done By Drone
Before you allow your head to swirl with visions of space suits and shovels, flags and ships that float through thin air, you should know that throughout the duration of the space mining process, humans remain firmly planted on Earth (at least for now). Those in charge watch and study via simulated screens and much of the process occurs via drone. There are four steps in total: prospecting, which is surveying the surface; harvesting, which is the actual extraction; processing, which is separating the resources; and manufacturing, which is making things in space.
Thanks To The New Age Concept Of Mining The Cosmos, We Might Start Building Things In Space
Manufacturing in microgravity is a goal of space scientists and intergalactic miners alike, and it basically gives them the ability to build huge equipment in space, eliminating the need for transport from Earth (or giant storage facilities). NASA is already experimenting with the manufacturing of fiber optic filaments with this new technique that’s definitely out of this world.
Does Anybody Live On These Asteroids We’re Mining?
The fact that we’re seriously considering sucking several asteroids dry of their natural resources certainly does beckon the “Is anybody out there?” question. Space mining advocates will tell you that no, the asteroids simply aren’t big enough to sustain life. Take a gander at several other “scientific” websites, however, and you’ll find there are also those who claim there is a strong possibility that life does or could exist on the asteroids. This is particularly true if you ascribe to the popular opinion that the presence of water opens up the possibility of life forms.