Asteroid mining is defined as:
“The exploitation of raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets, including near-Earth objects. Minerals can be mined from an asteroid or spent comet then used in space for construction materials or taken back to Earth.”
Asteroid mining may seem like an idea out of an Andy Weir novel, however, with recent developments many are estimating that asteroid mining of near earth objects is only 10-20 years out of reach. Near Earth Object or NEO refers to an object that has been pulled into the “neighborhood” of earth either by earth’s gravitational pull or that of a nearby planet.
This new influx of precious metals to the market would be a huge advantage in restocking our natural resources. Certain asteroids hold more pure metals in great quantities, a study by NASA supports that the asteroid belt could be worth around 700 quintillion dollars. One issue that has been uncovered is how to determine which asteroids hold certain metals, as different vehicles would need to be sent to obtain different metals and sending the wrong vehicle would be financially devastating. There are a few different classifications of asteroids to help make the decisions on which one to mine.
C-type: contain minimal materials for miners
S-type: contain an abundance of minerals
M-type: contain 10 times the minerals found in S-type
Minerals that can be found in asteroids are: iron, nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, gold, and magnesium to name a few. Metal, however, is not the only thing that would be mined from asteroids. There is a certain interest in the mining of water. NASA has been experimenting with the idea of water extraction from asteroids within the scope of their project adequately named ARM. The idea is not currently financially stable but could be an interesting industry and option for earth in the future. Mining asteroids for water would also support space travel endeavors as a means of supporting life different from sending goods out from earth.
In short, the answer is no. We still have a long way to go before asteroid mining is more than an aspiration. Though we have been making leaps and bounds in innovation through organizations such as NASA, it will still be at least 10-20 years before asteroid mining will begin it’s day.
Learn more about how General Kinematics is working to improve mining here with our innovative vibratory mining equipment on earth by calling GK!