Could mining asteroids open up the Solar System’s resources to humanity?

How could we extract valuable resources from floating space rocks near Earth?

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Surrounding the Earth are hundreds of mineral-rich rocks, or asteroids, containing what might be billions or even trillions of dollars worth of resources, including metal and water. The possibility of tapping into these unclaimed goldmines has been a long-held and seemingly unobtainable dream, but it might be one that is now moving closer to reality.

Consider the stats, and you’ll start to realise why mining asteroids could be so important for the future of the human race. Just one near-Earth asteroid several kilometres in size could contain more precious metal than has ever been used by humanity, and enough water to power fleets of rockets.

The problem, as is ever the case with new space exploration proposals, is money. Who’s going to stump up the cash to mount an expedition to an asteroid that, for one, could fail, and two, would require huge infrastructure to even be considered a moderate success? The answer could be in the form of private enterprises with an eye for adventure and discovery rather than a significant return in investment.

One company that made headlines earlier this year to do just that was Planetary Resources. A conglomeration of entrepreneurs and technicians including co-founder Peter Diamandis and film director James Cameron, this ambitious venture will be the first to aim to mine asteroids and return their valuable resources to Earth or use them in space.

To read the rest of this article, check out issue 6 of All About Space magazine, on sale now.

Illustration by Adrian Mann

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