It might sound and look like something out of a sci-fi film, but asteroid mining is very much a reality, and one that could greatly benefit humanity. For decades it has been nothing but a pipe dream and, until recently, nobody had been able to devise a clear plan for long-term mining of an asteroid.
That all changed when a new company called Planetary Resources, Inc outlined a clear goal in early 2012 to mine near-Earth asteroids for valuable minerals. Set up by some familiar and rich names, including James Cameron and Google’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, the company aims to supplement the Earth’s natural resources by developing and deploying robotic asteroid-mining vehicles.
Right now, Planetary Resources is still in its very early planning stages, attempting to identify the key technologies that will allow it to produce the necessary machinery to forge these large mining droids. However, the ultimate aim – and one in which its backers readily accept is still a number of decades away – is to survey numerous asteroids for their mineral and water content, before dispatching automated miners to harvest them. Up to five orbital telescopes are expected to be launched by 2014 to begin the survey.
Indeed, the existence of Planetary Resources is fascinating because it is in it for the long haul, creating a completely conceivable roadmap to asset extraction. If successful, the endeavour could prove very profitable for the company, with studies indicating that most asteroids are rich in minerals such as iron, nickel and titanium – which are in restrictive supply on Earth. If these elements could be extracted and processed it would prove invaluable for future industry.
What is most fascinating, though, is that in its mission to mine asteroids, Planetary Resources could actually provide a viable base from which humans could expand into the Solar System. If water, oxygen and construction materials can be acquired from off-planet sources, then the speed and quantity of any planned colonisation project would be dramatically increased.
Images courtesy of SPL and Planetary Resources.
What do you think? Would asteroid mining supply us with unlimited energy and untold resources? Let us know below.