Asteroid mining could become a reality sooner than we
think. Source: Richard Fifer
Asteroid mining could become a reality within the next five
years, if financial and technical obstacles can be overcome,
according to Planetary Resources.
Speaking to IM, chief engineer Chris
Lewicki said the single biggest challenge his company is having
to overcome is convincing people that asteroid mining will
happen sooner than they think and be cost-effective.
The cost of going into space is either on par or
cheaper than going to a subterranean mine, said
Firstly, the energy required to extract minerals from an
asteroid is considerably less than to extract from the Earth,
or even the moon, said Lewicki, because in space there is no
atmosphere to oxidise or salt to corrode, no weather, no
gravity or friction to oppose transportation, dissipate energy
and waste heat and unlimited heat from the sun and coldness in
space for refrigeration, creating the perfect
vacuum, as he calls it.
And secondly, Lewicki said asteroid mining will, in the
first instance, be focused on extracting minerals for rocket
fuel, like borax, said to be the most important boron mineral
of industrial use, and is concentrated in the US and Chile,
which would mean resources would be transported to nearby space
stations and not back to Earth.
He said his junior engineering asteroid mining
company, which has backing from several billionaire
investors, including Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt,
software executive Charles Simonyi and filmmaker James Cameron,
has already completed the first step to putting together a
business plan for private investors that Earth-based mining
companies are required to fulfil.
Some of that prospecting is already done for us
through astronomy and telescopic data, the meteorite database
and even some government space missions, said
We are creating a commercial and private capability to
continue doing that to create robotic geologists and send them
out to several more asteroids that we think are economic
interest as opposed to scientific interest and to characterise
that asteroid as a resource, he added.
To advance its prospecting plans, Planetary Resources has
joined up with US space agency, NASA, to recruit programmers
who can help identify asteroids in images taken by ground-based
The Asteroid Data Hunter contest, scheduled for launch on 17
March, will offer $35,000 over the next six months to citizen
scientists who develop improved algorithms that can be used to
As resources deplete, and humans will be required to dig
deeper and deeper into the earths crust to extract the
minerals required for survival, asteroid mining will gain in
Asteroids are lumps of metals, rock and dust, sometimes
laced with ices and tar, which are the cosmic "leftovers" from
the solar system's formation about 4.5bn years ago. There are
hundreds of thousands of them, ranging in size from a few yards
to hundreds of miles across.
To carry out asteroid mining extractions, Lewicki said
companies would not need to invest in new technology
development, but instead adapt existing technology.
Space mining equipment probably bears no resemblance
to earth mining equipment were not going to have
drills and conveyor belts because youre dealing in a
completely different environment, he explained.
In the case of extracting hydrogen and oxygen it might
look more like a seawater distillation plant than a mining
plant here youre using some technologies which
have been developed and demonstrated in NASA missions in the
late 80s and early 90s, Lewicki added.
Theres nothing about the laws of physics that
says this cant be done and were just working to
create that, he said.
We hope that our timing is good and the trajectory
that were on will makes this happen. Whether its us
or someone else I do think this is an inevitable future,
Learn more about new mining technologies at the
IM22 Congress in
Vancouver, 1-3 April 2014.