With the launch of the Falcon Heavy space shuttle and the successful return of two of its three boosters may make it possible to carrying heavier payloads into space and could lower the costs of launches and this paves the way for Space Mining .
“Noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, among others, have claimed that the world’s first trillionaire will make his or her fortune in space minerals. According to NASA, the minerals that lie in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter hold wealth equivalent to a staggering $100 billion for every person on Earth.“
Lack of legal clarity over the ownership of space resources and laws presiding over space are largely ambiguous in general has created some gaps in the law, and some things need to be clarified to provide more certainty on current laws.
The most comprehensive law today is the United Nations-sponsored Outer Space Treaty of 1967, but confusion between countries remains.
LEGALISING the space mining
Space is becoming more crowded, with a surge in the number of companies looking to reap the benefitS
National governments issue licenses to parties that want to conduct activities in space, and the countries where private companies operate are responsible for enforcing regulations.
Enforcement is done by national government authorities, but a specialized space authority does not exist yet. Current limitations to space exploration and travel capabilities mean that space mining would develop as a relationship between the private sector and the government.
The SPACE Act bill, if passed, will allow private companies to mine asteroids and sell whatever they dig up.
“Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto, consistent with applicable provisions of Federal law and existing international obligations.” -H.R. 1508
Great news for companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries (DSI) who have already invested millions of dollars into this exact concept. Companies are particularly focused on asteroids that consist of metals that are rare to us on Earth or asteroids that contain large amounts of water which, with the right technology, can be converted to rocket fuel and oxygen.
Doing space BUSINESS
There are some unbelievably valuable rocks flying around in our solar system. The website Asterank uses information about asteroid sizes and composition, along with current market prices to calculate the most valuable known asteroids. Some are estimated to be worth more 100 trillion dollars. It’s a number large enough to turn any potential investor’s head.
Both asteroid mining companies, Planetary Resources and DSI are currently focused on this exact aspect of the mission: prospecting asteroids to identify the most valuable interplanetary real estate.
Planetary Resources is working to perfect their Arkyd spacecraft that will eventually be launched as a fleet into the solar system to image and characterize promising asteroids. This will lead to a unique strategy in the space business. Rather than building a single highly customized spacecraft for only one mission, Planetary Resources hopes to eventually mass produce a swarm of these machines, reducing the per-spacecraft cost and time for development.
Doing Space mining an asteroid is going to take over a decade. Before, the company has a chance to tap into the multi-trillion dollar asteroid mining market, it plans to make money from the Arkyd spacecraft itself. The prospecting spacecraft can be pointed back at the Earth which will enable Planetary Resources to sell scientific information to universities, business, and government. They’ve even said that the spacecraft itself will be on the market for private scientific work.
In general, the technology required to mine an asteroid depends on the type of asteroid you’re working with. This is where the Arkyd and FireFly( DSI) spacecraft play a pivotal role. The asteroid’s composition, mass, density, rate of rotation, and precise orbital trajectory will all be factors.
Space mining hurdle
An asteroid rendezvous is technologically tricky for a number of reasons. Asteroids spin and they orbit the sun at thousands of miles per hour. They’re also relatively small in mass and won’t provide enough gravitational force to hold a spacecraft securely to its surface. Successfully rendezvousing and securing the spacecraft will be challenging enough without the additional requirement of mining, and processing materials in space.
For both Planetary Resources and DSI, bringing in sufficient revenue to develop these necessary asteroid mining technologies, and survive as a company long enough to test them out, will be key to their success.
The odds of finding asteroid worth billions of dollars
There is only one metallic asteroid that astronomers have identified and are tracking — Psyche, which NASA plans to study in a mission that launches in 2022. Psyche exist, and NASA and the rest of the space community is eager to study Psyche precisely to understand more about how these types of asteroids form, and how we can better identify and track other metallic buggers in the solar system.
The first commercial mission to investigate the potential of asteroid mining is launching in 2020, by Deep Space Industries. The company has yet to select a near Earth asteroid to head to, but that rock could very well possess something worth a lot of money, even if its not a goddamn football field worth of platinum.
Still, the search is on.