Space Mining: What Resources Would We Compete for in Space?
World powers not only have an interest in space to increase human knowledge, they also seek to profit from space mining .
LatinAmerican Post| Juan Manuel Londoño
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Leer en español: Minería espacial ¿Por cuáles recursos competiríamos en el espacio?
Asteroid mining for hard-to-obtain resources on earth is close to becoming a reality. This would be the possibility of exploiting the raw materials of asteroids and other near-Earth objects, which are scarce on the latter. A study carried out by Harvard University in 2013 determined that there are 10 asteroids potentially rich in metals and 18 sufficiently rich in water that are within our reach.
Next, we will tell you a little more about the materials that we could obtain from the space and what could be the impact for the earth.
“Rare Earths”: the New Billionaires Are Looking for Them
This is the name given to 17 chemical elements whose pure form is difficult to find. These include lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium.
These materials are used for magnets, alloys, glasses and, perhaps most importantly, for the production of a wide variety of electronic elements. It may seem like a stretch that we have to resort to space travel to get these items, but there are economic things to consider. A rare earth metals mine has comparable setup costs of up to $1 billion, while an asteroid the size of a football field could contain up to $50 billion of platinum. In economic terms, it is of course worthwhile to search for these metals in space.
Also read: China's Missions to the Moon What Are They Looking For?
Helium-3 reserves are extremely rare on Earth, because the atmosphere protects us from radiation. However, the Moon does not have this protective shield, so this material is abundant on it. According to some estimates, all of this material could supply the Earth's energy reserves for the next 250 years, through the use of nuclear fission. For this reason, this material is highly desired by some space agencies, such as China.
Water: the Most Valuable Resource of All
Although water is abundant on Earth, it is also a very appealing resource for those looking to mine in space. Why? As it turns out, water could be used as a cheap and convenient source of propulsion for space travel, so in the very distant future, we could use it to more easily travel around our solar system. Considering that approximately 90% of the weight of modern rockets comes from their fuel, it is not an exaggeration to say that being able to obtain an off-planet propulsion source would help a lot with the costs of space exploration.
In fact, NASA already has several plans on paper to obtain water from some asteroids. For example, it has developed a technique called “optical mining.” This consists of the use of sunlight, concentrated by mirrors, to extract water and other volatile materials from the matter excavated from asteroids.