Mining in space

Mining in space

Entrepreneurs plan to mine asteroids

A private company, Planetary Resources, announced plans to mine asteroids for gold, platinum and rare minerals.

Asteroids are huge space rocks left over from the failed attempt to make a planet during the formation of our solar system.

Varying in size from just 50 metres wide to over 10 miles long, asteroids orbit the Sun like planets. There are around 9,000 asteroids which pass very close to Earth.

The first step for Planetary Resources is to find asteroids near Earth which could be mined. Around 150 near-Earth asteroids are thought to be good targets for mining.

To find suitable asteroids, telescopes will be launched into space. The telescopes will search for asteroids with lots of metals, rare minerals or frozen water. Planetary Resources wants to mine asteroids within five to ten years.

planetary-resources-prospecting

Telescopes will be used to find suitable resources (c) Planetary Resources

As well as mining asteroids, Planetary Resources plans to build a fuel station in space. Some asteroids carry frozen water. Water from asteroids could be broken down to liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for rocket fuel. It could be used to refuel commercial satellites or space ships, directly in space.

This work will be dangerous and difficult. Planetary Resources plans to use robots to mine the asteroids, make the fuel and carry out refuelling.

Founders of Planetary Resources include the creator of Google, Larry Page, and the film director and explorer, James Cameron.

Scientists aren't convinced. They don't think that mining asteroids would be cost-effective. It will cost a lot of money to build the technology to mine asteroids, fly to the asteroids and then bring the metals back. NASA is launching an expedition to test the idea of mining an asteroid. It will cost NASA $1 billion to bring back 60 grams of metal worth around $3,500.

However, Planetary Resources argue that although the company won't make money straight away, it will be very profitable in a next few years.

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