Saturday, 21 September 2019

Research: Asteroid Mining

With Earth’s resources running short, asteroid mining seems on first examination to be a great idea. But is it science fiction or an actual possibility?
Asteroids are lumps of rock and rubble floating in space. The asteroid belt orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter and is estimated to contain 150 million large asteroids. There are also over 20,000 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), which effectively bring the asteroids to us instead of us having to get all the way out to the main asteroid belt.

The book A Brief History of the Future suggests asteroid mining as a reality, but that is only supposition. There are enormous challenges to overcome and vast amounts of money required before we can tap into this vast store of resources. But maybe it is the only way forward, since experts estimate the Earth’s resources with run out in 50-60 years.

Artist's impression of asteroid mining (NASA)
Asteroids fall into three main categories:
  1. 75% of them are C-Type (carboniferous). These have a large amount of water, which could be converted to oxygen for breathing in spacecraft and hydrogen for rocket fuel. The water also contains components of fertilisers for growing crops.
  2. 17% are S-Type (silicaceous). They contain numerous metals including: nickel, cobalt and more valuable metals such as gold, platinum and rhodium. A small 10-meter S-type asteroid contains about 650,000 kg (1,433,000 lb) of metal with 50 kg (110 lb) in the form of rare metals like platinum and gold.
  3. Many of the rest are M-Type (metallic). They contain up to 10 times as much metal as the S-Type asteroids but are rare.
Before we can consider mining them, we have to prospect, and work out which type each asteroid is, and which are the best initial asteroids to mine. Because of the huge setup costs, early mining will probably be for profit. An article on the MIT Technology Review website called How the asteroid-mining bubble burst tells of how the two main companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, had to be sold because they couldn’t raise enough capital.
The Wikipedia article on Asteroid Mining was too technical for me, but I also found an article on the Interesting Engineering website called Asteroid Mining: What Will it Involve and is This the Future of Wealth? 

There is also some good stuff on YouTube. Here’s a sample:
The first part of my novel Intruders is on an asteroid where they are mining crystals. That was interesting to research. You might find it interesting to read.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

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