AMU Editor's Pick Original Space

Asteroid Mining: The New Space Race for Precious Minerals

By Jessica Stasiw
Contributor, In Space News

The race is on for mining not only precious minerals but also building out a security force to keep our technology, and our place among the stars, safe from the unknown. Since President Trump’s proposal of a Space Force in March of 2018, stories have been swirling about the implications of a new branch of the U.S. government brought about to potentially maintain our dominance in space.

But as with most species, survival is of the utmost importance. It begs the question of whether this idea of forming a new protective sphere is around harvesting precious materials for extending life not only on earth, but in future space missions as well.

Asteroid mining is still a relatively new concept. With both private and federally owned entities trying to take the realm of what could be a trillion-dollar treasure hunt. I believe this new “Force” will be activated to protect these mining trips in space as well, and not just our satellites.

According to The Guardian, “one of the main reasons asteroids will be mined in the future is for the water locked in their clay deposits, and one of the chief uses of that water is likely to be as propellant for a spacecraft.” Before the conclusion of 2018, no spacecraft was able to get close enough to an asteroid to mine materials, but that changed on December 3, 2018 when NASA’s Osiris-REx reached Bennu.

Destination Asteroid Bennu

Osiris-REx’s rendezvous with the Bennu asteroid was arranged because of its water-bearing clay materials. The goal of the journey was to “travel around the half-kilometer asteroid, while making maps, and then gathering a 150g sample to be returned to earth.”

Just seven days later from reaching its destination and 1.4 million miles from Earth, NASA reported that Osiris-REx had already discovered water on the asteroid. This discovery further fuels the asteroid mining industry in proving that these ‘space rocks’ hold untold potential for our future travels in space.

Deep space travel has been something both scholars and sci-fi authors alike have dreamed about for some time. Colonization on Mars may one day be a reality, but it’s reliant on the discovery journeys in which scientists and conservationists are looking to preserve and extract vital elements like hydrogen and oxygen for breathable air.

According to Labroots, “deep space missions face several challenges, including human safety and resource limitations, but asteroid mining could potentially solve the latter issue.” This could potentially mean ‘refuel stations in space’ whereby manned spacecrafts can stop for a quick fill up before continuing on an arduous journey to the next inhabitable planet. The possibilities are endless.

So where do we go from here? It’s not quite time to grab our oxygen and run to the nearest shuttle, but we need to start thinking about the gains we are looking to get from the stars. Will the new Space Force seek to have a silo effort in purely harvesting depleted resources, and will the new command be set in place to protect the mining of that precious material?

If interplanetary travel becomes a necessity in the distant future, asteroid mining may be the solution to sustaining these missions for extended periods of time. But how will these resources be allocated evenly and to whom?

Will part of the supply be harvested for new research trials or set aside for an apocalyptic scenario back on earth? It’s too early to tell, but with the budding of a space command here in the U.S., do we need to revive the space race or plan for our future in it?

 

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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