Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Asteroid Mining: Fantasy or Reality?

When I was a kid in the 1970's, I read that asteroid mining was in the near future. It turns out, it still is.

All the news about the meteorite that struck Russia last week (and the close passage of an asteroid) got me wondering what ever came of those grandiose plans to harvest asteroids and comets for the benefit of mankind. 

Actually, there is a lot going on. Planetary Resources, for example, is new company that aims to sell resources extracted from asteroids. Asteroids contain precious metals like platinum and iron, and comets have minerals that produce jet fuel. These objects could provide Earth with an abundant supply of raw materials for the foreseeable future. And with private ownership rights in outer spaces still undefined, private companies like Planetary Resources could make a killing. Is this an investment opportunity or just science fiction hyperbole?

Critics of the asteroid mining business have questioned the ability of companies like Planetary Resources to make a profit; even though, studies have found that around 7 500 asteroids exist, with a value of between $1 billion and $25 billion each.

The logistics of mining asteroids are daunting. Nevertheless, I will be paying close attention to this issue for the next few years. It may be a long shot, but it would be wonderful if space mining actually took off. 

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