Space mining - Statistics & Facts

Published by M. Garside, Dec 19, 2018
Space mining, or asteroid mining, refers to the mining of asteroids and other minor planets for their valuable raw materials. While space mining has not yet become a reality, the technology that will eventually enable to exploitation of the rich resources of the asteroids in the solar system is increasingly being developed by a variety of companies. Space mining is an exciting prospect for more than one reason. The obvious reason is that the terrestrial mining industry has many limitations due to the finite nature of the Earth’s resources, and just one asteroid holds more than the entire supply of platinum mined throughout human history. In addition to their large quantities of commodity materials such as gold, nickel, iron, and platinum, many asteroids hold an abundant supply of water, which would be useful as a fuel and water supply replenishment source for space exploration missions.

Approximately 10,000 asteroids have already been identified near the Earth. These near-Earth asteroids vary greatly in size, with some having a diameter of several hundred kilometers, and others as small as several meters across. Davida, which has a real diameter of 326.06 kilometers, has been identified as the most valuable asteroid in the asteroid belt, with a resource value estimated to be some 27 quintillion (26,990,000,000,000,000,000) U.S. dollars. It is a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid, and it contains water, nickel, iron, cobalt, nitrogen, ammonia, and hydrogen. In terms of cost-effectiveness to mine, however, Ryugu has among the highest estimated profit as a proportion of the value of its materials: it is worth some 5.57 trillion U.S. dollars, and it is estimated that 1.25 trillion U.S. dollars of that would be profit.

In June 2016, Luxembourg set aside some 200 million euros (223 million U.S. dollars) to fund space mining initiatives, in addition to announcing the intention to introduce a law providing legal clarity to the commercial production of asteroids in February 2016. Additionally, the United States passed a similar law in November 2015. In addition to Luxembourg’s investment, there are several billionaires that have acted as angel investors to space projects. Google co-founder, Larry Page, is one such individual, having ties to asteroid mining company Planetary Resources. Investment in space ventures in general has increased steadily in each five year period since 2000, from a total investment of 1.11 billion U.S. dollars between 2000 and 2005 to 10.2 billion U.S. dollars between 2012 and 2017 (not including debt financing, which brings the total investment during this period to 10.6 billion U.S. dollars). Some industry insiders have estimated that space mining may be a reality as soon as 2025, with technology continuously being developed by the industry’s key players such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.

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