GOLDEN, Colorado – Cash flow cascading from the sky is a preliminary but promising harvest from asteroid mining. It’s already a claim-jumping company with claims that billions, trillions, even quadrillions of dollars are appearing in space, ripe for plucking and within reach.
Several space mining groups, eager to delve into alien asteroid excavation, have come and gone. Torn, tattered and battered business plans remain.
However, the past is prologue. But this time, step-by-step strategies are employed. By and large, the prospect of harvesting moolah nuggets from off-earth mining has become a moderate affair.
Related: Asteroid mining startup AstroForge is raising $13 million and releasing books for a test mission
Resources: Pioneers of Space Exploration
“A decade ago, people were excited and there were those who declared that the first trillionaire would be made in space in those years,” said Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines in Gold, Colorado.
“They didn’t succeed and their plans were very ambitious, too far away and just didn’t materialize,” Abbud-Madrid told Space.com. Numerous nations have also engaged in space mining, but for good, he said, they’ve all drawn attention to one important fact: resources are a enabler for space exploration.
In this regard, water has become the main objective everywhere we want to go, Abbud-Madrid added.
Space mining has matured to the point where there are dozens of startup companies, even larger firms, looking at aspects of the so-called “space resource value chain,” Abbud-Madrid said.
But a “who-village” of questions is at play: Who will get the data needed to locate valuable resources in space? Who will identify, drill, excavate, extract and clean available concentrations of material? Who will provide the transportation, power and communications? Who will not only mine, but use the resources to craft structures for space exploration?
deficit in the economic sense
In an economic sense, there is a deficit for now, Abbud-Madrid said, “and that’s why asteroids have been abandoned… but they’re making a comeback.” Still, one has to be careful, Abbud-Madrid said, “because some businesses will fail, some deals won’t close and then it goes down to a more reasonable level. But the interest is there.”
First, however, it is necessary to determine which resources are available. Then the question arises: Who is the customer? “It’s a chicken and egg problem. It’s going in circles,” said Abbud-Madrid.
It is clear that the space resource value chain is now linked to the moon in the short term. “The whole field is moving and it’s all about the moon.” Once it turns out to be a miner’s paradise, he said, “maybe it will be the asteroids, but that may be a much longer term.”
This long-term view will include a legal beagle view of asteroid resource extraction, such as B. Ownership and Entitlement Issues.
“You see consensus that the UN space treaty doesn’t necessarily block resource extraction. He does not allow you to possess the planetary body. But in terms of the law, how do you do it in an organized, efficient, sustainable and responsible way? It takes diplomacy,” concluded Abbud-Madrid.
Get to know asteroids
In recent years, getting to know asteroids up close has gained momentum.
For example, there was the groundbreaking NASA Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous effort that landed on the asteroid Eros in 2001. Japan has achieved sample returns of space rocks with its Hayabusa missions. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently en route back to Earth following its touch-and-go collection event on asteroid Bennu. Meanwhile, the space agency’s Lucy probe is heading outward to explore several Trojan asteroids. NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is yet to be lofted to a unique metal asteroid.
Then there’s the recent NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) — the world’s first demonstration of planetary defense technology that involves hitting and moving a space rock.
All of these missions definitely help in gathering knowledge about asteroids, Abbud-Madrid said. “Now the question is how do you extract the material? That will be the next challenge. Understanding the asteroids is the most important thing. We are in the phase of getting to know them.”
Continue reading: NASA’s DART Mission to Smash Asteroids: The Ultimate Guide
Sky scanning system
Joel Sercel is Founder and CEO of TransAstra, a California-based company dedicated to sustainably harvesting resources from the moon and asteroids to change the course of history.
“Several breakthroughs must take place technically to enable asteroid mining. We think we put all of these to bed,” Sercel told Space.com. TransAstra designed the transportation and equipment to do the job “to actually process the asteroid in a meaningful way,” he said.
Part of the plan, Sercel said, is to use Sutter Mill telescopes; It was the discovery of Sutter’s Mill in 1848 that started the California Gold Rush. “It’s a whole new way of thinking about how to search for asteroids. We’re really reducing the ‘cost per discovery’ by a lot of factors.”
TransAstra’s sky-scanning system uses low-cost, commercial telescopes in Arizona and California and comes with beefed-up software. The system is already busy at work and fine-tuning, said Sercel. The TransAstra agenda is to pin down easily accessible asteroids that are small, say between 15 and 50 feet in size.
“We have a roadmap of missions that can take us to the point where we are discovering 100 times more asteroids annually than current asteroid surveys do,” Sercel said.
TransAstra’s work in this area was supported by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, he noted.
Call it a hive of activity.
As part of TransAstra’s Apis flight system architecture, Sercel and his team are advancing an industrial-scale asteroid mining system that includes the solar thermal Omnivore rocket, a Mini-Bee demonstration concept, and Worker Bee space tug. The group has also tested “optical mining,” a proprietary technique that uses concentrated sunlight to dig up and extract volatile-rich propellants from asteroids, moons and planetary surfaces.
Sercel sees optical mining as the realization of TransAstra’s vision of harvesting thousands of tons of water and other materials for rocket propulsion in space. These funds can greatly reduce space exploration and space industrialization, and help rid the Earth’s biosphere of the ravages of resource exploitation.
“We go to space to solve the problems here on Earth,” concluded Sercel. “Nobody wants to think about a future where people don’t thrive. So it’s time for us to go to space.”
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