Asteroid Mining- Challenges and Opportunities

in #stem6 months ago


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Asteroid Mining- Challenges and Opportunities

Asteroid mining is a high-profile opportunity that many companies have pursued, and has proven to be a challenge. First generation asteroid-mining companies have largely disappeared due to the large amount of investment and R&D required to develop asteroid mining programs, technology and infrastructure but the allure is still present.

High-profile companies including Planetary Resources and Deep Space Enterprises that were largely backed by Google cofounders among others have disappeared from the public eye. Mining asteroids requires a prospecting activity, deployment of a satellite vehicle to the asteroid of sufficient size, mining operations to extract the metals, refining either on-world or in orbit and delivery of the metals. It’s the same challenges of mining on Earth, but in space with more risk of loss.

Asteroid mining is lucrative in theory, but the investment and resources required to profit from the endeavor make it much less so. The next generation of asteroid miners including AstroForge are working to flesh out the infrastructure and technological issues that stand in the way of profitability for investors. The space programs aimed at mining asteroids will likely be funded by investors, and government funding and grants may be more limited. It would be wise for governments and industry to work together to capture gains from the technology that will be developed during such programs. Previous space projects created technological innovations we use today including lasers and transistors.

Companies that wish to mine asteroids for rare-earth metals and precious metals need to have adequate funding and technology that allows the operations to scale and grow. Planetary Resources and Deep Space Enterprises, early asteroid mining startups, have been absorbed into other companies and their operations and developments have been delayed due to funding shortfalls. It is unfortunate, but the amount of capital that needs to be raised and the amount of time required to mature the mining technology is prohibitive for many investors. Investors may become impatient as new technologies are developed, and the focus on their investment is aimed at securing metals and not creating the technology. The technology being funded becomes an afterthought, and the operations are analogous with a conventional mine and not a feat of science and engineering.

AstroForge is a company working on the feat of asteroid mining. They are working to get funding, and their business model depends upon refining metals including rare-earth metals in space. The problem they face is the creation of sufficiently large satellites that can manage their refining and transport operations. Mining is an involved operation on Earth involving the removal of ore using massive earth-moving machines and industrial chemicals are used and released. Mining is heavy industry, and involves manpower that will need to be automated for asteroid mining. The speculation on the metals inside of an asteroid is also an issue, and if an asteroid is incorrectly prospected as containing a wealth of metals, the losses for the mining company could be immense.

Asteroid mining holds promise for the future. It is the kind of futuristic endeavor that could help us acquire the metals we need to power electric vehicles and other sustainable technologies to power a cleaner future. We need lithium and platinum to continue our production of electronics and batteries we use in an ever growing population. The future of our green-energy economy may be bolstered by the mining of metals from asteroids that could be used in their manufacturing and the precious metals could alleviate the need to mine on Earth, which would reduce mining runoff and pollution. Mining lithium for example is harsh to the land and other metal mining operations can release hazardous chemicals and dusts that make habitation of the mining zone difficult.

Posted on Hive and Steemit


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