“Thar’s gold in them there asteroids!”

Actually, the “gold” in the quote refers less to the actual element and more to the potential wealth lurking within the resources available in many asteroids in space. I base this optimistic assessment, which is looking at the very long term and not the near future, based on the following chart, just published in a new white paper report [pdf] dubbed “Asteroid Mining: Key to Large-Scale Space Migration or Rocky Road?” The chart itself comes from this October 2023 research paper.

The estimated resources in the metallic asteroids, compared to Earth

Except for gold, the estimated abundances in metallic asteroids of all these important minerals exceeds the entire reserves contained on Earth, by many times. And even though the asteroid reserves of gold do not exceed that of Earth, that in-space gold is likely far easier to access and mine. As the report notes:
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Luxembourg invests $28 million into asteroid mining company

The competition heats up: In its continuing effort to make money from space, the government of Luxembourg has invested $28 million in the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

As part of the deal, Planetary Resources is establishing a European headquarters in Luxembourg that will conduct research and development activities. Georges Schmit, a member of the Space Resources advisory board to the Government of Luxembourg, wil join Planetary’s board. “We plan to launch the first commercial asteroid prospecting mission by 2020 and look forward to collaborating with our European partner in this pivotal new industry,” said Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources chief executive.

As with Luxembourg’s other deals, the investment has required the company to shift many of its operations from the U.S. to Luxembourg.

The plans and proposed launch schedule of the new asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries.

The plans and proposed launch schedule of the new asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries.

They aim to do their work using cubesats, which will keep everything cheap and simple, with the first launches by 2015, and the first sample return missions by 2016. Their new manufacturing technology appears to be a variation of 3D printing, though the descriptions so far released remain vague on details.

We should have even more information later today, after their press conference, aired live on youtube here at 1 pm (eastern).

Another asteroid mining company will announce its plans tomorrow, Tuesday.

The competition heats up: Another asteroid mining company will announce its plans tomorrow, Tuesday.

As I mentioned earlier today, it is important to maintain a skeptical attitude to each of these new commercial space companies, even as we cheer them on enthusiastically. For example, I am very curious how this company has come through with a “breakthrough process for manufacturing in space.” What could this be, and why has no one thought of it before?

Capturing an asteroid into Earth orbit

orbital path after asteroid capture

Want to mine an asteroid? Rather than travel to it with all their mining equipment, three Chinese scientists have proposed a better way. In a paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph preprint website, they have calculated the energy required to shift the orbits of the six thousand near-Earth asteroids and place them in Earth orbit for later mining. Of these, they found 46 asteroids that had the potential for such an operation, and two likely candidates for a space mission. One 30-foot-wide asteroid, 2008EA9, will actually be in the right place for this technique in 2049. As they write,

It can be seen that the velocity increment of the 2008EA9 is relatively small (-1.00km/s) and it will very close approach [approximately 645,000 miles] to the Earth in [February] 2049. Moreover the size of the NEO 2008EA9 is very small so that the capturing of it is relatively easy.

The real problem, of course, is adding that small “velocity increment” to the asteroid.
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