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3 years ago

Simple steps to the future of mining and a permanent solution to the problem of dwindling resources.

Mar 22nd 2013 at 6:54 AM

 

Would it surprise you that the needle indicating the amount of certain resources essential to our technological way of life are running near empty? If the current level of demand for non-renewable resources such as copper, Indium and even Silver will be depleted in under 30 years! This might not seem to bad for many of us but it will cause many headaches for our children. So if we can't get these resources from existing mines any-more where can we get them?

One solution that is being given thought to these days is to acquire rare elements from near earth passing asteroids. Ok this might sound like something from the pages of a science fiction novel but there are many people saying this devoid of a smile on their face. There are quite a few companies making plans to undertake this monumental challenge and they do have the expertise and money to attempt it.

So why should we even attempt it? - Asteroids are made from the same materials the earth was when it was just forming and contain rich amounts of Iron, Nickel and water ice which can used to make rocket fuel amongst other things. The real money spinner is the Platinum group metals that are rare and therefore expensive here on earth but occur in larger concentrations within many asteroids. Most of the PGMs that is mined in the world today came from asteroid impacts in the past – so you could say we have been mining them for some time.

Mining asteroids – how difficult could it be? Even though its just mining not to much dissimilar to how we acquire raw resources on earth it has to be done millions of miles away in the vacuum of space and at the temperature of space. Some people say that lassoing an asteroid so that it could be processed in earth orbit is one option, another is to mine it in its own near earth orbit and bring the resources back to earth. There are concerns that these ideas bring up, such as if the asteroid where to collide with the Earth to what effect the extra mass in orbit might have on our orbit to the effect on precious metal prices. Concerns that are as unrealistic as asteroid mining is today.

A more down to earth solution being looked into is deep sea mining. Surveyors have found considerable deposits of base and precious metals in areas with hydrothermal vents which is great news. This idea is no more easier or less expensive than missions to mine asteroids and it would cause destruction to some unique ecosystems found under no other conditions. I doubt such a concern will be taken into consideration and deep sea mining will go ahead anyway as the sea floor is more accessible than outer-space.

To fund asteroid mining ventures will be different from how state run missions are funded as there are a number of private companies pushing to undertake this opportunity commercially. The are 3 such ventures that have been making news in the last year – Planetary Resources was the first to come out in April 2012 and has some very wealthy backers and plans to start the process by launching telescope scouts to find and categorise near Earth passing asteroids. The second is Deep Space Industries announced this year with many ex-NASA experts on board with plans to send robotic scouts to explore asteroids within the next 5 years. The last on is Stott Space which is aiming to engage the wider public and inspire more of an interest in space.

Stott Space is trying to raise funds by the recent method of crowd funding using sites such as indiegogo and kickstarter where companies pitch their ideas and the public donate amounts towards the financial goal. The new Mars Initiative has started a prize fund for the first company to land a human on Mars using crowd funding.

These seem to be some very interesting times and I fully support the idea of asteroid mining and even deep sea mining if it can be done without impacting ecosystems. We will still need to find additional resources if we are to continue to develop our technology and have plenty for future generations and in space these resources are infinite.

 

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