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Space + FlightSpace & Flight

Asteroid-Grabbing Spacecraft More “Realistic Than Perceived”

ByAnnette ChoiNOVA NextNOVA Next

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Asteroid mining may be closer to reality than it seems.

In a 98-page report, analysts at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs claim that asteroid mining could result in tremendous profits.

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The report says that while the psychological barrier preventing asteroid mining may be high, the technological and financial barriers are much lower. The California Institute of Technology estimated that an asteroid-grabbing spacecraft would cost $2.6 billion. Asteroids are loaded with precious metals and minerals like platinum, which could potentially be worth quadrillions of dollars on Earth.

Analysts say asteroid mining for valuable metals is a highly conceivable idea.

Though this may seem pricey at first glance, it isn’t when you put it in context. For example, a recent MIT paper speculated that building a new, rare earth metal mine from scratch here on Earth could cost up to $1 billion.

The price of new rockets has also declined dramatically in recent years, making space travel cheaper. Where it used to cost $35 million to send one person into space, it now only costs approximately $250,000.

Here’s an excerpt from the Goldman Sachs report, which was reported on by Jim Edwards at Business Insider:

“Space mining could be more realistic than perceived. Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint. Water is easily converted into rocket fuel, and can even be used unaltered as a propellant. Ultimately being able to stockpile the fuel in LEO [low earth orbit] would be a game changer for how we access space.”

If such a scenario comes to fruition, the rewards would be astronomical. A single asteroid may contain around $50 billion worth of rare platinum. But the bonanza may not be sustainable. Asteroid mining could also cause the global platinum price to plummet.

Goldman appears ready to put their money where their mouth is, suggesting that one of their next endeavors will be financing such a space mission.

Those ambitions, though, may be hampered by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which states, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” Given the paucity of cases involving property in outer space, lawyers are currently debating whether space law currently allows for asteroid mining.

It’s possible, then, that the biggest hurdle to asteroid mining may not be technological or financial, but legal.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech