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Community asteroid mining  the world in transition towards the future  | Upload Society

Asteroid Mining: The World In Transition Towards The Future

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by: Sharai Hoekema
asteroid mining  the world in transition towards the future  | Upload

Asteroid mining. It sounds like a concept taken straight out of new Netflix sci-fi show, involving all kinds of space explorers and lunar bases. However, it is not just something that is mainly discussed at Comic Con gatherings around the world and in Hollywood film studios. Instead, it has become a hot topic of discussion in other, more scientific, circles as well.

In recent years, more and more people have given serious thought to its feasibility and potential. Companies have been formed that have made it their core mission to perform so-called asteroid prospecting, exploration, and mining. Or, for now at least, perform all kind of preliminary activities meant to investigate the possibilities. 

This first article (part 1 of 4) in the series on asteroid mining will start to explore the concept. Is it an opportunistic bet by some space-crazed lunatics, or is it actually something that could be profitable and a very real part of our economy? 

Asteroids? What Are They?

Before really diving into the topic, let’s start with a short astronomy lesson. Asteroids are funny little – or actually, often not so little – things that were an unfortunate by-product of the formation of our solar system. The most commonly accepted theory is that some 4.5 to 5 billion years ago, our sun was formed by a gravitational collapse in the heart of a nebula of gas and dust.

After the young sun absorbed most of the materials in this nebula, it used the remainder of gas and dust to create some kind of flat disk around its equator. The fancy term for this is the circumsolar accretion disk. Over time, this disk became more condensed – and started forming planets and asteroids.

blue planet and astroids

Our own Earth was one of those planets, using the pull of gravity to introduce the heavier elements (like iron and nickel) into her core. This process, that left the Earth’s outer core depleted of such heavy metals, took place some 4 billion years ago. 

It is the asteroids that we have to thank for putting back some of those heavy materials in our Earth’s crust. As the story goes, during the aptly named Heavy Bombardment Period, quite a few asteroids collided with the planets in our solar system. As these asteroids were made out of the same heavy materials, these would then be ‘re-entered’ into the Earth’s surface. And that is how we got our rich sources of iron, nickel, gold, cobalt, platinum – to name a few.

Asteroid Mining, Why Doing It?

So much for the purely scientific backstory. It should suffice if we are to quickly realise what this could mean: some kind of second Gold Rush, although this time, we will have to be heading for other planets instead of Klondike. A new era, where pioneers enter rough, unexplored areas in order to find unparalleled riches. 

Considering that there are countless bodies in our solar system, each enriched with a variety of minerals, ores, and volatile elements – the answer as to why we should be looking at asteroid mining seems obvious. Even in extremely modest models, there are estimated to be some 150 million asteroids in our inner solar system – when only counting those larger than 100 meters in diameter. They are designated a letter – C-type (75% of the total), S-type (17%) and M-type (+/- 5%), corresponding with their most prevalent elements: Clay and silicates, Silicates and nickel-iron, and Metals.



                                           Asteroid Mining: The World In Transition Towards The Future
                                                          How Close Are We to Mining in Space?

Especially the latter, the M-type, is considered to be a potentially rich source of minerals and metals, including gold, platinum, cobalt, zinc, tin, lead, indium, silver, copper and iron - extremely valuable commodities in our Earth’s economy, that might even prove to be needed for our very survival.

The small percentage left is made up of asteroids and comets that contain water ice and other volatiles (including ammonia and methane). The former could potentially be used to deliver high quantities of freshwater, while the latter will prove very useful in furthering mining activities as a chemical propellant.

Recommended: Waste In Space Will Be Fetched By The CubeSail Garbage Truck

Resources! We Are Running Out Of It!

So far, so good – we can make a lot of money by moving mining operations to the interstellar stage, as we will create more of a high-demand, high-priced commodity. At the same time, the huge amounts of water ice in space could just be a much needed means of survival when freshwater sources on Earth run dry.

Yet on the other end of the ledger are the immense costs associated with space mining, outweighing the costs of continuing mining on Earth – for now, anyway. A definite headache, although we will soon find that we will not have much of a choice. We are running out of our reserves, as a result of our increased consumption patterns. 

As of July 29, humanity has depleted the planet's resources for the year

As of July 29 2019, humanity has depleted the planet's resources for the year

Simultaneously, some reports are cautioning that we could be running out of key elements that we heavily rely on for our industries and food production, already within the next 50 or so years. Instead of having to find other ways of living, why not turn our faces to the sky and tap into the virtually inexhaustible supply that we can find up there?

Environmental Damage On Our ‘Own’ Little Planet

Another argument in favour of moving our heavy metal and mineral mining offshore – that is, to outer space – is the burden that these mining operations place on our precious little planet as a whole. Erosion, sinkholes, pollution, habitat destruction, water contamination: the ways in which it quite literally undermines our own quality of life are endless.

Smoking chimneys

It is not just the mining that hurts our Earth, the smelting, machining and manufacturing has a similar environmental impact. The industry as a whole is a large contributor to pollution and, effectively, global warming. If only we would be able to move all of those damaging activities away from the surface of the Earth, relocating them off-world. Then the strain that we, as humans, are putting on our environment could be reduced drastically. 

In part 2 of this series, we will be looking at the feasibility of doing so.

Before you go!

Recommended: Solar Farms In Space: Next Step In Renewable Energy

Did you find this an interesting article or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below.
We try to respond the same day.

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Asteroid Mining: The World In Transition Towards The Future

Asteroid mining. It sounds like a concept taken straight out of new Netflix sci-fi show, involving all kinds of space explorers and lunar bases. However, it is not just something that is mainly discussed at Comic Con gatherings around the world and in Hollywood film studios. Instead, it has become a hot topic of discussion in other, more scientific, circles as well. In recent years, more and more people have given serious thought to its feasibility and potential. Companies have been formed that have made it their core mission to perform so-called asteroid prospecting, exploration, and mining. Or, for now at least, perform all kind of preliminary activities meant to investigate the possibilities.   This first article (part 1 of 4) in the series on asteroid mining will start to explore the concept. Is it an opportunistic bet by some space-crazed lunatics, or is it actually something that could be profitable and a very real part of our economy?   Asteroids? What Are They? Before really diving into the topic, let’s start with a short astronomy lesson. Asteroids are funny little – or actually, often not so little – things that were an unfortunate by-product of the formation of our solar system. The most commonly accepted theory is that some 4.5 to 5 billion years ago, our sun was formed by a gravitational collapse in the heart of a nebula of gas and dust. After the young sun absorbed most of the materials in this nebula, it used the remainder of gas and dust to create some kind of flat disk around its equator. The fancy term for this is the circumsolar accretion disk. Over time, this disk became more condensed – and started forming planets and asteroids. Our own Earth was one of those planets, using the pull of gravity to introduce the heavier elements (like iron and nickel) into her core. This process, that left the Earth’s outer core depleted of such heavy metals, took place some 4 billion years ago.   It is the asteroids that we have to thank for putting back some of those heavy materials in our Earth’s crust. As the story goes, during the aptly named Heavy Bombardment Period, quite a few asteroids collided with the planets in our solar system. As these asteroids were made out of the same heavy materials, these would then be ‘re-entered’ into the Earth’s surface. And that is how we got our rich sources of iron, nickel, gold, cobalt, platinum – to name a few. Asteroid Mining, Why Doing It? So much for the purely scientific backstory. It should suffice if we are to quickly realise what this could mean: some kind of second Gold Rush, although this time, we will have to be heading for other planets instead of Klondike. A new era, where pioneers enter rough, unexplored areas in order to find unparalleled riches.   Considering that there are countless bodies in our solar system, each enriched with a variety of minerals, ores, and volatile elements – the answer as to why we should be looking at asteroid mining seems obvious. Even in extremely modest models, there are estimated to be some 150 million asteroids in our inner solar system – when only counting those larger than 100 meters in diameter. They are designated a letter – C-type (75% of the total), S-type (17%) and M-type (+/- 5%), corresponding with their most prevalent elements: Clay and silicates, Silicates and nickel-iron, and Metals. {youtube}                                            Asteroid Mining: The World In Transition Towards The Future                                                           How Close Are We to Mining in Space? Especially the latter, the M-type, is considered to be a potentially rich source of minerals and metals, including gold, platinum, cobalt, zinc, tin, lead, indium, silver, copper and iron - extremely valuable commodities in our Earth’s economy, that might even prove to be needed for our very survival. The small percentage left is made up of asteroids and comets that contain water ice and other volatiles (including ammonia and methane). The former could potentially be used to deliver high quantities of freshwater, while the latter will prove very useful in furthering mining activities as a chemical propellant. Recommended:  Waste In Space Will Be Fetched By The CubeSail Garbage Truck Resources! We Are Running Out Of It! So far, so good – we can make a lot of money by moving mining operations to the interstellar stage, as we will create more of a high-demand, high-priced commodity. At the same time, the huge amounts of water ice in space could just be a much needed means of survival when freshwater sources on Earth run dry. Yet on the other end of the ledger are the immense costs associated with space mining, outweighing the costs of continuing mining on Earth – for now, anyway. A definite headache, although we will soon find that we will not have much of a choice. We are running out of our reserves, as a result of our increased consumption patterns.   As of July 29 2019, humanity has depleted the planet's resources for the year Simultaneously, some reports are cautioning that we could be running out of key elements that we heavily rely on for our industries and food production, already within the next 50 or so years. Instead of having to find other ways of living, why not turn our faces to the sky and tap into the virtually inexhaustible supply that we can find up there? Environmental Damage On Our ‘Own’ Little Planet Another argument in favour of moving our heavy metal and mineral mining offshore – that is, to outer space – is the burden that these mining operations place on our precious little planet as a whole. Erosion, sinkholes, pollution, habitat destruction, water contamination: the ways in which it quite literally undermines our own quality of life are endless. It is not just the mining that hurts our Earth, the smelting, machining and manufacturing has a similar environmental impact. The industry as a whole is a large contributor to pollution and, effectively, global warming. If only we would be able to move all of those damaging activities away from the surface of the Earth, relocating them off-world. Then the strain that we, as humans, are putting on our environment could be reduced drastically.   In part 2 of this series, we will be looking at the feasibility of doing so. Before you go! Recommended:  Solar Farms In Space: Next Step In Renewable Energy Did you find this an interesting article or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your own article about sustainability? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage'
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