Asteroid mining has created a buzz among space enthusiasts. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has contracted private firms to explore the possibility of asteroid mining to provide precious spaceship fuel and water.
The method uses materials from asteroids, other minor planets, and other near-Earth objects (NEO). Materials such as titanium, iron, nickel and more can be extracted from the asteroids for the construction of spacecraft. Water can be used to support life in space for astronauts and fuel can keep spaceship running.
Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, reveals that it costs a lot of money to send water from the Earth to spaceships. If water is made available in space, the setup may reduce costs. The OSIRIS-Rex mission will launch in September 2016 and will reach the Bennu asteroid in October 2018 to collect samples.
"The other thing you can do with water is break it apart into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, and that becomes rocket fuel, so you could have fuel depots out there where you're mining these asteroids. The other thing C-type asteroids have is organic material -- they have a lot of organic carbon, phosphorous and other key elements for fertilizer to grow your food," says Lauretta.
The two private companies contracted by NASA for asteroid mining are Planetary Resources Inc. and Deep Space Industries. These companies have good background in asteroid tracking and space research.
Planetary Resources is said to be working on a number of satellites that can be used for tracking and analyzing asteroids. The company initially plans to focus on NEOs and believes that asteroids will become important for the development of a space economy. The company's website suggests that asteroid mining will allow "humanity to become a flourishing multi-planetary species."
The company also says that rare metals found in asteroids will also increase the GDP on Earth.
Planetary Resources believes that its telescopes, such as Arkyd 300, Arkyd 200 and the Arkyd 100, will play an important role in asteroid mining. As there are many asteroids around the Earth, these telescopes will keep an eye on asteroids between and also beyond the Earth and moon.
Deep Space Industries is already working on a number of spacecraft called FireFlies. The company has plans to send one-way satellites that will collect important data regarding the density, composition, shape and size of some asteroids. It is also building a spacecraft called Dragonfly, which is expected to explore asteroids and their insides before bringing back previous resources to the Earth.
Some experts believe that these companies are wasting time and resources for exploring the possibility of asteroid mining. However, the proponents are optimistic that they will be able to make asteroid mining a reality in the near future.
Check out a short video released by Planetary Resources about the possibility of asteroid mining.