The successful SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch early this month may have opened up many more opportunities for mining asteroids, which may hold natural resources such as water and platinum.
Asteroid mining is not a new concept, but Falcon Heavy may have "changed the game" for the futuristic industry.
The Effect Of SpaceX Falcon Heavy On Asteroid Mining
The success of the Falcon Heavy has pushed SpaceX to set its sights on even bigger goals, with the Big Falcon Rocket now in the works. The BFR, which will be designed to allow humans to enter other planets such as Mars, may be ready for experimental launches by next year.
However, Martin Elvis, a researcher from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is looking not at planets but at asteroids. He believes that, with the successful Falcon Heavy launch by SpaceX, many more asteroid have been made available as potential mining sites.
"Instead of a few hundred, we may have thousands of ore bearing asteroids available," said Elvis to an audience at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Austin, Texas.
One of the challenges in asteroid mining is landing on the asteroids, and Elvis thinks that the Falcon Heavy will help in this regard. The calculation on how accessible an asteroid is for mining operations is based on delta-v, which measures the thrust needed to have a spacecraft switch between orbiting Earth and orbiting the asteroid. According to Elvis, the Falcon Heavy will increase the maximum delta-v for asteroid that can be mined, expanding the percentage of economically valuable asteroids for mining from 3 percent to 45 percent.
Asteroid Mining: Is It Worth It?
In space, the water that can be mined in asteroids may be more valuable than gold on Earth due to the exorbitant cost of launching supplies from Earth to space. Water mined from asteroids can be sent directly to astronauts already in space, to be used for drinking water and oxygen production.
There are many challenges for asteroid mining, though, including first and foremost developing the technology needed to mine and bring back resources from outer space. Regulatory and legal issues may also make it hard for companies to mine for resources in space.
Companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, however, think that the venture is worth it. Even the tiny country of Luxembourg has joined the space mining industry, teaming up with Deep Space Industries and allotting hundreds of millions of dollars into space mining ventures.
The viability and profitability of asteroid mining remains to be seen, but with the Falcon Heavy launch, we will likely see results sooner rather than later.