Does space mining hold the answer to our future material scarcity?
As of July 2015, the world human population was estimated at 7.3 billion with predictions that this will increase to 11.2 billion in 2100. Improved living conditions have led humans to live longer and healthier. As we continue to grow what impact will this have on our planetary resources?
Minerals and metals have provided the fundamental building blocks for human development. They are key to all services and infrastructure that are used in contemporary society, from shelter; water, to energy supply for a vast range of needs including heating, lighting, transportation and construction. As the material standard of living grows, the demands for minerals and metals will increase.
Space mining operations such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industriespl believe that asteroids may be the answer but is this not a costly affair? Currently it costs billions of dollars to build and launch a space mission, therefore financial and technological obstacles will need to be overcome before space mining becomes profitable, so why are these companies taking on such an ambitious, or some would even go as far to say senseless mission?
Asteroids hold a lot of valuable resources from rare earth metals to Platinum Group Metals that are used to create catalytic converters. Each asteroid can hold up to billions pounds worth of minerals and metals, even a house size asteroid could have more platinum on it than has ever been mined states astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson.
“Everything that we hold of value on this planet are in near infinite quantities in the solar system’ says Peter Diamandis – co-founder of Planetary Resources, therefore if we are able to tap into that resource it has substantial benefits for mankind.
However current efforts are not being focused on the mining of such materials but of water. Earth is not lacking in water but to facilitate the development of space mining, water needs to be made available in outer space. Not only is water critical for sustaining human life in space but it is costly to bring all your fuel with you. Water can be converted not only into breathable air but also rocket fuel, which would dramatically reduce the cost of missions to space.
There are many obstacles to overcome before we begin to see the rewards, but the predictions are good. Advocates for space mining firmly believe that this is a long-term investment for our future and may hold the answer to our future material scarcity.