AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition

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Asteroid Mining: The State of the Industry and Our Future in Space


This presentation will examine the motivation for entering deep space to extract mineral and energy resources and the state of the industry pursuing these resources. The industry goal is to expand the economy of our planet into space by accessing space resources and expand mankind into the solar system. Asteroid mining involves obtaining resources from asteroids and short period comets. Precious metals and rare earth elements could be mined for delivery back to Earth but utilization of water and metal resources to directly benefit man's presence in space could be especially economically viable. Water processed from icy bodies has a huge value to make oxygen for astronauts and hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel and propellant depots in space. Geosynchronous orbit (GEO) is desirable for propellant depots and staging to deep space. It takes 54 kg of fuel to lift 1 kg to GEO but only 2 kg more to escape beyond Earth orbit. Currently, the cost to lift 1 kg of propellant from Earth to GEO is approximately $50,000. This is 18% more than the cost of 1 kg of gold and 48% more than 1 kg of platinum. Thus the value of water in space is on par with mining precious metals. Water ice exists in near infinite quantities on asteroids and short period comets. For our future in space, these bodies are our future oil fields. Further, we will examine the current state of existing asteroid mining industry players. Development, miniaturization, and mass production of small, highly capable robotic sensor space probes is the near term focus of the industry. This begins by providing hyperspectral (UV through infrared) remote sensing applications for Earth resources and then sending probes searching for valuable resources on bodies in deep space. There are estimated to be more than 150 million asteroids and 170 short period comets. JPL has orbital data recorded on over 757,000 asteroids and comets with 90% of these discovered since the year 2000. Asteroids are selected as bodies of interest based on their spectral classification and expected composition. Details will be gleaned by visiting probes using remote sensing and ultimately sample return. No actual deep space mining technology exists to date. Leading the way, NASA's OSIRIS Rex mission is in route to Earth crossing carbonaceous asteroid Bennu to return samples in 2023. NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is in development and slated to capture and return a small asteroid to lunar orbit for study by crewed missions.