For those of us concerned about the environment following today’s monsoon on campus or this week’s United Nations climate report, there’s a new sustainable resource in town: asteroids. There are more than 15,000 asteroids near Earth and, though it does seem like something out of a science fiction movie, there is a lot of potential for mining resources from them; however, the implementation and adaptation costs are high.
Asteroids may be particularly useful for some energy sources such as batteries, fuel cells, and electronics. Platinum has been identified as one of the most valuable possibilities, in addition to water, nickel, and iron, among others. Platinum right now costs about $1,500 per ounce for use in batteries, fuel cells, electronics, and more. However, an asteroid the size of a football field could contain tens of billions of dollars worth of platinum. That is game-changing.
Furthermore, the water found in the asteroids can be converted into rocket fuel, after being split into liquid oxygen and hydrogen. The high costs associated with space exploration focus on fuel, but the opportunities afforded by asteroid mining could virtually eliminate this, leading to renewed efforts to continue our pursuit of discovery beyond Earth.
There is also a high extraction cost to consider. The most prominent strategy for asteroid mining right now is the potential use of autonomous rovers to extract the resources and the creation of multiple space stations to store and facilitate the transportation of raw materials back to Earth.
Other than the high cost of actual extraction challenges and trips through outer space, asteroid mining will probably take more than a decade to be implemented due to its cognitive dissonance. The idea of mining for resources outside of the Earth is so foreign that, despite its advantages, it will take a long while for it to be actually implemented.
Not to mention, the disruption in technology and the economy that the influx of vast amounts of platinum and other resources could cause would be unprecedented.
As Earth’s resources become more and more depleted, we must proactively search for ways to continue to sustain human life. More than just the idea of mining resources from asteroids, this revelation raises questions regarding the existence of other such possibilities within our solar system. What other innovation could prompt a revolution in how we live our daily lives or address the challenges that we face living on Earth? What other invaluable, essential resources exist yet remain just out of our reach?