While most people think of asteroids as giant drifting stones in space, some see these heavenly bodies as mines of money – literally.
Asteroid mining is still in its infancy, but it is already attracting the attention of investors who want to be part of this new “gold rush”. As early as 2017, Goldman Sachs Bank sent an investment note to clients that it spoke of the great potential that exists in asteroid mining: one of these 500-meter-diameter “rocks” may contain 175 times more platinum than there is right now for extraction on Earth, which would mean tens of billions of euros in revenue. But there is not only platinum: there is also iron, magnesium, gold and rare metals such as rhodium and ruthenium. One of the countries that most believes in the potential of asteroid mining is Luxembourg, which already has specific legislation for this area and, in practice, recognizes mining companies the right to materials extracted from an asteroid.
The potential is great, but is it possible? Several investors, including one of Google's co-founders, and NASA itself believe so. Whether it's sending drillable rigs or setting up giant nets to catch smaller asteroids, there are plenty of ideas on the table. Despite the huge potential, the market does not seem to be ready. Two of the first companies to stand out – Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries – were eventually sold because they were struggling. This is because asteroid mining may be the solution to a problem that does not yet exist: as they are rich in water, they can be an important part of creating bases on the moon or Mars.
One of NASA's most complex missions, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, aims to land on an asteroid and collect 60 grams of material. Launched in 2016, it is expected to return to Earth in 2023 – a mission valued at 725 million euros. And by 2026, the first visit to a metallic asteroid between Mars and Jupiter with the Psyche mission is scheduled.
It is important because
Asteroids are a source of many natural resources that are already mined on Earth and can alleviate resource exploitation on the planet. On the other hand, they can be the source of space-based raw material, facilitating and extending exploration missions on planets like Mars.
“Understanding the future” is a partnership between Exame Informática and Huawei that promotes the explanation of new Technology concepts.