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Apr 30, 2019

Asteroid Mining: Getting the first mission off the ground

Posted by in categories: business, engineering, space travel

A fully-contained near-Earth asteroid retrieved to cislunar space can be used as a Research and Development destination for resource extraction and engineering tests as space-native material, unaltered by a radical change in environment, in industrial quantity, and in an accessible orbit.

As a geologist and data manager working in petroleum exploration, I’m not qualified to analyze an all-encompassing view of asteroid mining…but maybe I’m qualified to share what I see from my perspective. Rather than looking at all the reasons why asteroid mining is not currently happening, I’d like to dive deep into how changing decision-making perspectives may make a mission possible.

As human activity and accessibility to do business in space broadens, potential demand for resources delivered to space will also increase. Now is the time to start looking at alternative sources of materials to fuel this expansion. Rather than launching everything from Earth, some materials could be sourced from near-Earth asteroids that are energetically easier to reach than our Moon. While mining asteroids for bulk materials like water might be theoretically profitable compared to launch from Earth, the upfront costs so far have been prohibitive. We’ve already seen the first wave of asteroid mining startups come and go. The high cost of technology development and long timescales for return-on-investment have kept commercial asteroid mining missions grounded.

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