Space mining refers to the planned extraction of mineral content from asteroids, comets, planets, and other heavenly bodies. Astronomers and scientists confirm that a single asteroid could actually hold large amounts of metals and minerals that could amount to billions of dollars in total monetary value. This claimed fact has sparked lots of interest among scientists and businessmen alike. If asteroids hold such large deposits of valuable minerals, investing on mining these minerals from the asteroids could prove to be very profitable.
While asteroids could vary in size, it is found out that an asteroid that is at least 1 kilometer in diameter could possibly hold billions of metric tons of materials including precious metals and mineral ores. Space mining could therefore be a very good solution to the ever growing scarcity of minerals on Earth and the issues that Earth mining brings.
According to scientists, asteroids are actually pieces or chunks of a destroyed planet. As of today, it is already an established fact that thousands of asteroids continue to form clusters between Mars and Jupiter. This formation of asteroids is called the asteroid belt. Aside from the asteroids found at the asteroid belt, there are also many other asteroids near the Earth's orbit.
Asteroids could be classified according to their properties and contents. One type is called the C-type asteroid. In this category, asteroids must be composed of materials similar to that of the sun but it doesn't have the volatile substances that the sun has. More or less 75 percent of all known asteroids fall under this classification.
Another type is called the S-type asteroid. Asteroids that hold deposits of iron, nickel and magnesium fall under this category. This includes about 17 percent of all known asteroids.
The other type of asteroids is dubbed the M-type asteroid. Asteroids of this type would most likely contain nickel and iron, and they make up a small portion of the entire known asteroid population.
How Does Space Mining Work?
There are two possible ways by which asteroids (and later on, other heavenly bodies) could be mined. One way is to haul the raw materials from the asteroid and bring them back to earth for extraction and processing. This way, normal mining processes can be used.
Another possible way of mining asteroids is to process all of the ores on-site and then bring processed or refined material back to earth. If on-site extraction is employed, all of the required facilities and man-power will have to be brought to the asteroid itself. This will require additional fuel for the trip to outer space and resources to power mining facilities, living quarters and other things that the crew would need.
On-site mining complexes will require light-weight materials to be able to save on rocket fuel for the trip to the asteroid. It is suggested that the rocket should be able to utilize any possible fuel found on the asteroid for the trip back to earth. One possible fuel source is water.