We live in an increasingly interconnected and technological world that depends on mining activities and its resources to continue evolving as humanity. However, there is a paradox: new generations demand a self-sustainable economy that protects our planet, takes care of people and better distributes wealth, but today, the exploitation of rare earths generates environmental problems, affects the integrity of miners, resources are scarce and 95% of the world’s rare earth reserves are under the control of a single country; China. For these reasons space mining becomes a strategic solution for the care of our planet, the world’s communities and a key geopolitical balance, perhaps we can think that the investment is very high but the benefits for our planet and global society are enormous, NASA estimates the value of this industry in one hundred billion dollars per capita.
The different space agencies and private companies are undoubtedly working to start taking advantage of lunar resources as soon as possible, but at the same time, asteroid mining has attracted the attention not only of the space industry but also of several on Earth. According to Andrew Rivkin, a researcher specializing in these celestial bodies, there are approximately 1000 space rocks closer to our planet than the moon, and they possess large quantities of a group of 17 metallic chemical elements with unusual physicochemical, magnetic or unique optical properties, and contain enough water to fill 320,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, an amount greater than that detected at the lunar poles.
The race to validate the feasibility of space mining began in 1989 with the Galileo probe, which ended up being destroyed in Jupiter’s atmosphere in 1995. Then came the NEAR Shoemaker probe launched in 1996 and its mission was to reach the asteroid Eros in 2001, managing to touch its surface, but finally losing the signal. In 2003 the Hayabusa probe of the Japanese space agency was launched and managed to reach the asteroid Itokawa and extract samples in 2005, to become the first mission to return to Earth in 2010 with material for study. But undoubtedly the most ambitious mission so far is the one initiated in 2016 by NASA by launching the OSIRIS-REX probe towards the asteroid Bennu, use the Touch and Go maneuver to touch the surface with a robotic arm that stirs the regolith of dust and rocks, then literally sucks up as much material, to then return with the samples to earth in 2023.
The applications and uses of these elements of rarity, scarcity and difficulty of extraction on earth, for being fused at great depths of our planet, are abundant and easily accessible in the different celestial bodies, mainly asteroids, because they do not have great mass and a core that generates enough gravity to hide them, on the contrary they are scattered throughout its surface for probes and space rovers explorers to collect them for use on earth. Among the most important applications are the development of technological components, energy production, industrial and military uses; manufacture of permanent
magnets, electroelectronic circuits, exhaust gas catalysts, laser equipment, cell phones, glass and ceramic dyes, high refractive lenses and metal alloys.
So far there are at least two asteroid mining companies: Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, as well as U.S., Canadian, Japanese and European space agencies redoubling efforts to accelerate business opportunities and establish a 100 percent sustainable economy for everyone on Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond. The challenge is to get more companies and industries on Earth involved to boost space mining and subsequently establish refueling stations on orbiting asteroids, crucial for supplying future and frequent interstellar travel with fuel, generated by breaking down water into oxygen and hydrogen, which will also serve as fundamental resources for sustaining human life in deep space.
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