After asteroid 433 Eros flew close to the Earth in 1998, scientists estimated that the rocky body contained around 20 billion tons of precious metals, including gold, platinum and titanium. This would have an equivalent value of $11 trillion in today’s prices.
This figure was based on the fact that stony asteroids contain roughly 3% precious metals and when one considers there are over 9,000 known asteroids travelling in a close orbit to Earth, is it any wonder scientists are wondering whether the next gold rush will take place in outer space.
Although the technology required to carry out an asteroid mining operation in space are currently in the early stages, there are a number of factors that would make the prospect attractive. This includes the fact that landing and taking off from asteroids would be easier than many other space bodies, due to their lower gravitational force. In addition, heavier metals are found in considerably higher concentrations than on Earth, and are distributed more evenly throughout its mass.
Mankind’s need for precious resources has already seen many companies express an interest in investing in asteroid exploration and transportation for the future. This notably includes the company Planetary Resources Inc, whose investors already include Google co-founder Larry Page, and film director James Cameron.
A prime area marked for asteroid mining would naturally be the Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter. However, the biggest challenge facing future asteroid mining companies will be to exploit the valuable resources within a cost effective budget. This will include using water from C-type asteroids to build refuelling stations, and probably include the construction of robotic spacecraft to help with the mining and extraction process.
Currently, the early stages of the ambitious project are underway and it is hoped that by 2025 mankind may begin reaping the initial benefits that asteroids mining has to offer.