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The pot of gold at the end of the arch

This is how the members of the Planetary Resources company define their mission - asteroid mining. The company estimates that an asteroid with a diameter of 100 meters may contain minerals and water worth 40-50 billion dollars

A model of the Arcade 100 space telescope that is being developed by the Planetary Resources company to locate asteroids with potential for mining minerals. From Wikipedia
A model of the Arcade 100 space telescope that is being developed by the Planetary Resources company to locate asteroids with potential for mining minerals. From Wikipedia

In a science fiction book he wrote in 1895, "Dreams of the Earth and the Sky", the Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tslikovsky published a vision according to which humans would settle in space and know asteroids. Since then, the idea of ​​extracting resources from these floating blocks of rock has settled nicely into science fiction plots.
However, in April 2012, at a press conference at the Aviation Museum in Seattle, a group of billionaires, including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, announced that they had founded a new company "Planetary Resources" whose goal is to fulfill the dream of asteroid mining.

"Asteroid mining is currently science fiction, but we are working to turn it into factual science," says Planetary Resources President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki, who previously worked for the Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix spacecraft that landed on Mars. Lewicki knows that there are many challenges ahead of him, but he said with confidence: "I believe that we can get close to the asteroid and try to extract water in small quantities by the end of the decade."

Extracting water ice from an asteroid is an attractive goal and not only because it will allow future colonists to be sustained in space. If water is broken down into its components - hydrogen and oxygen, they become rocket fuel. "A large asteroid could be used to create a refueling station in orbit beyond the moon and reduce the cost of manned flights in the solar system" says Eric Anderson, co-CEO of Planetary Resources. "This will be a game-changer," he said.

In addition to water, asteroids contain metals such as iron, nickel and platinum that have many uses. When the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, the molten iron sank into its center, taking precious metals such as gold and platinum with it, in asteroids this did not happen because these metals are scattered throughout the asteroid's volume, which makes it easier to extract them.

Scientists can get their hands on many examples of asteroids that reach Earth as meteorites. "If you collect a ton of material from the Earth's crust, you will find half a milligram of gold atoms," says Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons, who studies the small bodies in the solar system at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "In meteorites, their concentration is 5 times greater. In the case of extremely rare metals such as osmium, we find concentrations of 10 times greater in meteorites.

This makes the asteroids a valuable commodity. "An asteroid with a diameter of 50-100 meters can produce materials worth 40-50 billion dollars," says Anderson, whose other venture - Space Adventures has sent several wealthy clients to the International Space Station. "The fact is that we live on a small planet in a sea of ​​unlimited resources. These materials can be used in space - to help the exploration and settlement of space - or they can be sent to Earth and I hope that we will have enough materials to manufacture cars, cell phones and televisions.

Loiki leads a team of over 30 engineers and technicians, many of them with NASA experience, who are designing a space telescope that will locate asteroids that are particularly rich in resources. The telescope, Arcade 100 will be the size of a household microwave. It will have a mirror with a diameter of 22 centimeters and it will weigh about 20 kg. A constellation of 10-15 such telescopes will be able to form a ring around the Earth and locate asteroids together. However, these satellites are not only designed to observe asteroids. By studying the albedo of asteroids - the amount of sunlight they reflect back into space, it will be possible to tell whether it is an asteroid composed of stone, metal or carbon. Other sensors such as infrared detectors will be able to provide much greater detail.

Most of the asteroids are concentrated in the area between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and are remnants of the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. The first pioneers of mining would not go that far. Instead, they will use robots to conduct experiments on near-Earth asteroids - rocks that spend at least part of their orbit in an orbit that is less than 1.3 AU from the Sun.

Arcade 100 satellites will be improved in the future with more powerful engines and additional scientific instruments, their name will change to Arcade 200 and they will become interceptors. Years or more of them could be sent to fly alongside an asteroid that will pass between the Earth and the Sun and analyze its components in high resolution.
The final stage of Planetary Resources' space telescope evolution will be the Arcade 300 or rendezvous spacecraft, which will be equipped with deep space laser communication systems. They will be able to reach much more distant asteroids.

Finding the right asteroid is essential. A report published in 2011 by experts from most NASA centers and several American universities found that carbonaceous asteroids are the best target for mining efforts because they offer the cheapest variety of resources. Carbonaceous asteroids are also much less solid than the metallic asteroids. They will be able to crumble easily which will make it easier to mine ice and metals from them.

The only problem with the carbonaceous asteroids is that they have a small albedo, which makes them difficult to find, so you should start looking as soon as possible. "We are working on our telescopes now and expect to have a constellation of six telescopes within two years," he said.
"Our current research is focused on finding ways to demonstrate that any given asteroid contains water or precious metals in commercial quantities," Lewicki says. However, the company has also started preliminary studies for the next steps - extracting resources and transferring them to the place where they are needed, such as a refueling station in orbit around the Earth.

In addition, instead of only producing raw materials, the 2011 report prepared by the Keck Institute for Space Research at the California Institute of Technology suggests several approaches. The report came up with a strategy of wrapping the asteroid and tying it to a missile engine that would make it stop spinning. After it is stabilized it will be possible to tow it to its orbit around the moon, where it can be reached by robots and astronauts. According to the report, this task will be practical until 2025.

However, Fitzsimmons sounds more reasonable: "We don't know if we can move an asteroid, we've never tried. And with all the knowledge we have so far, it will be decades before we can cause the asteroid to shift a little from its orbit. "The Keck Institute's report also predicts a flight time from the capture of the asteroid to orbit around the moon in 6-10 years.

NASA plans to conduct an analysis of the practical aspect of asteroid mining. In August of this year, the agency announced that it was funding a feasibility study of a lander that would reach an asteroid - and could be used as a test bed for commercial mining technologies. If Planetary Resources continues to move forward with its plan, it is possible that the NASA mission will be unnecessary.

In any case, there is no doubt that mining an asteroid will push technological capabilities to the limit. There will always be a danger that a multibillion-dollar mining mission will not yield the hoped-for yield, but with all the treasure hidden in asteroids, if the mission succeeds the payoff will be enormous. "It's a dangerous business," says Anderson. "But there is a great pot of gold at the end of the bow." said.

To the company's website

8 תגובות

  1. About the tycoons
    In my opinion, the tycoon logic will lead to good results, and if not good results, then at least... good intentions.
    The reason is quite simple
    The big tycoons have enough money in their accounts to guarantee all their material needs for at least 10 generations after them.
    What is left for them to want?
    glorify their name for generations. And to this they will direct their efforts and investments.
    Just as well.

  2. Every day several tons of substances enter the earth in the form of dust that no one feels. A mass of several more tons of metal from an asteroid over decades will not tickle the earth.

  3. If it can't change when they start bringing too many materials to the earth and its mass will change? Of course it's a matter of time

  4. May we have enough materials to manufacture cars, cell phones and televisions. So that we pollute the air, brain, and thought more. This is food for thought!

  5. Now that the human race has finished destroying their planet they want to destroy the entire solar system

  6. Of course the tycoons will take it over. But it doesn't sound so bad to me...
    It will help develop new technology for space flight…

    Economic interest can greatly help the space industry to develop... I was sure that first there would be space tourism... Now I'm no longer sure...

    We will live and see.
    I wish them success

  7. Unfortunately, it is more likely that the tycoons will take it over than that it will be used for the space industry

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