A group of entrepreneurs has announced the formation of a new company called Planetary Resources with the goal of collecting valuable, useful minerals from asteroids. "Planetary Resources hopes to go after the platinum-group metals — which include platinum, palladium, osmium, and iridium — highly valuable commodities used in medical devices, renewable energy products, catalytic converters, and potentially in automotive fuel cells."
The technology and information about asteroids is not in place for this to be undertaken immediately. The company plans successive levels of exploration, beginning with a series of private, orbital telescopes to be used to survey asteroids. This would be followed by spacecraft to intercept asteroids approaching Earth's orbit for further study and analysis, and then further deepspace explorer craft to study and gather information about more distant asteroids, and then finally get to the mining of minerals from the asteroids. Whether these materials would be refined in space or whether the ore would be returned to Earth for processing is one of many questions about the process that would ultimately be used.
The development of new, low-cost space technology is likely to have additional spin-off benefits. But does this make mining asteroids a really green technology? The mining of minerals from the Earth's crust creates huge despoiled areas across the globe. But, it is enormously expensive to launch vehicles into space, and the cost of minerals returned from asteroids will have enormous costs that need to be paid off before they can be cost competitive with mining on Earth. But, if the concentrations are high enough to make it practical, and the automation of the process can be developed, then it may be worthwhile. The forests that do not have to be torn away and the mountaintops that don't need to be removed in order to provide minerals for human technology can come from elsewhere, and the planet can be returned to supporting life, something it is apparently unique in being able to do.
Ultimately, the answers to the viability of this method will have to be proved. It seems promising in the abstract, and we won't know for sure for many years. But for now, it's an intriguing thought, and we'll be interested to see what future developments this idea brings.
written by marvis, May 01, 2012
written by Trion, May 02, 2012
written by Ronald Brak, May 09, 2012
written by Robert, June 13, 2012
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