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There are currently three organizations building long term strategies to gather resources from space – “The Asteroid Mining Company” (aka Planetary Resources), Deep Space Industries (DSI), and NASA.
Some may say this sounds like a Sci-Fi movie script. But it IS reality.
In October, 2014 Arkyd 3 satellite was also destroyed when International Space Station (ISS)’s supply rocket, Antares , exploded briefly after launch. Arkyd 3 was a space-testing platform dedicated to test Planetary Resources’ telescope systems for further space exploration. Planetary Resources plans to rebuild and re-launch Arkyd 3 in 9 months time.
On November 12, 2014, the European lander, Philae, managed to land on a moving comet and send back to Earth the first images from a comet’s surface. The operation was compared to “landing a bullet on another bullet 500 miles away from Earth”. From this date on, asteroid mining stops to be a Sci-Fi scenario, at least from a technical point of view.
Other people might have a curiosity – why space? We all know how expensive mining operations are on Earth. It sometimes takes decades to move a mining project from prospecting to mining and the whole deal costs millions of dollars. Space exploration experts also know how expensive it is for a kilogram of whatever resource to be carried from Earth into space (about $5,000 to $ 25,000). Apparently, space mining is as useless as a grain of sand in the desert.
Well, there are about 11,000 asteroids around Earth. Each asteroid is composed of valuable resources, such as silicate minerals, metals, carbonaceous substances, and ice (i.e. water). Water is a very important potential resource, since solar-panels fueled spacecrafts could convert it into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. This fuel could serve for limitless space exploration. Harvesting minerals in order to send them to Earth is in the present moment wasteful.
Planetary Resources (PR) has a multi-phased asteroid mining strategy. PR relies on its Arkyd satellites to test its space telescopes. These space telescopes are designed to visually explore near-by asteroids for potential resources. The corporation hopes to make some profit from selling these telescopes, and, on a much longer term, to build an orbital propellant depot, to mine asteroids using robots, and to create a means of diverting dangerous space objects from colliding Earth.
Deep Space Industries’ (DSI) mining strategy includes a line of compact spacecrafts named FireFlies for prospecting, and a Harvestor designed for mining, collecting fuel for future missions, and radiation protection. DSI also hopes to send some of the gathered space resources back to Earth.
In September 2016, NASA plans to launch Osiris-Rex shuttle into space. Osiris-Rex is meant to study an asteroid called Bennu, land on it and get a sample to Earth. NASA is also interested in robotic asteroid mining.