Asteroids hold untold riches when it comes to “untapped resources.” We are getting closer to harvesting materials from these celestial objects, but how close are we to mining asteroids?
*Correction: While no evidence of new elements has been found in asteroids, they can indeed contain minerals that are impossible to form on Earth. We apologize for this error.
Asteroids could become the intergalactic pit stops for exploring the universe. They have the potential to become cosmic gas stations, and even the building blocks for habitats on Mars.
Asteroids can be huge, and they're almost everywhere in space. Asteroid mining could yield materials like platinum, iron, nickel, and cobalt; rare minerals; water; and even minerals that are impossible to form on Earth.
And while there are numerous kinds of valuable minerals on asteroids, the first and most important thing we need to do is learn how to extract water. Water is found in Carbonaceous asteroids, also known as C-type asteroids.
A water source in our planetary neighborhood could be a source of hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel and life support systems; a tool to shield us from radiation; and even a supply of drinking water for astronauts. The problem is that C-type asteroids are a bit tricky to find: the asteroids are incredibly dark. The good news is, all the sunlight they don't reflect gets absorbed, warms the asteroids up, and they glow in the infrared.
That's why NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing the Near-Earth Object Camera, or NEOCam, which, in addition to identifying potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects, will be able to comb the infrared for evidence of C-type asteroids.
But what do we have to do to actually achieve asteroid mining? Find out more in this episode of How Close Are We?
Cosmic Detective Work: Why We Care About Space Rocks
"From distant, icy comets to the asteroid that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, each space rock contains clues to epic events that shaped the solar system as we know it today -- including life on Earth."
Asteroid mining might actually be better for the environment
"The first study of its environmental impact suggests that extracting resources such as platinum from asteroids might be cleaner than doing so on Earth."
Asteroid-Mining Plan Would Bake Water Out of Bagged-Up Space Rocks
"This water, in turn, could provide relatively cheap and accessible propellant for voyaging spacecraft, lowering the cost of spaceflight significantly."