What’s the purpose behind Asteroid mining?
It has been estimated that due to excessive use of natural resources, the key elements essential for today’s modern industry could be eliminated within 50 to 60 years. These essential elements include zinc, tin, silver, lead, antimony, gold and copper. Geologist claim that the elements such as gold, iron, manganese, nickel, platinum, rhodium, osmium and tungsten originally resulted when the earth’s crust cooled and a continuous rain of asteroids hit the planet, 4 billion years ago. These elements were then pulled deeper into the core of the Earth by the gravity, thus depriving the crust of the essential metals. So asteroids contain all these important elements that can be extracted and brought to the Earth for developmental projects.
Many useful asteroids have been discovered so far. Keck Observatory discovered in 2006, Jupiter Trojan asteroids and 617 Patroclus that largely consisted of water ice. This water ice could ultimately benefit in “human expansion into the Solar System”, which was also the target of human space flight proposed by “Augustine Commission” in the year, 2009. Researchers believe that asteroid mining can benefit in two ways, it can result in economic stability as well as physical sustainability in space.
Materials Required for Mining
There are many ways by which the essential elements can be extracted from Asteroids such as strip mining, shaft mining, heating and also magnetic rakes are used for the extraction of heavy metals. In 1980 NASA proposed to build a complex self-automated factory on the moon that would in few years time be able to replicate itself.
Mission Asteroid Mining 2015
Deep Space Industries, an Asteroid mining company has proposed to launch in 2015 a fleet of spacecrafts also known as “Fire Fly”. Their mission is to discover asteroids that are rich in metals and other mineral resources that could help humanity colonize in Space.
The CEO of the company David Gump states, “Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” further he adds, “More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century – a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.”
The CEO of the company states that name Firefly for the probes has not been inspired by the TV series, further he added, “They’re called FireFlys because they are going to light the way to the asteroids and beyond.”
The “FireFly” weighing about 25kg will be sent on six months mission. The venture also includes the launch of 2nd generation probes larger in size than Fire Fly, named Dragon Flies. They would weigh around 27 to 68 kg and would be ready for action in the year 2016 for 2 to 4 year mission. The second venture i.e. Dragon Flies is still under consideration while Fire Fly has gone through its designing process.
The CEO also claims that the probes mission not just includes the extraction of metals but it would also process liquids that would be further broken down into oxygen, methane and hydrogen so that they can be used as a fuel for satellites. This would result in massive revenue generation, once they are brought to the earth.
Another important aspect of this project is company’s 3D printing technology that would enable to extract blocks of pure nickel from the asteroids. Once the powdered nickel is fed into the system of the process, it is then transformed into solid metal units. This is what Stephen Covey co-founder of DSI and inventor of the process has to say about it, “The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity”.
What Deep Space has to offer is not just restricted to the company itself but it offers public involvement as well, David Gump explained how it will be possible, “The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers and other innovative ways to open the doors wide.”
Currently the key sponsors of this expedition are Google Lunar X Prize, Red Bull and Unilever, each of them are spending more than 10 million dollars on the project.
Thus the entire mission will benefit in two ways; it will bring a boom to the economic sector and also it will open the gates for humans to survive in the outer space with maximum number of resources.
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