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Beyond Earthly Skies

Mining the Asteroids

6 Feb 2013, 13:56 UTC
Mining the Asteroids
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Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) are asteroids that pass near to Earth and they provide attractive targets for the extraction of resources to support the expansion of activities in space. It is estimated that there are about 1000 NEAs larger than 1 km diameter and about 100,000 NEAs larger than 140 m diameter. For as many as 60 percent of the NEAs, the amount of energy required to make a round trip from the Earth to a NEA is less than a round trip from the Earth to the surface of the Moon. A 1 km diameter metallic asteroid is expected to contain a few times more platinum group metals (PGMs) than all that has been mined on Earth.The large distance between the Earth and an asteroid means that a round-trip time for communications can be several minutes or more and transporting the extracted materials back to Earth can take up to a few years. As a result, one good strategy before mining a selected asteroid is to capture the asteroid and transport it into a stable orbit around the Earth. Having an asteroid in orbit around the Earth makes the resources on the asteroid a lot more accessible and effectively removes ...

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