November 30, 2017

Asteroid mining is the key to our future expansion into space

Asteroid mining is the key to our future expansion into space.

Planetary Resources is conducting the first commercial exploration of resources on near Earth asteroids. The first resource that we’re interested in is water.

Water, when you break it down into the elements Hydrogen and Oxygen, is rocket fuel – currently the best way to get around the Solar System.

In much the same way that the economic activity on Earth is enabled by fossil fuels, in space, we will have a water-based economy. The Earth’s gravity well is so deep that the cost of bringing propellant from Earth to fuel that economy in space will be prohibitive.

Imagine trying to drive from New York to Los Angeles, and there’s nowhere to fill up your gas tank along the way. That’s the way it is today for anyone who wants to send something far out into space. You have to take everything you want with you, including your fuel. When you load up with all the fuel you need, there’s really not room for much else.

Water is in every place we’ve looked in the Solar System, from the poles of Mercury to the ice mountains of Pluto. Using telescopes you can get a sense of what asteroids contain water in the form of clay minerals. But there’s no substitute for detailed investigation, getting some asteroid material and liberating the water from the rock itself.

We will do so with small, efficient and cost-effective robotic spacecraft that can be launched in quantities. Our exploration mission launches several of these spacecraft to multiple asteroids spread throughout the inner Solar System. Instead of “landing” on the object, we plan to fire a set of surface probes to impact and embed in the asteroids and obtain a sample to perform experiments on. This allows us to confirm that the water is present, and to understand more about the bulk material containing the water.

If Planetary Resources can verify the abundance of water on a specific asteroid, this opens up a whole new era of space exploration. We will be able to process asteroid material to liberate the water and break it apart into Hydrogen and Oxygen – the most powerful rocket fuel that we know of. Water from asteroids will supply gas stations in outer space to enable voyages beyond anything we can achieve right now.

In November of 2015 the United States passed a law that explicitly said that companies can own the resources they remove and extract from asteroids. That law was the first of its kind in the world, and was quickly followed by Luxembourg which passed a similar law.

The vision of Planetary Resources is shared by millions of people throughout the world. We recognize that the next great frontier is outer space. We have governments and other groups that embrace what we’re trying to do, and move us forward. We’re engaging the globe to accomplish a mission that is much larger than any one of us.

Space has been a place of wonder, of scientific inquiry and learning about the world around us. Our children and our grandchildren will know a world where space is just another place where we raise our families, go to work, and build our communities.

The resources off the very accessible near Earth asteroids help do all that. It’s where we begin on the inevitable expansion of humanity into space.