Title:  Asteroid Mining

 

 

Source & Date

Al Globus.  Senior Research Associate. San Jose State University Foundation.  

April 2007.

 

 

Background

 

In the 1990s, John Lewis calculated that one 2 km diameter near-earth asteroid (NEO near earth object) 3554 Amun contained approximately $20 trillion worth of metals.  There are approximately 900 similar sized asteroids in near-earth orbits, many of which may also contain large amounts of precious metals.  There are approximately one billion NEOs with a diameter of approximately 10 meters and far more smaller objects.  Undisturbed,  approximately 1/3 of these objects will eventually impact Earth, the larger ones with devastating effects. 

 

Issue

 

While major impacts will, for the most part, be far in the future, eventually something must be done about many of the large NEOs.  One approach is to tear them apart and use the materials.  As the materials of metal asteroids, such as 3554 Amun, have great value on Earth, it may be profitable to start with them. Assuming we choose to mine the asteroids, is it economically more advantageous to mine a few large NEOs, return large numbers of small NEOs whole, or something in between?

 

Legal rights to asteroidal materials are a murky area.  They must be clarified for such a project to be taken to completion.

 

 

Assignment

The TP has the following assignment: 

1) Define a system to mine 3554 Amun for metals and bring them to the Earth's surface.

2) Define a system to return small NEOs whole.

3) Perform a trade study comparing these options.

2) Define a development path to these system that can be financed by borrowing against the value of the materials.

3) Define a business plan to deliver the metals to Earth in such a way as to preserve the price. I.e., avoids flooding the market and depressing metal prices.

4) Make a legal argument that consuming all of 3554 Amun or other NEOs does not violate existing space law.

 


Disciplines

Expected level of involvement by department area

 

               Business            Life              Policy           Physical          Satellite          Systems           Space

            Management       Science           & Law           Science       Applications     Engineering & Society

Major         X                                      X                   X                   X                   X                   

Minor                                                                                                                           

  

Brief explanation of expected involvement by department area

 Space Business & Management:   Develop a plan to manage metal markets in the face of large inputs of materials 

 Space Life Sciences:                    NA                      

 Space Policy & Law:                     Define ownership and mining rights to asteroids in existing space law.

 Space Physical Sciences:             Characterize 3554 Amun physical properties. Characterize small  NEO physical properties.    

 Satellite Applications:                     Asteroid mining is a satellite application 

 Space Systems Engineering:         Define detection, transportation, mining equipment, procedures, safety of returned materials, Earth orbit insertion, and transportation of materials to the surface.

 Space & Society:                           NA          

 

 

 

Window of Opportunity

This proposed TP is viable for the foreseeable future.

 

 

Interest

This proposed TP is likely to enjoy broad support from those interested in use of extra-terrestrial resources and mining interests.  Since these materials can be exploited without the land-use issues normally associated with mining, asteroid mining is a large potential growth area.