Title: Asteroid Mining
Source & Date
Al Globus. Senior Research Associate. San Jose State University Foundation.
In the 1990s, John Lewis calculated that one 2 km diameter near-earth asteroid (NEO Ð 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.