Raw materials on earth are becoming scarce, whereas our demand is constantly increasing. The more technology develops, the more metals and rare earths are needed. The latter raw materials are also indispensable for telecommunications. It is now known that such resources can also be found in space. Numerous countries, including the USA, are already engaged in space mining. Legally, the specifications of what constitutes legal exploitation are still not clearly defined. Germany has not yet enacted a space law that provides for space mining. In summer 2018, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) pointed out the urgency of this in a position paper. It called for the prompt enactment of a space law in order to be able to start mining raw materials in space. There are parallels here with the game Factorio, which is primarily about mining raw materials in space or on a foreign planet.
What raw materials are found on asteroids?
More than 700,000 asteroids are known today. 16,000 of them are near-Earth objects. The latter are particularly easy for spacecraft to reach. The extraction of raw materials from asteroids could be realized by open pit mining, which is often not possible on Earth. Iron and other heavy elements sank through the massive rock plates of our planet into the core. In the process, they dragged down valuable materials such as gold or platinum with them. In the case of asteroids, the valuable raw materials are often found on the surface. This is another aspect that makes space mining attractive.
Which asteroids contain the most valuable raw materials?
Space mining holds out the prospect of prosperity and wealth. To illustrate this, let’s look at the large chunk called “Psyche 16,” located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This consists almost entirely of metals such as nickel, iron and gold. Some astronomers therefore suspect that Psyche 16 was originally the core of a Mars-sized planet that lost its outer layers through multiple collisions in prehistoric times. The value of its resources is estimated by the U.S. space agency NASA at $700 trillion. In 2023, NASA intends to send a spacecraft to Psyche 16. After its expected arrival in 2030, the asteroid’s chemical composition will be studied in more detail.
Another option would be to use the small asteroid Amun 3554, which has a diameter of 2.5 km and is one of the Earth’s orbital cruisers. According to the British AMC (Asteroid Mining Corporation), a celestial body of this size could yield 100,000 tons of platinum and 10,000 tons of gold. Further investigations are to follow from 2020.