Readers of this blog know that there have been a number of posts about critical industrial metals in the production of which the U.S. needs to become more self-sufficient (Lithium, Rare Earths) and about the periodic table (The Disappearing Spoon, artists’ pictorial representations, the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation). This brings me to an article in the March 9-15th issue of The Economist Magazine which discusses initiatives underway to send spacecraft to mine metals from floating asteroids. No kidding! Serious people, including the founders of Google, are putting money into such ventures. A number of firms are interested.
It has long been know, through spectroscopic analysis, that a number of valuable metals (gold, platinum, rare earths, nickel-iron ores, etc) have been detected on asteroids. About 1700 known asteroids are in earth’s orbit closer than the moon. Deep Space Industries plans to launch a fleet of spacecraft to identify asteroids that could one day be mined for their precious resources. Planetary Resources has a similar objective. NASA has also received funding in this area.
Not surprisingly, it is agreed that this prospect is a number of decades away when spacecraft technology and fuel development is much more advanced and when the price of the minerals of interest is much higher than it is right now.
You have to wonder whether people are climbing all over the asteroid that recently fell near the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia!