Heavy industry takes place not only on Earth but also above it. The course of human civilization has been changed to some extent also by several space mining-related startups and it proved that this could become a real thing!
We can’t deny the complexity of the mining process on Earth. In order to find just a few fragments of the gem, lots of heavy types of equipment are needed to dig out the ground. In addition, many animal species are being deprived of their natural habitat because of this industry. It also causing climate change and deforestation, so why are we doing this?
Incredibly valuable materials that come from this industry is the main reason for the existence of mining companies. Even though they pay a considerable amount of money to hire workers and buy machines, they still benefit enormously from selling the valuable bits they find. The issue of using mining methods on Earth to mine asteroids has been raised among many companies.
Why to mine in space?
There are two reasons for making space a mining territory. First, the mining industry is having an adverse impact on our planet and, according to forecasts, it will lead to further deterioration of the natural habitat of animals.
The second reason is that asteroids can give us huge amounts of rare minerals and some materials that can’t be found on Earth. Of course, it will be of great value.
How can its sustainability be provided?
The process of mining in space is extremely difficult, but modern technology can make it possible. Essentially, a fully automatic spacecraft must fly up to an asteroid, put it into low Earth orbit, and then hold it in place while mined by a separate spacecraft.
It is easy to say, but difficult to practice. Net price is the main factor why companies have not tried to mine asteroids. According to data, it costs thousands of dollars of rocket fuel for every kilogram delivered to low-earth orbit alone, and a flight into space costs thousands of dollars more.
Some scientists believe that in order to deal with the problems related to the cost of rocket fuel, it would be more economical to use electric motors in spaceships. There have already been made several spacecraft that use electric motors, but they could only be used for deep space travel.
For a spacecraft, nothing beats the thrust and power of conventional rocket fuel, but it is consumed very quickly. While electric motors won’t have that much maximum power, they will be able to maintain constant power output exponentially longer than a propellant rocket in deep space, where there is no friction.
Because of this, scientists and engineers believe that the easiest way to send an electric spacecraft into space is to use traditional rocket fuel in removable boosters and a removable first stage of the rocket. When they run out of fuel and detach from the spacecraft, the electric motor will make one last dash to bring the payload into orbit. From there, an electric motor can propel a spacecraft toward an asteroid in deep space.
How are we going to mine asteroids?
We cannot send a single ship millions of miles deep into space on a collision course with an unknown asteroid in order to mine materials and return to Earth. It should be a way for a sophisticated machine to be able to land on the surface and mine materials from an asteroid while maintaining contact with the Earth so that it can then leave the asteroid and return to Earth without burning precious materials when entering the atmosphere.
The best way to mine asteroids is to divide the process into three parts;
1. Ensuring the safety of the asteroid
The first step is to send an electrically-powered spacecraft into the path of a near-Earth asteroid. Once it arrives, the spacecraft will have to stop the asteroid from spinning and secure it with some form of tethers or a net. After that, it will align with the house and fire its engines to send the asteroid towards Earth.
2. Mining the asteroid
The second step is to launch an asteroid mining device in Earth orbit in advance. When the asteroid is in low Earth orbit, the spacecraft will land on it and set up giant mirrors. All mirrors will point to one point to redirect the sunlight, which will be so hot that it will heat the rock and boil off-gases.
From there, grinders can break the rock into gravel and dust, leaving centrifuges to separate the collected dense and light elements. After separation, minerals and other elements will need to be packed in small containers for transport into Earth’s atmosphere.
3. Getting the materials to the Earth
After most of the valuable parts of the asteroid have been mined and compressed into the smallest containers, it’s time to bring them to the surface of the Earth.
One of two things are required for this process; a reusable rocket that can travel efficiently and without losing cargo; or multiple heat-shielded capsules that a mining device would have to 3D print in space. In any case, the materials of the asteroid should reach the Earth’s surface without incident. Soon they will be ready to be sold for a considerable amount of money. And all the work done to acquire them will be taken into account as well.
When will asteroid mining develop?
Seeing how even fairly small asteroids can contain trillions of dollars of precious materials that are extremely rare on Earth, companies will begin to try to make a profit in a few decades. The hardest part is the price.
Until sending a rocket into space and the technology for mining the asteroid becomes cheaper, very few people will consider this industry because the upfront costs are so high that they are likely to end up losing money rather than making it.
To conclude, mining on asteroids is an amazing thing to think about. If we can extract materials from something as desolate and alien as an asteroid, then we are making great strides in better understanding our universe as a whole, and we can better understand how to expand our own horizons beyond our planet Earth.