Ten years ago, some scientists proclaimed it was just a matter of time before we’d be commercially mining asteroids in outer space. Plans to mine for water and space metals, including precious and rare earth metals were in the works.

The media was frantically plugging stories about the supposed future of mining and access to unlimited mineable resources. However, since then talk of mining asteroids has died down, and not much has happened to move us towards mining mineral-dense rocks in space, besides a few developments.

Last year, Bruce Dorminey, a Forbes reporter, spoke to Jeff Kargel, a senior scientist at The Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, US, who was previously a geologist with the US Geological Survey. Kargel said, “I think we all overestimated what could be done.”

Is there any possibility of asteroid mining in the future?

After all the ambition scientists previously had to make asteroid mining a reality – through robotics or sending private commercial astronauts to asteroids to mine them – this is somewhat disappointing. It does nothing to increase the public’s faith in space exploration plans either.

But whether asteroid mining is possible – regardless of if it ends up happening or not – the answer seems to be yes. However, it would not involve astronaut miners travelling to asteroids themselves. Kargel says it doesn’t make “a whole lot of economic sense”, compared to using robotic technologies – and robotics could certainly be applied to the mining of metals and water from asteroids.

There are some developments in this respect. In 2018, a space mining company called Planetary Resources launched its Arkyd-6 CubeSat, a tiny satellite fitted with technology that detects water resources in space and that would be highly useful (and inexpensive) for space resource exploration.

CubeStats do not have a long shelf-life, but their cost-effectiveness means they could be mass produced and thus would be very accessible for asteroid mining projects.

However, the moon seems like a better bet

If we’re considering mining in space, the moon would be a more better target than asteroids (unless you’re looking for PGM metal reserves). The moon’s KREEP soils are rich in Rare Earth Elements, according to Kargel, so the moon would be the place to go for these rather than asteroids.

KREEP soils are made up of KREEPs (rocks that contain rare-earth elements, phosphorous, and potassium). These elements all occur within the moon’s crust.

We are also more ready for immediate commercial space mining endeavours on the moon than on asteroids due to our greater knowledge of it and it being a larger body for spacecraft to navigate to and explore.

However, never say never; asteroid mining could be a reality in the future, giving us access to a huge abundance of high-valued metals that we have not yet seen.

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