The age of taking trips to the Moon is over; the next step will be to construct permanent human settlements in space. This path will be driven by the need to mine mineral and energy resources that become increasingly rarer on Earth.
Permanent, off-world bases will be vital for providing the fuel necessary for long distance space missions, and interplanetary travel, as well as for sending any mined minerals back to Earth. The importance of off-world bases has attracted a number of entrepreneurs and private entities that work, both independently, and with NASA, to develop the technology necessary.
Shortages of key inorganic elements such as: rare earth elements, vital for nearly all electronic technology and renewable energy systems; platinum and other similar precious metals; and helium, needed for medical equipment, may one day lead to a demand that the Earth on its own cannot meet. At the point extracting minerals from outer space and returning them to Earth will be the only option for continued growth.
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The extraction and production of hydrogen, helium, and any hydrocarbons or other volatiles in space will be important for the expansion of human exploration and habitation. Energy dense fuels will be vital to power off-world transport, accommodation, and manufacturing facilities.
One of the first steps that might be taken is the mining of near earth asteroids. Class M asteroids are fairly common and are formed from the chunks of old planetary cores. They tend to be composed of iron, mixed with large amounts of other ores, such as nickel, cobalt, platinum, etc. The asteroid 2554 Amun-NEA is about 1.3 miles in diameter and has a mass of roughly 30 billion tonnes. With an estimated concentration of roughly 20 ounces per tonne of nickel, the asteroid contains 17 million tonnes of nickel alone, worth $600 billion. Add the worth of all the other elements and metals that can be extracted from it and that value will increase.
As minerals become scarcer here on Earth and their prices begin to rise, mining asteroids will become economically viable.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com
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