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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and…

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Space Mining: The Final Frontier For Oil Countries

Off Earth Mining

The centuries-long human fascination with space may go beyond making sci-fi movies and into a brave new world of asteroid mining within just a couple of decades.

While scientists and engineers have been studying the costs and technology necessary to launch space mining probes and missions, an analyst reckons that private companies could begin launching satellites prospecting asteroids within five years, and actual mining for water and rare metals on asteroids could begin within eight years.

In this new quest for resources, the Middle East oil-exporting countries, which have long been considered the swing crude oil suppliers on Earth, could play a role in mining for water and platinum group metals on asteroids in space, according to Tom James, Senior Quality Assurance (QA) Partner at energy consultant Navitas Resources.

“Water is the new oil of space…Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy,” James told Bloomberg in an interview published earlier this week.

The Middle East “is an emerging new space power fuelling the future of commercial space and exploration”, James said in a lecture at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute earlier this month.

Water can be used as a propellant in space, while metal-rich asteroid belts are thought to contain gold, silver, and even platinum in quantities exceeding more than 100 times the annual platinum mining output on Earth. According to MIT’s Mission 2016 review, a platinum-rich asteroid of 500 meters (1,640 feet) in width could contain nearly 175 times the annual global platinum output, or 1.5 times the known Earth reserves of platinum group metals.

In the race for space missions, Middle Eastern oil producing countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have their own space and aeronautics programs.

According to James, some countries in the Middle East could serve as launch pads for prospecting satellites, because spacecraft would burn less fuel to exit the Earth’s atmosphere from a launch site closer to the equator, due to the higher surface velocity from spinning around the Earth’s axis.

Although asteroid mining still sounds like something that could happen only in a Star Trek movie, analysts consider that it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem.

According to Goldman Sachs, “space mining could be more realistic than perceived. Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint. Water is easily converted into rocket fuel, and can even be used unaltered as a propellant. Ultimately being able to stockpile the fuel in LEO [low earth orbit] would be a game changer for how we access space. And platinum is platinum.” Related: Gas Prices In North Korea Shoot Up 83% As China Mulls Oil Embargo

Of course, Goldman warns that the “successful asteroid mining would likely crater the global price of platinum”, if MIT’s estimates for ore grades in platinum-rich asteroids turn out to be even close to accurate.

The investment bank concludes that “given the capex of mining operations on Earth, we think that financing a space mission is not outside the realm of possibility.”

A 2012 study by Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) found that the total cost of identifying, robotically capturing, and returning an entire near-Earth asteroid closer to the Earth by the middle of the next decade is around $2.6 billion.

Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, which has movie director and producer James Cameron as advisor and Google’s Larry Page as founding investor, is already testing asteroid prospecting technology. Related: Oil Prices Pull Higher As Refiners Soak Up Soaring Crude Imports

Another such company, Deep Space Industries, launched in August last year a commercial mining mission in which a spacecraft will survey and land on a near-Earth asteroid, as a step toward the company’s plans to prospect, harvest, and supply in-space resources.

The U.S. adopted the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act in 2015 to “facilitate a pro-growth environment for the developing commercial space industry by encouraging private sector investment.”

According to MIT, governments around the world would better focus on easily available resources and technologies, and leave funding for asteroid mining to the private sector. The MIT scientists currently predict that after 2045, asteroid mining will prosper, together with humankind’s expansion in space.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • John Scior on April 27 2017 said:
    It seems like a nice idea, the launch costs would probably be too high to make it viable. Unless a space "elevator" that would dramatically lower costs be developed. Another concept might be to send a spaceship up that could divert asteroids to crash to earth in a minimally disruptive zone where the metal resources could then be recovered. With the space missions thus far launched, what data is there on the actual content of metals within asteroids.
  • George Tirebiter on April 28 2017 said:
    So they say that there may be "asteroid mining within just a couple of decades".
    How about they start with actually sending some humans to the moon, since this hasn't happened yet?
    No....don't tell me you believe the US sent men to the moon in 1969.
    Ever wonder why it's never happened again?
    It would be for the same reason there's never been another atomic bomb used in any war since the supposed bombing of Hiroshima.
    Because the moon trip was faked and the bombing of Hiroshima was a hoax.
    This is probably a lot to take in right now.......unless you're so indoctrinated that you can't open your mind enough to comprehend it.
    Anyway.....all of this mining mumbo-jumbo is just that....a lot of Fake News based on Fake Science.
    Why don't you ask the folks that gave you this fiction to come up with a photo of the Earth that's not a CGI creation, a painting or a paste-up.
    That ought to keep them busy, since they don't have, nor have they ever had, a camera far enough away to take a photo of the whole Earth.
    I know there's plenty of money to be made by passing on this fiction to the gullible public, but please stop re-enforcing this Fake News based on Fake Science that the public is drowning in.
  • John Scior on April 30 2017 said:
    To George Tirebiter :

    Not to say that you are wrong but just asking a few questions : 1 what standards or proof would you say meet your standard for believing in something ( anything from Santa Claus, to the Holocaust, to moon trips , or even that electricity powers your toaster ) 2. Applying this standard to your claims that these events have been faked, do they pass the test that others should apply your own standard to your claim they are fake ? You may be right. All I am saying is can you give us some links to information that would lead others to believe your claims.

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