According to Mining.com, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is funding a study to evaluate the feasibility of asteroid mining. The announcement comes five months after private investors, among them legendary movie director James Cameron, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google and former Microsoft exec Charles Simonyi, launched a company called Planetary Resources, with the stated goal of scouting and mining asteroids for metals and minerals.
While space mining seems to lose some of its pie-in-the-sky appearance with NASAS’s funding of the project and the heads of the five largest space agencies in the world having recently met to discuss interplanetary mining, it remains an endeavor fraught with numerous challenges.
It’s unclear whether asteroid mining is a viable option – but one thing is certain, as American Resources principal Daniel McGroarty has pointed out in a piece for Real Clear World:
“Spaceships need metals. (…) The experts recommend using stuff that won’t “creep” – deform under intense stress – like ZE63A, a Magnesium-Zinc-Zirconium-Rhenium-Neodymium (rare earth) alloy. Or if you don’t have that on hand in your space spice cupboard, you can go with WE54 alloy, substituting Yttrium – another rare earth – for Zinc.
Of course, to shape any of these metals into a spaceship, you need to dig them up first – right down here on the 3rd rock from the sun.”
The bottom line – unless our rigid mining permitting process and the lack of a clearly defined mineral resource strategy are addressed, mining asteroids for mineral resources will remain a futuristic, albeit fascinating, scenario.