British company AMC joins Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources in their attempt to create an asteroid mining economy. The first launch is scheduled for 2020.
“We want to allow every person on this planet the opportunity to visit, or even live and work in space if they so desire within the next fifty years. With fifty years of continuous economic exploitation of space we foresee that there will be an Asteroid Mining Corporation colony on Ceres by the time our CEO retires.”
Ceres is suspected to contain water-ice on the surface that was separated from it’s heavier inner core a long time ago, along with other lighter elements. Offering a potential reservoir of life supporting resources and fuel for hydrolysis. Most recently there’s been talk of the dwarf planet having more organic material than previously thought.
Layers of Ceres NASA
“The technologies we are developing will allow us to supply colonies on Mars, to explore the Oceans of Europa and Enceladus to finally prove whether or not we are alone in the Solar System.”
Europa and Enceladus are two natural satellites of particular interest among the space community due to their sub-glacial oceans and entrenched hydrothermal vents which can possibly support life with the necessary heat for proliferation. We’ve found microbiological organisms flourishing amongst hydro thermal vents here on Earth so why not Europa or Enceladus?
The Asteroid Mining Corporation will start by targeting asteroids between the orbits of Venus and Mars with a similiar trajectory to Earth. Scientists believe there are thousands of these near earth objects. some of them are easier to get to then the moon making that a reasonable first step in establishing economic-industrial operations in outer space.
Their company plans to use as many materials as they can find. Those most evident based on infrared spectrography include Platinum group and Ferrous metals, Rare Earth minerals as well as Carbon and volatile compounds such as water.
AMC wants to secure 2.3 million in crowdfunding for their first objective. Launching “APS-1” a 6U spectroscope based space telescope in to orbit. The first of it’s kind in the UK and a proper demonstration of the technology that will purportedly scale up for later stages of the mission. It’s main purpose is to gather spectragraphic data on target asteroids that could potentially be commercialized. They want to launch the APS-1 space telescope in 2020.
Their next objective is to figure out what differences in material/structural properties arise when metals are refined in the vacuum and micro-gravity conditions of outer space. It is true that the International Space Station has accomplished 3D printing under stable conditions. However they have not printed objects in a vacuum, nor have they printed anything made of metal.
ISS “Made in Space” 3D Printer
Perhaps AMC will need to accumulate more funding for a type of vaccum chamber zero G testing site for metallic 3D printers. Which are luckily, decreasing in cost as of late, with the cheapest models hovering around 120 000 USD
The third objective involves dispatching an actual probe to interact with the asteroid itself. AMC will select the asteroid based on several attributes including
– How close it is to earth
– How similar it’s orbit angle is to Earth’s
– What kind of spin it has and
– What type of asteroid it is.
The Probe will first scan the surface of the object, studying it’s composition using various sensors. Then it will build a map of the asteroid, attach to it and excavate a volume of material. Docking and material extraction depends on the size and composition of the asteroid. Safety appears to be a greater concern then payload, a good sign for more conservative investors:
“We will not be looking for the best landing place for materials but for a secure and effective place to mine.”
Once the material is extracted they plan to process the elements possibly through smelting, which means they will need some type of furnace depot in orbit. They’ve also mentioned that ferrous (iron based magnetic, recyclable) metals will be kept in space for constructing further infrastructure. Perhaps they could make use of this material to create magnetic gears?
Once the other materials are processed they will be sent back to Earth for commercial activity. The extremely generous projections made by various figures in media are probably inaccurate as far as the long term profitability of asteroid mining is concerned. It is not likely for example that “asteroid mining will make every person on Earth a billionaire” because the price of a natural resource deflate in proportion to its availability… It just takes a while.
So with that being said it is much more likely that the first few companies on the scene will make the most money, and then as more of these “precious metals” make it down to Earth they will decrease in value by virtue of their abundance. So you can expect he Asteroid economy to eventually level off to ordinary sustainable profit, akin to present day mining.
The biggest promise is the erection of a permanent infrastructure for industry and commerce in outer space, which will help to kick off space colonization in particular – allowing humanity to inhabit other worlds potentially via the first 3D printed bases made from asteroid minerals.