Race for space wealth

Countries like India and China are looking to mine the moon for extracting Helium-3 – this isotope could provide safer nuclear energy.

By   |  Published: 21st Apr 2020  3:56 pm
Source: Internet

Hyderabad: The asteroid belt is brimming with metals – everything from iron and silver to gold and platinum. It is estimated there is at least $700 billion worth of mineral wealth in the belt and companies are being set up all around the world to plunder these resources in a gold rush for the 21st century.

Space is undeniably a challenging place for commercial activity. It will play a critical role in allowing humanity to venture away from the planet on a regular basis.

The first objective is to obtain elements that are critical for basic sustenance on Earth. Second is to haul precious minerals and cargo raw materials to Earth to fuel its fast depleting resources. Third, asteroids, give humans the potential to create tools in space, since iron, nickel and cobalt are in abundance. Fourth, many nations are looking at space to diversify out of the earthly benefits of fossil fuel. Fifth, countries like India and China are looking to mine the moon for extracting Helium-3 – this isotope could provide safer nuclear energy. Lastly, the water available in outer space could be used to make rocket propellants.

New mines in space could also provide a new source of rare elements to help create the tools we need to alleviate the current environmental crisis. Solar panels, electric cars and energy-saving light bulbs all rely on elements that are increasingly rare on Earth such as platinum.

In 2019, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 successfully collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu, which is approximately 300 million km from Earth. They are expected to arrive on Earth in December.

Australia is also a party to the 1979 Moon Agreement, which allows mineral and other space resources to be used for scientific purposes.

Given the scale of the required investment, companies need legal assurances. In 2015, the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act asserted the right of US companies to own and sell resources mined in space “obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”

Some private companies have said they were working on asteroid mining. They included Planetoid Mines Corporation, NEO Resource Atlas, Deep Space Industries, Planetary Resources and Asteroid Mining Corporation Ltd, UK.

Space ventures are high risk with long lead times and heavy capital investment and that is no different for asteroid-mining projects. Some of the categories are – research and development costs, exploration and prospecting costs, construction and infrastructure costs, operational and engineering costs, environmental costs, time costs, etc.


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