We’ve been to the Moon and we’ve explored the planets and asteroids, but some have plans to do far more than simply visit these distant places. While previous expeditions have almost all been in the name of science, there’s now another incentive for private companies to return. The asteroids, in particular, could become an invaluable source for precious metals and minerals that are becoming rare on Earth. So why, where, and how, would we mine the asteroids?
Why Mine the Asteroids?
Our consumption from the Earth’s natural sources of some of these metals – for example, tin, lead, silver, gold, and copper – is now so great that it’s thought the Earth’s supplies could be depleted before the end of the century. Besides cutting down on production or developing artificial alternatives, what other solutions are available?
For that, we must turn our attention to the stars and to the nearby worlds within our own solar system.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Moon’s crust is 60% oxygen (more than the Earth), with silicon, aluminum, calcium, magnesium, iron, and titanium accounting for the vast majority of the rest. While these elements are useful, they’re not predicted to be in short supply any time soon ...