The hunt for precious metals has been practiced ever since the first records on humanity were written. Now, the talks focus on other parts of the Universe that might, allegedly, hold gold, platinum, and other precious elements; more precisely, space. There have been speculations about it for years, and people are already thinking of ways to seize these metals.
Some say there is $700 billion of this kind of stuff, ready to be grabbed, but the catch is that these precious materials are buried in asteroids, space rocks that orbit between Mars and Jupiter. This, however, has not lessened the raising community of ‘space miners,’ which are contemporary fellow members of the Forty-Niners, who dashed to California in 18469 after the gold located there was discovered.
They claim that the required technology already exists or is at our fingertips, and the only obstacle is a wide vision and, of course, money. These hunters are, in fact, governments that are taking space mining very seriously. A report published in The National says that the UAE is soon planning to join the U.S. and Luxembourg in legally allowing those who find whatever to keep the stuff.
The Hunt Begins
Asteroids are known to be leftovers dating back to when the Solar System was formed. By beaming radio waves at them and observing their light, experts have been able to examine their chemical composition.
Some asteroids seem to abound of rich metals like nickel and iron and may hold precious metals in concentrations 10 to 20 times higher than the mines found on Earth have. Moreover, the weak gravity of these space rocks suggests that heavy metals haven’t submerged too deep below the surface.
As per Planetary Resources, a previous U.S.-based candidate in the space mining trade, a half-kilometer wide asteroid, rich in platinum, can hold more of this type of material than has ever been found on Earth. Established in 2012, Planetary Resources gathered $50 million from investors by 2016, but because it couldn’t raise enough funds, it has quit the field.
In the 1960s, the Outer Space Treaty was created to prevent states claiming reign to astronomical bodies such as the Moon. However, ironically, the U.S. Congress has decided that the U.S. companies have every right to exploit asteroids.
The UAE has now done something similar as well. When disclosing the plans, the director-general of the Emirates Space Agency Mohammed Al Ahbabi said that the regulation is a ‘law for tomorrow’ to be prepared for future developments in this field.
An Almost Impossible Task
A new report dubbed MIT Technology Review demonstrated that the long investment periods that span over decades, along with the technical requirements of space mining, had been a fatal combination. There’s one thing to imagine robot diggers and rockets carrying huge amounts of gold back to Earth, but the reality is way more difficult. Just the process of finding feasible asteroids will ask numerous prospector satellites to agree on the viability of the sites.
NASA intends to begin this hunt in August 2022 by launching its Psyche expedition. This will aim for the unknown asteroid that studies say it is made almost completely out of precious metals.
Geared with incredibly advanced imaging and neutron and gamma-ray detectors, Psyche will land in 2026 and provide the first-ever image of what the asteroid might have to offer.
Getting the metals is, however, incredibly difficult. Robot miners will have to achieve a safe landing on the asteroids and also maneuver all over the uneven surface. That is not a small task in gravity fields so weak that a human could jump off into space in the literal sense, to never return again.