Billion Dollar Asteroid Making Close Approach To Earth
February 14, 2013

Orbit Of Tomorrow’s Asteroid Is Totally Wrong For Mining

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The idea to start attempting to mine asteroids has been floating around recently, but questions remain as to whether or not such a business endeavor would even be lucrative. Now, however, Deep Space Industries (DSI) claims that one particular asteroid could be worth as much as $195 billion in metals and propellant.

Deep Space Industries announced this week that DA14, the asteroid making a close approach to Earth this week, could be worth up to $195 billion, assuming it were in a different orbit. The path of asteroid 2012 DA14 is tilted relative to Earth, so it would require too much energy for spacecraft to chase it down for mining, but the hypothetical situation in itself is interesting.

First thing to consider is that a spacecraft would have to send fuel, water, and building materials into high Earth orbit, costing at least $10 million per ton.

“Getting these supplies to serve communications satellites and coming crewed missions to Mars from in-space sources like asteroids is key — if we are going to explore and settle space,” Rick Tumlinson, Chairman of DSI, said. “While this week´s visitor isn´t going the right way for us to harvest it, there will be others that are, and we want to be ready when they arrive.”

DSI said the close approaching asteroid contains 5 percent recoverable water, which could be worth as much as $65 billion. Then, assuming 10 percent of its mass is iron, nickel and other metals, an additional $130 billion could be added to the total.

The company projects that, assuming the price of launch vehicles today drops 20 percent, an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 could yield as much as $39 billion.

“Even with conservative estimates of the potential value of any given asteroid, if we begin to utilize them in space they are all the equivalent of a space oasis for refueling and resupply,” Deep Space CEO David Gump said in the release. “Yet we know very little about most of them. That´s why Deep Space is starting off with a prospecting campaign using very affordable cubesat technologies and hitching cheap rides to space as secondary payloads on the launch of large communications satellites.”

DSI says it believes there are thousands of near Earth asteroids that will be easier to chase down than DA14.

“The challenge right now is to get out there soon so we can inspect and sample them,” said Tumlinson. “Whether for mining, science or planetary defense, we really need to begin getting close up and personal with these objects.”

The company is planning to send some small probes to examine asteroids, and allow comparisons with readings taken by Earth and space based technologies. After this step, DSI will be sending another spacecraft to return samples to earth, and lay the groundwork for potential mining operations in the 2020 time frame.

Planetary Resources, another company hoping to mine asteroids, announced back in November last year that mining asteroids is more feasible than mining ocean water.

Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources President and Chief Asteroid Miner, wrote in a blog post that there is about 0.000000000234 grams of platinum per liter of ocean water. With a pump the size of Niagara Falls, it would take seven million years to work through all the water on Earth, assuming there was a processing plant that large.

“While asteroid mining is a big task, it´s much more tractable than processing enormous amounts of seawater,” Lewicki wrote.