Asteroid mining could be less than 10 years away, experts claim

Sending a spacecraft to a far-off asteroid in order to mine its resources may seem like a long-term proposition, but companies could be transforming water contained on these rocky space objects into rocket fuel within the next 10 years, according to recent reports.

As Space.com explained on Tuesday, Washington-based asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has already deployed its first probe from the International Space Station (ISS), and hopes to launch a series of improved spacecraft over the next few years. At first, the goal is to make propellant from H20, but ultimately they hope mine metals from space rocks.

In a statement, Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, called last month’s deployment of the firm’s Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft “a significant milestone for Planetary Resources as we forge a path toward prospecting resource-rich asteroids. Our team is developing the technology that will enable humanity to create an off-planet economy that will fundamentally change the way we live on Earth.”

Likewise, Planetary Resources president and chief engineer Chris Lewicki told Space.com that the company had “every expectation” that they would be gathering water and working to create an in-space refueling station within “the next 10 years,” and possibly as early as “the first half of the 2020s… We’re moving very fast… those things will come… sooner than we might think.”

First resource-harvesting missions could happen by 2020

Along with competitor Deep Space Industries, Planetary Resources is looking to harness natural resources found in asteroids. To start with, they will be looking to draw water from a special type of space rock known as a carbonaceous chondrite. The water could be used for drinking, to keep astronauts safe from radiation, and broken down into oxygen and hydrogen for refueling.

Carbonaceous chondrites could also be harvested for minerals such as iron, nickel, and cobalt, the website explained, and ultimately the companies hope they will be able to extract rare metals from the platinum group on asteroids, for use in electronics and other high-end technology.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is create a space-based business that is an economic engine that really opens up space to the rest of the economy,” Lewicki told Space.com. The next step for the company will be to launch the Arkyd-6, a probe that is twice as large as the one launched back in July. By late next year, they hope to have an even bigger version ready for deployment.

Eventually, that model (the Arkyd 100) will be replaced by the 200 and the 300, both of which will be designed to perform up-close inspections of near-Earth asteroids in search of a potential mining target. If all goes well, the company hopes to send the 200 into orbit on a test flight by 2018 and the 300 to a target asteroid still to be identified by late 2018 or early 2019.

Deep Space Industries, on the other hand, is still in the process of designing and building probes, according to Space.com. Company representatives have previously said that they intend to send a resource-collecting mission to a near-Earth asteroid no later than 2020, the website added.

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Feature Image: Thinkstock

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