Science

Is Space Mining the New Goldrush?

by Dimitris Anastasiadis



From Cowboys to Space Exploration

For the ones of you who love Western movies or Lucky Luke comics, the classical figure of the gold miner may come to your mind. Lonely fortune seekers searching for gold in mines, rivers even in their own courtyard, the gold miner marked the period of goldrush in the newly founded United States accompanied by massive migration of population towards the new heaven.

The first significant gold rush in the United States was in Cabarrus County, North Carolina in 1799 at today's Reed's Gold Mine. Thirty  years later, in 1829, the Georgia Gold Rush in the southern Appalachians occurred. It was followed by the California Gold Rush of 1848–55 in the Sierra Nevada, which captured the popular imagination.

The California gold rush led directly to the settlement of California by Americans and the rapid entry of that state into the union in 1850. The gold rush in 1849 stimulated worldwide interest in prospecting for gold, and led to new rushes in Australia, South Africa, Wales and Scotland.

In our century, goldrush has nothing to do with the 19th century’s figure of the gold miner and the caravans crossing the American deserts in search for gold. The race to space traditionally has advanced with exploration and even tourism in mind, but space-mining is looking like an increasingly legitimate idea, opening the possibility of a new civilisation, and profits on another planet and creating the new goldrush for humanity.

Space Mining - The next boom industry?

The asteroid belt is brimming with metals – everything from iron and nickel, to gold and platinum. It’s estimated there is at least £500 billion billion (yes the number is correct, it’s not a typo…) 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

It’s the next boom industry. Once you set up the infrastructure then the possibilities are almost infinite. There’s an astronomical amount of money to be made by those bold enough to rise to the challenge of the asteroid rush.  But there is more to space mining than a gold rush for the sci-fi age. Taking mining off Earth could help relieve humanity’s destruction of our planet’s environment. Society’s hunger for technology is fed by the rare earth metals needed to make the electronics inside our latest gadgets. Mining these metals causes a huge amount of damage to both the surrounding ecosystem and the miners.

Space Exploration and Environmental Awareness

On Earth, rare earth metals are mined under highly toxic and unethical conditions. With space mining you can’t exploit a robot. And it moves all of the polluting industries into deep space, where there is no delicate biosphere to damage. We imagine a future where the Earth will be the protected garden of the Solar System, and all the heavily polluting industries will move off into orbital factories built around captured asteroids or lunar industrial complexes. 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, an ingredient worth £20,000 per kilo which is one of the main ingredients of catalytic converters that allow hydrogen cars to work, and normal cars to run cleaner. Space mining will play a critical role in allowing humanity to venture away from the planet on a regular basis. Building giant spacecraft on the ground and then launching them is hugely inefficient, especially when there is an almost unlimited source of iron and titanium already in space. You can even find the most vital resource to human spaceflight – water.

The new gold rush has begun.
Mining targets
The Moon

Many refining and manufacturing techniques in metal processing rely on gravity. The Moon’s gravity is only a sixth of ours but it’s enough to create a stable operations’ base close to Earth. Resources: Helium-3, gold, platinum group metals, rare earth metals, water