The debate about whether or not Earthlings are dwindling away their resources and leaving future generations with the possibility of a fruitless planet has been raging forever. But the argument may be seriously altered as we attempt to tap into a brand new supply of resources — in outer space. The $330 billion space mining industry is gaining traction and attracting investors and scientists alike. So exactly what is is? In a nutshell, space mining is the concept of gathering resources from outer space for use on Earth. Space mining opens up new portholes into previously unexplored options for our problematic planet.
Unfortunately, however, not everything about space mining is so straightforward. Countries all across the globe are bargaining for space chips and, much like an orbit, the rules to the game are perpetually circling. There are other ethical and other ramifications to consider as well. Would colonizing space give Earthlings even more excuses to disrespect the inhabitable planet they already have? Could it lead to intergalactic nuclear war? Because of all the resources abounding through the constellations, could turn our entire economy upside down.
Is space mining the next gold rush? Many say yes. After all, there is a treasure trove of mineral rich asteroids hovering just above us, ripe for the picking. Unlike in the past, though, we now also possess the necessary technology to plot, extract, and harvest these unparalleled gems. Here’s an in-depth look at the burgeoning interstellar industry that has tycoons and space addicts mesmerized.
Space mining, sometimes referred to as asteroid mining, is exactly what it sounds like — the act of extracting various necessary materials from space and bringing them back to Earth. This sort of extraterrestrial excavating was once the stuff of science fiction. However, as Earth’s resources reach all-time lows, scientists are looking into this prospect as a serious possibility.
Space mining is not an entirely novel idea, although it may seem that way at first glance. Scientists believe asteroid collisions with Earth are one of the main reasons the planet’s crust is abundant with precious metals like gold, nickel, and platinum. These materials were, essentially, brought here by the asteroids themselves. This “new” approach is really just that same idea with a twist. Rather than waiting for asteroids to hit, humans are starting to take a proactive approach by tapping into all those natural materials.
As you read this — on a laptop, a smartphone, or an equivalent electronic device — you might find it difficult to envision a future where basic resources like water have run dry. But don’t let the technology around you make you so naïve. It’s estimated that within the next 50 years or so, many of Earth’s most vital resources will be completely diminished. Fortunately, for our children and their children, and so forth, the prospect of space mining is projected to be right on the horizon. Some say it could even happen within the decade.
In modern society, most of the power generated by humans is reliant on inorganic compounds that are growing scarcer by the second. Space mining remains a controversial intergalactic solution to this exacerbating dilemma. As it turns out, everything we need to power the planet at the rate to which we’ve grown accustomed is hovering just above us in the atmosphere. In the future, tapping into the stars could, literally, recharge all of Earth's batteries. Planetary Resources claims there are 16,000 near-Earth asteroids that contain easily accessible resources like water and other minerals.
But there's a dark side to reaping more resources, too. Helium-3, the critical component found in today's nuclear power, is ample on the Moon. Should competing entities be harvesting nuclear capabilities, the question shifts from who will be the General Electric of the Cosmos to who would be the Emperor Palpatine.
If you’re an advocate for solar energy as an alternative to other, seemingly more destructive approaches to harnessing electricity, then you might want to brace yourself for this factoid. High-yield solar power, like the kind you need to run electrical items at home, is not so easily accessible on our planet. The biosphere can only currently access approximately .03% of it and you would need 2.7 million square miles of the landmass on Earth in order to efficiently collect 20 terawatts of power. Comparatively, lunar solar power, which is generated by the Moon, requires 40,000 square miles per 20 terawatts of power, giving it a clear edge over the competition.
Lunar solar power systems convert solar energy into electromagnetic waves, making the energy collecting process significantly safer and less expensive, at least in theory. Several scientists counter that the expense of space travel itself wildly outweighs the price of the 55% of solar energy Earth loses due to absorption and reflection. Other advantageous aspects of collecting solar power from the Moon include the ability to amass solar energy from a place where there is no night, along with extended collection rates and longer collection durations.