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Asteroid Mining: No Limits To Infinite Growth

Jacqui Goddard, The Times

The world’s first trillionaires will grow rich by mining asteroids. So say those who can see a future when humans call more than one planet home.

Now, legislation just passed by Congress has brought that far-off suggestion a step closer to reality by granting US companies “finders, keepers” rights to natural resources obtained in space. That includes, perhaps, trillions of dollars-worth of platinum, gold, silver, iron, zinc, cobalt – and the main prize, water.

“Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species,” said Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources, a company at the forefront of asteroid mining.

“This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space,” he added.

The inner reaches of the Solar System harbour more than 150 million asteroids of 100 metres diameter or larger. Chunks of rock left over from the formation of planets billions of years ago, they contain precious metals and valuable minerals in quantities greater than Earth could ever yield.

One of the prime target of those currently developing the technology to tap into asteroids is water, which in the space exploration industry is worth more than its weight in gold. Essential not only for sustaining astronauts in space, it can also be used to create rocket fuel, and costs $50 million per tonne to haul into orbit from Earth. Mining it in space opens up major, cheaper opportunities for both crewed and unmanned space travel and for expanding human activities in space – which Nasa ultimately aims to include a manned base on Mars.

By creating space-borne fuel depots, spacecraft would no longer be single-use vehicles but could be sent into action again and again on missions of discovery.

Minerals from asteroids could also serve as construction materials in space, sparing companies or government agencies some of the cost and logistical challenges of sending them up from Earth.

Over the longer-term, resources such as platinum could be extracted and brought back to Earth.

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