Daniel Halliday
May 29 · Last update 3 mo. ago.
Should governments and private companies be investing in asteroid mining?
44 of the 118 elements that make up the periodic table (and everything else in the world) are considered endangered and will be in limited supply in coming years. Many of these elements are used in technology and some are vital for life. Should pressure be put on government space programs such as NASA or private companies like SpaceX to look into space for new natural resource frontiers? Or is this an unrealistic solution for a deep rooted environmental issue?
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There are much bigger global problems than natural resources
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Astroid mining is unrealistic and distracts us from more down to earth solutions
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This is the only way forward if we want innovation and technology to improve at its current rate.
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There are much bigger global problems than natural resources

The world is home to some extremely disastrous conditions for humanity, such as war, famine, outbreaks of disease, etc. These human problems should be resolved before undertaking massive vanity projects to boost the economics of individual governments, countries or private companies. It would cost many billions or trillions of any world currency to build a device to journey to an object in space, mine for precious minerals and then reliably bring that back to Earth. Wouldn’t a fraction of that money, being siphoned off in order to try and solve some of these humanitarian issues, be of much greater use to world peace in the long run? Isn't peace a more amiable goal than any amount of economic enhancement?

More worrying then is the actual effect the proposed gains brought about by near-Earth asteroid mining could have on stability and the global economy. For example, it is clear already from the minimal surveying of asteroids already undertaken, that some contain resources far in excess of anything found in the Earth’s crust. Removing such vast resources and thrusting them into the global economy would without doubt cause instability and a market crash. Likewise a fresh injection of raw materials for nations to fight over combined with economic instability may prove to just increase global warfare, and prove to be more catastrophic than stabilising.

In the meantime much effort would also have to go into legal proceedings to determine whether individuals or even nations are allowed to remove celestial resources and bring them to Earth. The only legal framework to go on currently is the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. This widely recognised treaty does ban “national appropriation”, which could be taken to mean countries are not allowed to harvest resources from outside the planet. However the question of private mining in space remains a legal grey area with many legal experts thinking this will inevitably end up in courts, “it is just a question of when” [1] (Christopher Newman, University of Northumbria). Again taking time and judicial attention away from the many humanitarian issues in the world.

[1] theguardian.com/science/2018/jun/09/asteroid-mining-space-prospectors-precious-resources-fuelling-future-among-stars newscientist.com/article/mg19426051.200-earths-natural-wealth-an-audit acs.org/content/acs/en/greenchemistry/research-innovation/research-topics/endangered-elements.html en.wikisource.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty_of_1967#Article_VIII

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Daniel Halliday
Mar 10
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DH edited this paragraph
In the meantime much effort would also have to go into legal proceedings to determine whether individuals or even nations are allowed to remove celestial resources and bring them to Earth. The only legal framework to go on currently is the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. This widely recognised treaty does ban “national appropriation”, which could be taken to mean countries are not allowed to harvest resources from outside the planet. However the question of private mining in space remains a legal grey area with many legal experts thinking this will inevitably end up in courts, “it is just a question of when” [1] (Christopher Newman, University of Northumbria). Again taking time and judicial attention away from the many humanitarian issues in the world.
Astroid mining is unrealistic and distracts us from more down to earth solutions

Asteroid mining would be so time, resource and finance consuming that is seems wasteful compared with terrestrial solutions to this resource crisis. Why go to the trouble of building this non-existent technology, and travelling unthinkable distances, when cheaper more realistic technology could be investigated in order to recycle these resources more effectively. Recycling of the, already mined, precious materials that have been put to use and then discarded on a massive scale, would be much less wasteful and a much better outlook to adopt, moving forward.

'Biohydrometallurgy' is one method proposed, where microorganisms are used to react with and therefore extract precious metal particles from waste water and industrial sludge. Many new forms of technology, specifically biotechnology, require processes and materials that we already have, are commonly used, or that biologically occur naturally. Such methods could possibly address the monumental amount of electronic waste that the global population produce annually, thought to have reached a record 49.8 million tonnes in 2018, before pouring money into far flung projects that will only increase this wastefulness.

Biotechnology may similarly prove useful in treating forms of pollution and contamination also, such as 'bioremediation' techniques involving the use of bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms to treat environments affected by industrial or chemical contamination. In a similar way we can use resources that already exist to exploit and benefit from natural processes that are less wasteful. Funding and research in this area is also likely to lead to further discoveries at a fraction of the cost and time it would take for a viable space mining program. The only viable future for the human race on this planet is a sustainable one, and becoming better re-users, just like Mother Earth, is the best method for achieving that.

onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1751-7915.12759 thebalancesmb.com/e-waste-recycling-facts-and-figures-2878189 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5609314

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Daniel Halliday
Mar 10
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DH edited this paragraph
'Biohydrometallurgy' is one method proposed, where microorganisms are used to react with and therefore extract precious metal particles from waste water and industrial sludge. Many new forms of technology, specifically biotechnology, require processes and materials that we already have, are commonly used, or that biologically occur naturally. Such methods could possibly address the monumental amount of electronic waste that the global population produce annually, thought to have reached a record 49.8 million tonnes in 2018, before pouring money into far flung projects that will only increase this wastefulness.
This is the only way forward if we want innovation and technology to improve at its current rate.

Governments, national space programs and private companies should all be investing in these new mining techniques as any investment here is an investment in a brighter, more innovative future. In fact it is already underway, with Japan’s space agency (Institute of space and astronautical science) deploying the Hayabusa II which recently landed on an asteroid 290 million km away from Earth. Although this is a research mission, it has the firm objective of bringing samples back to Earth and will undoubtedly lead the way for other such missions in the future.

Meanwhile companies such as SpaceX are privately pioneering the space transport industry, massively undercutting the price to produce rockets by minimising costs with in-house component building and modular designs. They have developed rockets that can be reused multiple times and are becoming increasingly accurate at landing. They have repeatedly refuelled the International Space Station, and have signed a contract with NASA to develop a reliably low-cost method to transport astronauts to and from the ISS in the future. So it seems that private companies are leading the way currently, and maybe competition is what will drive the massive amount of innovation that is needed to make asteroid mining feasible.

This is not just important for current industries but is also extremely important for new scientific research, specifically “to gain further insights into the origins and evolution of our cosmic neighbourhood” [1]. Research such as this could potentially open the door to new economic systems and innovations that completely change humanity's relationship with the environment on Earth, as well as revolutionising our understanding of this Solar System. A greater understanding of asteroids and a higher level of asteroid surveillance could also help us in avoiding probably the biggest long term threat to humanity as we know it. Increased interest in this area may even lead to developing technology to deal with catastrophic asteroid impacts, something that has caused numerous mass extinctions in the Earth's history and is always looming possibility in the future.

[1] bbc.com/news/science-environment-44603120 teslarati.com/how-spacex-falcon-heavy-costs-undercuts-competition nbcnews.com/mach/science/watch-japan-s-hayabusa-2-spacecraft-touch-down-asteroid-ncna979756

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Daniel Halliday
Mar 10
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DH edited this paragraph
Governments, national space programs and private companies should all be investing in these new mining techniques as any investment here is an investment in a brighter, more innovative future. In fact it is already underway, with Japan’s space agency (Institute of space and astronautical science) deploying the Hayabusa II which recently landed on an asteroid 290 million km away from Earth. Although this is a research mission, it has the firm objective of bringing samples back to Earth and will undoubtedly lead the way for other such missions in the future.
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