We are rapidly running out of resources on Earth. Traditional fossil fuels are becoming depleted, and will eventually run dry. Rare metals that are vital to the creation of new technology are likewise running out. Most worryingly of all, we’re running out of clean water. While more water is entering the system due to melting ice caps, that water is becoming harder and harder to decontaminate, with dangerous microplastics being found in supplies around the world.
Since we can’t create new resources, they must be found in places we haven’t mined hollow yet. Unsurprisingly, scientists and venture capitalists are turned their eyes to space, full of untapped resources and the potential for dizzying new heights of previously unimagined wealth for an already wealthy few.
What Resources Can We Mine In Space
Asteroids are rich in platinum, gold, iron, nickel, cobalt, and water, all things we desperately need. Water is doubly important, besides being something every human needs to survive, it can also be used to create rocket fuel by being broken down into hydrogen and oxygen.
Thanks to the ‘Space Law’ signed in 2015 by President Obama, now private companies can legally harvest ‘space resources’ if they have the necessary technology and access to asteroids. Whoever can get to an asteroid first can own, mine, transport, use, or sell the resources found within it.
Why We Need To Mine Asteroids
We’re running out of all the metals we need to build everything. Earth’s supplies of zinc, silver, copper, gold, and platinum could be exhausted by the end of the century. Even if they aren’t, unless more resources are found, prices for them will continue to rise, and human conflict over viable mining sites will become more and more likely.
Already, mining on earth causes toxic conditions and high levels of dangerous pollution. Asteroids provide a safe way for us to access enough metal to keep expanding. And there’s a lot of them:
How Space Mining Will Impact The Economy
It’s undeniable that asteroid mining is going to have a huge impact on the economy. It’s estimated there is at least 700 billion dollars’ worth of materials in the asteroid belt. Of course, suddenly introducing more resources into the economic system will lower the overall value of those resources. That being said, platinum is still platinum, and we’ll always need water.
Even now companies are researching which asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter will be most profitable to mine.
Established giants in the technology and financial sectors are looking most likely to be the first to start mining among the stars, because they’ve got to make ends meet somehow.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ pet project Blue Origin, and Goldman Sachs are all looking to start mining in space. In fact, Goldman Sachs predict that the world’s first trillionaire will be whoever breaks into the asteroid mining market first, due to the vast amount of resources just waiting to be sold.
Planetary Resources is shaping up to one of the biggest players in the new space race, thanks to backing by Google Executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Richard Branson, and, for some reason, film director James Cameron.
With names like these in the mix, it’s clear that asteroid mining is going to have a colossal impact on the economy over the coming decades. How this will impact the average person on the ground is still up for debate.
Problems with Space Mining
Many experts are claiming that asteroid mining, under the current laws as they stand, will trigger a new gold rush similar to the Wild West of 19th Century America. Probes are being built for launch as early as 2020, and activity will only ramp up from there.
There are virtually no existing laws to regulate claims for asteroids once companies start racing towards them, meaning disagreements (conflict) is highly likely.
Beyond that, we must also consider the power dynamics at play in allowing private corporations control over vast amounts of resources crucial to the survival of the human race. If we aren’t careful, we could see a painfully familiar future where unregulated mining has depleted the solar system of all resources.
The rings of Saturn are almost pure ice. If nothing is done and corporations have their way, one day they could all be gone in the name of profit.