Monday, May 31, 2010

Near-Earth Objects as Future Resources...

The comets and asteroids that are potentially the most hazardous because they can closely approach the Earth are also the objects that could be most easily exploited for their raw materials. It is not presently cost effective to mine these minerals and then bring them back to Earth. However, these raw materials could be used in developing the space structures and in generating the rocket fuel that will be required to explore and colonize our solar system in the twenty-first century. It has been estimated that the mineral wealth resident in the belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter would be equivalent to about 100 billion dollars for every person on Earth today. Whereas asteroids are rich in the mineral raw materials required to build structures in space, the comets are rich resources for the water and carbon-based molecules necessary to sustain life. In addition, an abundant supply of cometary water ice could provide copious quantities of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, the two primary ingredients in rocket fuel. It seems likely that in the next century when we begin to colonize the inner solar system, the metals and minerals found on asteroids will provide the raw materials for space structures and comets will become the watering holes and gas stations for interplanetary spacecraft.
Reference: Lewis, John S. Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroid, Comets, and Planets. Addison-Wesley, 1996.