Asteroid Mining?

Via the BBC:  Plans for asteroid mining emerge

The founders include film director and explorer James Cameron as well as Google’s chief executive Larry Page and its executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

They even aim to create a fuel depot in space by 2020.

However, several scientists have responded with scepticism, calling the plan daring, difficult and highly expensive.

They struggle to see how it could be cost-effective, even with platinum and gold worth nearly £35 per gram ($1,600 an ounce). An upcoming Nasa mission to return just 60g (two ounces) of material from an asteroid to Earth will cost about $1bn.

Intriguing, to be sure.  Still, it does sound a bit far-fetched.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Vast Variety says:

    There is some serious potential out there. The biggest hurdle right now is developing the infrastructure to make it worth it. Income on pattens for space based mining alone could be worth a fortune.

  2. sam says:

    I’ll say this for Cameron, he has got some really, really, really big cojones: James Cameron Completes Record-Breaking Mariana Trench Dive.

  3. James in LA says:

    Excellent idea. Asteroids avoid the gravity well problem, and many also contain water. Glad to see people of vision actually living the future rather than don the irresistible Rapture Goggles (e.g. “one-party nation”).

  4. Brett says:

    It’s a Win-Win Scenario regardless of how this turns out. If they succeed, then we have an asteroid mining business, with all the coolness, hardware, and additional supplies to volatiles and rare metals that such a business entails. If they fail, then we know more about the practical difficulties involved in trying to make asteroid mining work.

    I’m skeptical that it will work out as anything other than a hobbyhorse for some billionaire space enthusiasts, though. the problems are straightforward:

    1. High capital costs and a very long timeline of development with no certain profitability means that the opportunity cost for pouring money into this project is really steep for investors.

    2. Orbital, Cryogenic Propellant Depots are still quite literally experimental, in that NASA has an experiment planned to test the technology.

    3. Rare Earth metals are rare and valuable, but they’re not that rare and valuable, and you can open more mines to extract them. There just wasn’t the demand for it until recently.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    I’ve been told repeatedly that markets always do everything more efficiently. So this should be the proof in the pudding, right?

  6. Greg says:

    The guy who writes Bad Astronomy (astronomer, former Hubble engineer) thinks it’s plausible even if it won’t be profitable for quite some time:

    I love this idea. Love it.

    Mind you, that’s different than saying I think they can do it. But, in theory at least, I think they can. Their step-wise plan makes sense to me, and they don’t need huge rockets and huge money to get things started. By the time operations ramp up to something truly ambitious they should already have in place the pieces necessary for it, including the track record. In other words, by the time they’re ready to mine an asteroid, they’ll have in place all the infrastructure needed to actually do it. I still want to see some engineering plans and a timeline, but in general what I’ve heard sounds good.

  7. Brett says:

    It looks like they’re planning to do stuff to make it profitable at every step of the way. That’s promising, if it works out.