How Close Are We to Mining in Space?

How Close Are We to Mining in Space?


Some say humanity’s future as a space-faring
species is just around the corner. But realistically, how are we going to get
there? The answer is asteroids. These seemingly unimpressive lumps of rock
could actually be the intergalactic pit stops for exploring the universe. They have the potential to become cosmic gas
stations and the building blocks for habitats on Mars; to change how we navigate through
space, and even to revolutionize Earthly engineering and economies. But their potential remains untapped. – We call the asteroids the stepping stones
to the solar system. And we live in the age where humanity will
make the leap into space. So how close are we to mining in space? Scientists and entrepreneurs want to mine
asteroids because they can contain metals, water, rare minerals, and even elements that
are impossible to form on Earth. They’re huge, they’re everywhere, and
while they all sort of look like your average space rock, there are some key differences
between each type that determine which one to mine first. From the outside, the one with the most gold-rush
potential would seem to be “metallic asteroids,” made of nickel-iron,  that may also contain
valuable metals like palladium, platinum, and of course, gold. But don’t be fooled. The real jackpot here is the Carbonaceous
asteroids, which might just contain the most valuable resource of all… water. – Before we go after the minerals for mining
purposes, the first thing we need to do is learn how to extract water from asteroids. Water is going to be like the oil of the Space
Age. A water source in our planetary neighborhood
would be like a space oasis: a source of hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel and life support
systems, a tool to shield us from radiation, and even a source of drinking water for astronauts. The problem is, finding these C-type asteroids
is… tricky. – The carbonaceous asteroids are extremely
dark, darker than a blackboard, darker than freshly laid tar. How do you find those? All that sunlight they don’t reflect gets
absorbed, warms them up, and they glow in the infrared. That’s why scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory are developing the Near-Earth Object Camera, or NEOCam, which, in addition to identifying
potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects, will be able to comb the infrared for evidence
of C-type asteroids. Okay, so we can identify which rock to target. Now we just have to figure out how to get
a piece of it. While a number of space probes, like Hayabusa
2, are working on this right now, they’re still just at the sample collection phase. What we need is to know how to successfully
mine an asteroid. Nets, harpoons, augers, and even a giant magnetic
“rake” have all been proposed. The problem is traditional mining methods
rely on the application of force – which is a challenge in low-gravity. – If you saw the movie where Bruce Willis
saved the Earth by landing on an asteroid and dropping atom bombs… that’s really
problematic. – A lot of these asteroids are just piles of rubble, and they’re held together by microgravity,
a million times weaker than gravity on Earth. If you hold onto a rock, you say, “Ah, I’ve
landed on the asteroid,” you pull on the rock because you’re trying to drill in, it’ll come
away, right? And then the next one will come away, and
then the next one. What are you actually going to hold onto? One Zen answer: nothing. At least, that’s the idea behind the approach
that Dr. Sercel and his team at TransAstra are developing, dubbed ‘Optical Mining.’ – What we do is we take large, very lightweight,
thin film solar reflectors, concentrate large quantities of sunlight into small areas. When the sunlight hits the surface of the
asteroid, it causes a thermal shock that breaks the surface and drives the water and other
valuable volatile chemicals out. That process of driving the volatiles out
actually cleans the surface so that more sunlight can drill holes in the surface. We don’t even have to touch the surface of
an asteroid to dig holes in it. This ant-and-magnifying glass technology sounds
like some kind of sci-fi-laser-ray-gun, but it’s real. And Joel’s team is about to start the next
phase of testing it using the world’s biggest lightbulb and synthetic asteroids at the Colorado
School of Mines. And with continued support from NASA, their
experiments are generating some buzz. But what then? What do you do with a bag of vaporized space
rock? – A clever idea that TransAstra is developing
is that they will go to an asteroid and use some of the water that they mine as propellant
to come back. – If we can turn near-Earth asteroids into
gas stations to refuel spacecraft, that has a tremendous effect in reducing the cost of
human exploration. And the propellant thruster that TransAstra
is developing channels one of the most industrious creatures of the animal kingdom. – Just as honeybees harvest nectar and they
use then the energy of the nectar to power their civilization, the APIS architecture
harvests water and other valuable materials from the asteroids, and then uses those materials
with sunlight to power space industrialization and settlement. First, TransAstra will launch Mini Bee, a
small demonstrator vehicle, to test their method on a simulated asteroid in low-Earth
orbit. If that can prove that Optical Mining works
in space, a larger craft called the Honey Bee will follow, and with the help of tug vehicles
they call Worker Bees – they’ll pave the way for the Queen. – The Queen Bee is the ultimate asteroid mining system. It’s designed to fly out to an asteroid that
might be a hundred feet across, capture that asteroid in a giant enclosure, and then mine
thousands of tons of water and other valuable volatile materials from it. – A small fleet of Queen Bees will create a large ecosystem of water and other valuable
materials in Earth space that’ll make it so that private venture can afford to build hotels
on the moon and ordinary citizens will be able to fly into space, aggregate their resources,
and build space settlements out of asteroid resources. But hold your horses… or, bees, I guess. This sounds like we’re getting back into
that gold rush territory. And what we don’t want is to completely
deplete the resources on Earth and then do the same thing in the Solar System. That’s why Dr. Elvis is fighting to preserve
the majority of our solar system as wilderness. – We are very bad at looking ahead and seeing the consequences. We need a warning bell, a trip wire saying,
“If you got to this point, you may not think it, but you’re very close to finishing the
entire resources of the asteroid belt.” So let’s say we did preserve most of the solar
system’s untrammeled wilderness… like 7/8ths of it. Then what would that leave us with? – One-eighth is only three steps away from
complete exhaustion of the solar system’s resources. And if we stopped at that point, we could
keep that going for thousands of years. So once we find the right asteroids, all we have to do is capture them, blast them with highly concentrated sunlight, catch their debris and use it to
propel insect-inspired spacecraft onto their next stop, providing the ultimate ‘cosmic
gas stations’ for humanity’s highway through the solar system – all while preserving the
wilderness around that highway so that our intergalactic future doesn’t burn out before
it even starts. Wow… sounds like a lot of work. So… how close are we to mining in space? – In 10 years, we’ll be launching our first asteroid mining vehicles to go out to asteroids
and bring back substantive quantities of resources. – In 100 years, it’s quite plausible that there will be people living on the moon
in giant structures made of iron and solum, which will come from the asteroids most likely. – What we know about life is that as life evolves, it fills whatever ecological niche
or system it has. Then it finds a way to jump to the next level. Just at the time when we have the technology
to make the leap into space, this is as significant a moment as when fish came up on the land. If you think the future is going to rock,
check out more episodes of How Close Are We? on this playlist. And for more epic science stories, be sure
to subscribe to Seeker. Thanks for watching!

100 thoughts on “How Close Are We to Mining in Space?

  1. Hi, thanks for watching! Want to learn more about the potential asteroids hold? Check out this Elements episode on what secrets asteroids could reveal about the formation of our solar system: https://youtu.be/VGwZUogk84c

  2. We will have the technology for interstellar travel by 2020. Nevermind 2020 is next year. Maybe 2025. Just kidding

  3. Once humans have a permanent colony (or colonies) in space. We win! Game over. Humans won the evolutionary race on Earth and guaranteed its survival among the stars until the conditions on those other planets alter the genetics of those humans to the point where there is no humanity, simply the evolutionary descendants of humanity. We would have completed our natural purpose to be the precursor species to a theoretically unlimited number of decendant species. A glorious achievement!

  4. This "scientist" said some of the most dump arguments I have ever heard. He literally wants to protect the "wilderness" of the astroid belt. But he forgot that nothing lives in that region in the first place. We protect it on Earth simply because it supports a whole ecological systems, but in space there is no problem with that and it's a free real estate for humans that you can do whatever you want with, no questions asked.

    The other argument is that he is afraid that we may completely exhaust the resources out there, but again he forgot that there are like TRILLIONS of objects in the astroid belt alone. And by the time we "consume" a substantial number of it, we will already be mining other moons in the solar system which contain insanely more resources, Take Europa as an example, it has much more water than Earth and it is relatively easy to extract. We also have the Kuiper belt, which is estimated to contain 200 times more astroids than the astroid belt. And if you aren't happy even with all these resources, you have the Oort Cloud, which contains even more astroids, especially icy ones that contain water on it.

    It's too dump to even respond back to these silly arguments!! THE SPACE IS ALL OURS TO EXPAND INTO AS MUCH AS WE WANT!

  5. Oh my god someone is already crying about using up the astroids? Geez there are literally trillions of them and what good are they, except extinguishing life on earth? Let us mine a half dozen or so before you go protecting them.

  6. What are the benefits of living on the moon? Why do we want to go and live on Mars? someone please tell me. I cant see the incentives to do it

  7. So we will need a self replicating AI that will also use the resources of comets and asteroids for replicating building materials for more worker bees that spread further and further out of the solar system with each capture

  8. Fire their asses! If they are refusing business in the name of social justice. They will cause harm to the company.

  9. those scientists sure were hopeful, in 10 years maybe elon musk will be doing his own thing with asteroids but i certainly don't see asteroid mining being done on a large scale in that short of a time frame

  10. OK SO WE CAN MINE WATER FROM ASTEROIDS FOR PROPULSION FOR SPACE VEHICLES, SO WHY ARE CAR'S AND AIRPLANES ARE DEPENDING ON FOSSIL FUEL FOR OIL AND GASOLINE!? GOT YA!!😈

  11. but first, we need to stop wasting our resources on making weapons that we use on killing each other.
    instead, use those resources to create stuff for deeps space exploration.

  12. Asteroids will be the building blocks for habitats on Mars?!?!?!
    Asteroids contain elements that are impossible to form on earth?!?!
    Oh no, its retarded.

  13. The problem with becoming an interplanetary species is that human embryos do
    Not develop properly in low gravity. Looks like we’d have to migrate back to earth whenever we wanted to have kids

  14. Mark my words, the moment it is possible to commercially mine asteroids there will be "ASTROWATER" sold in little bottles fo superb amouts of money.

  15. Theres 150 million asteroids in the solar system I think we are a long way away fro depletion, also, good luck getting Russia, China, India to agree to those ridicuous terms, or future Martian and lunar colonists.

  16. The preserving asteroids as wilderness thing is really really stupid. If it's going to take thousands of years to mine out even a small fraction of the asteroid belt how do you propose we tell people 3 or 5 or 20 thousand years in the future okay now you have to stop mining asteroids cuz people in our time say there should be X number of asteroids in the solar system?…Pretty sure the belt mining consortium isn't going give crap what some long dead academic back on earth has to say on the subject.

  17. Now as far Living on our Moon, I see more like 150-200 years (Celebs & the Rich as a Fad) Then regular folks sometime after that. I see us Basing the Moon more in a Century's time.

  18. I wanna use astroid mining to crash the gold market so I could shut those people up who think gold is the only "real" money.

  19. Other than exploring the space and develop a new colony. Is there any scientist look around on parallel universe that we can mine & migrate on?

  20. How do you guys have such a poor grasp of economics? Mineral resources never get depleted either on earth OR in space. The easily accessible resources are collected until the cost of extraction negates the prot motive and then the rest are left.

    Are you worried about asteroid biomes? What is the untility of this weird space commie environmentalism?

    Nice sweater though. SMH.

  21. I’m in the Space Resources PhD at The Colorado School of Mines.
    I’d like to make a correction to the video.

    The title is semi-misleading. We are significantly more likely to begin mining on the South Pole of the moon in Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) for water. We will also likely 3D print lunar ‘soil’ (regolith) into the structures we need.

    The moon and cislunar space will likely end up as the central hub where we launch and receive expeditions to asteroids, mars, etc.

    A significant amount of work is being done in this arena and I’d say the single best source for any information on this is the Commercial Lunar Propellant Architecture (I believe TransAstra also contributed to it).

    Asteroids are SUPER awesome, but the moon will almost assuredly come first.

    The video title should be: How Close Are We To Mining Asteroids?

    Edit: If you’d like, I can help collab on future videos regarding Space Resources. DM me if interested.

  22. Me as an asteroid:- Minding my own business.
    60 years old NASA jerks:- Let squiz all the juices from this matter.
    Me as an triggered asteroid:- Changes direction toward Earth.

  23. I am such a Neanderthal I see a pretty girl hosting your channel now and resubscribed I know it's bad but cute girls and science are my forte

  24. Our technology would be so head of time before we use all of our resources in outer space. We may know how to convert matter into other mater by then.

  25. I don’t see this happening any time soon. Remember esa’s sattelite that landed in the shade on that asteroid ? Or what about the Chinese moon rover that lasted 30 mins before it broke down. All great achievements on its own but mining a rock and returning to earth is beyond our present cababilities.

  26. They're going to launch their first mission in ten years? Isn't that what every one of the asteroid mining ventures said….a decade ago?

  27. Water has already been found on the moon and Mars in significant quantities, and could even be lifted into orbit using nothing more than a solar powered mass launcher. Robots that can mine the water and build the mass launcher have been in development for decades, but dangling the prize of bringing home precious metals is exactly what is required to interest investors.

  28. & 1 Small, OR Large, OR Medium Sized, OR MANY…or a Combo of these asteroids, regardless of Darkness detected by infrRed, when a few of these or JUST 1, Hit this ting at HIGH SPEED…& cuts Any part of it!, becuase it didn't have enough Juice or 'Jornals of Movement' to 'Take EVASIVE ACTION' in time….then…it COULD BE…a HUGE waste of money…1baby asteriod takes out an entire 'Bee Miner'….butttt Elon Musk got DOLLARS!!! so he'll make many bees, & the INFO & unique Minerals, or new elements from 1…just 1 asteriod snag! could be Revolutionary to the periodic table, science & if you market it right…Elon Musk's bank account!!! 9th wonder of the world!!!

  29. No doubt space travel was limited exactly because their are unlimited resources in space. The powerful people on this planet could not allow that to happen, they wouldn’t be powerful anymore they need scarcity to exist

  30. It certainly is possible……as long as we don't blow ourselves up first. 💣💣💥💥🚀🚀🚀🚀🛰🛰🛰🛰

  31. When we have good enough robotics, we should use robots to tug boat asteroids to the moon where they can be processed by robots.

  32. We need a propulsion system that can push a spacecraft at 10c. We need to develop the shielding system to protect the ship and its crew. We need inertia canceling devices. We need to be shielding at the same degree as earth from cosmic and solar radiation. If we develop those things we will never run out of resources. The life support system needs to last over 50 years without repairs.

  33. I expect the following sequence:
    1) Cost of launch have to get below 20 Millions. (Require Space X's BFR Certification) -> Early to mid 2020's
    2) Development of reliable advance propulsion systems -> Early 2020's
    3) Development of space grade 3D printing tech -> Mid to late 2020's
    4) Development of gaseous mining & storage system -> Mid to late 2020's
    5) Prototype Asteroid miner -­> Mid to late 2020's
    6) Second, and bigger prototype asteroid miner -> late 2020's to mid 2030's
    7) Third Asteroid miner prototype for actual capture -> Late 2030's.

    I don't expect it to go faster than that. I think we'll have a fully functioning outpost on the moon before we start getting serious with asteroid mining.
    Remember that you need a LOT of testing & validation close to earth before you can send something on a 3 years journey to the asteroid, then mine it, then come back to earth with the material.
    Not very economical to say the least.
    This does not mean we won't do it, it only mean it will stay at the prototype level for the foreseeable future.

  34. It depends the richest country humanity has ever seen can’t even provide health care to its people as a human right 💯

  35. "Some say humanity's future as a space-faring species is just around the corner" Humanity can send human less vehicles into space no problem. But humans have not been into space. Sad but true. Our present day technology limits our venture only to low earth orbit which is barely 200 miles above sea level which is not truly space. This altitude is the safest and highest any man has attained. Any higher and the risks to humans are too large to risk. The costs to build a life sustaining meteorite proof space capsule which is radiation proof are too large.to attempt to build. How did we travel to the moon in 1969 if we today cannot go higher than 200 miles?

  36. People wanting funding $$$ will give 10 ways to make mining asteroids plausible, their motivation is $$$
    And the end game, tourism 🤷🏻‍♂️

  37. Unless space debri are somehow balancing/protecting something in our solar system OR are haboring space bacteria or other life, space mining has no negative impact on life which is the whole argument about protecting resources on Earth. If all that is not an issue, the idea that we'd have to NOT mine asteroids is ridiculous/not founded on legitimate life affecting cons.

  38. The answer is NOT EVEN CLOSE. The reason is very simple there is so far only 1 potential product has been identified for off-world mining as economically feasible and that is Helium-3. I met Harrison Schmitt in 2002 when he was in Australia for the 30th of Apollo 17 and he told us about He-3. So I went off to our mining industry to learn how to build mines. As far as I know I am the only aerospace engineer to have ever helped build a mine or at least in the years since I haven't seen any others. In simple terms if it can be mined here on earth there is ZERO way it can be cheaper in space.

    So far all of the evaluations for mining are based on selling what is mined back on earth and that is where the economic value collapses. No matter what people think, the only vehicle we have had capable of bringing back to the earth more than a around 50kg was the shuttle and the shuttle could only bring back 14 metric tons. I worked in Australia's iron ore industry and the number of flights it would take to match just 1 of our mines is more than 2 million space shuttle flights per year. Our 4th biggest miner Hancock Mining's Roy Hill mine produces about 55million tons a year. Refined that equates to better than 28million tons of iron. I have said 28million specifically so that you can all divide 28,000,000 by 14 and see that's 2,000,000 space shuttle flights. The other major Australian iron ore producers are more than 10times what Roy Hill produces.

    The simple fact is unless it is something of super extraordinary value space mining has NO ECONOMIC VALUE for earth supply.

    One estimate was that 1 ton of He-3 could power Britain for 18 months. If you roughly extrapolate that its about 1ton per 100million people per year or about 10ton per billion people or about 80tons for everyone per year or about 6-12 space shuttle flights per year depending on the bottling technology. And that is actually possible the problem is we have not yet developed any practical reactors for He-3 and we don't yet know if we really can mine 80tons/yr of He-3 from the moon.

    Then there are the costs. So far the ISS has cost at least $100billion with some costs estimates over $160billion. and that is about 420 tons of hardware in Low Earth Orbit. The 2002 estimate for a mine on the moon was $20-25billion. My last major mine project was the Caval Ridge coal mine in Queensland and that cost $4billion AUD but had well over 420tons of hardware in fact more than 1000tons of hardware. Now that is for an operation mining about 5.5million tons of coal per year. A lunar base could be a lot less to start but it still is several hundred tons of hardware.

    The next major step HAS to be a SOUTH POLE MOON BASE because its the ONLY place we know there is water. So we are looking at several hundred tons of hardware into space into lunar orbit and onto the lunar surface. That is a massive task and we need a lot of technical development to do it.

  39. Need factorys making robots with highly automated ai programmed specifically before its sustainable by the economy. Get to work people.

  40. i always wondered if there was uranium or any thing to generate power out in the solar system. we could maybe mine rare earth metals or material to build more ships and fuel

  41. I was laughing at the scientist telling us to preserve the universe when he had that sweater nicely tied around his neck. must of been one of those left over yuppies from the eighties. ha what a stupid trend that was.

  42. The thing we need most from asteroids is water. Not to drink but as rocket fuel.
    But wait you're saying water doesn't burn. No but using electricity generated from sunlight we can turn water into hydrogen and oxygen gas and those are flammable. In fact the big orange tank of the Space Shuttle was full of them and powered the space shuttle's main engines.
    Hydrogen and oxygen is one of the best rocket fuels available. Where are we to harvest it in space instead of carrying it up from the Earth we would be able to conduct extended missions farther into space. I'm almost 60 years old and have been dreaming of using asteroids in this manner.

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