Space mining, moon mining, asteroid mining … these are all terms seemed to be little more than science fiction not so long ago, but are they are now being considered at the highest levels.
The esteemed Colorado School of Mines has created a Space Resources Program led by director Angel Abbud-Madrid. The first-of-its-kind multi-disciplinary graduate program in Space Resources offers a post-baccalaureate certificate and Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees for college graduates and professionals interested in this emerging arena. The program focuses on developing core knowledge and gaining design practices in systems for responsible exploration, extraction and use of resources in the Solar System.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has also taken notice of the growing interest in the field and recently began large-scale mapping of space resources for mining.
Experts employed by the USGS, however, have, in the past, focused primarily on the United States to better understand its resources. Now, the USGS has begun to seriously map space resources to support both populations here on Earth as well as populations on other planets. This includes understanding the locations and extent of extraterrestrial minerals, metals, and water.
Space.com recently reported that experts from the Colorado School of Mine and the USGS met on the campus of the school to take part in a Space Resources Roundtable. Topics during this presentation included:
• What Can We Learn from Centuries of Exploration, Mining, and Assessment on Earth to Better Utilize the Rest of the Solar System?
• Five Phases of Technical and Financial Lunar Development
• Economic Feasibility of Space Solar Power in Remote Mining Operations
The primary focus of the meeting was to practically lay out the current state of space resource exploration, with feasibility as a primary focus. Key objectives of the USGS are to understand and characterize economically available ice distribution within the solar system as well as other minerals and metals. Due to logistical constraints, the Moon, Mars, and nearby asteroids tend to be focus areas.
Space.com reported that the recent focus on space resource exploration is no surprise given the new director of the USGS, Jim Reilly. Reilly is both a geologist and a former NASA astronaut, having flown on three space shuttle missions. Reilly's background as both a geologist and a former NASA astronaut makes him a perfect candidate to be at the forefront of space resource mining.
There is increasing interest commercially and governmentally to understand and begin space resource mining. This dovetails with the planned presence of colonies on Mars, increasing space travel, and increasingly limited resources here on Earth.
The USGS anticipates they will be implicitly directed and funded to conduct thorough assessments of space resources. While extraterrestrial resources remain unmined they are also unclaimed, leading to what could be a modern day space race to both claim and mine extraterrestrial resources.
Recent assessments estimated that nearby asteroids could fully support humanity with water and metal. However, at this point, there remains a significant amount of research, sampling, and testing before space resource mining becomes a reality. While in its infancy, it is increasingly clear that humans will likely not be limited by Earth's resources in future generations.