Asteroid mining is the removal of raw materials from an asteroid. It is not something that has yet been accomplished, but there have been many proposals and theories on how this could become possible and there are several companies in existence dedicated to this purpose, including Deep Space Industries and Kepler Energy and Space Engineering.
There are thousands of asteroids that pass close to the Earth, and could potentially be used for the purpose of mining. The materials that can be contained in an asteroid include gold, iridium, cobalt, tungsten, aluminum and nickel, as well as numerous others that we use on a daily basis. With modern industrial processes continually depleting out natural reserves of materials such as zinc, tin, lead, silver, gold and copper, the possibility of them being found elsewhere is certainly appealing and one which we should not dismiss. Whilst this may sound quite far-fetched, Chris Lewicki, the president of Planetary Resources and one of their chief engineers, puts it into perspective. ‘It is natural to doubt when you don’t know much about it. Most people read the headline and make assumptions. We are only repeating what has been done throughout history, just in a new environment.’
The new environment, however, that we are looking at is one which is hostile and dangerous, and that we have barely begun to discover. Despite this, those behind the concept of asteroid mining believe that it has the potential to shape our economy for the next century and will be revolutionary in developing our knowledge of space. They emphasise the importance of not only bringing materials back to Earth, but using them in space for further construction and discovery. Space Foundation, a global non-profit organisation believes the results could be ‘revolutionary in benefits to space exploration, and all of us on Earth’.