Profitable to mine gold on asteroids?

At the moment a number of aerospace companies in the world develop spacecraft, who will be engaged in mining minerals, such as: gold, platinum and many others. Will the industry is profitable: Let's count …

To date, two aerospace companies declared their wish to extract minerals from nearby asteroids to Earth — Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources. The very ambitious goal worthy of applause, but there is one issue that causes some anxiety. The fact that the mission of NASA for the delivery in 2021 of two kilograms of rocks from an asteroid to Earth is estimated will cost the space agency of one billion dollars. So before we estimate the prospects of development of space mines, let's make some calculations.

These mining plan Corporation are retrieved platinum, water, and gold. As of January 24, 2013 24.5 troy ounces of platinum sold for U.S. $ 1681.3 (32.15 troy ounces equal to one kilogram). Even if NASA will be able to deliver to Earth two kilograms of pure platinum, they will cost only U.S. $ 108,107.59. But let us for further calculations assume that private companies will be able to extract minerals at lower cost — the U.S. government is not known for its highly efficient approach to spending budget.

Further, no one would be delighted if developed asteroid suddenly shifted off course and crash into the Earth. So we certainly do not want to deal with anything like its size Chicxulub meteor that 65 million years ago killed the dinosaurs and was allegedly about 15 kilometers in diameter.

For this reason, Deep Space Industries stated that their aim was originally to be a very small asteroid — about ten meters or less:

Such asteroids fall to Earth each day, but burn up in the upper atmosphere. Meteorites that reaches the surface, typically derived from a much larger objects, from 30 meters or more, but even they fly to pieces before reaching the surface. And the only really large meteorites from 50 meters and more are really able to hit hard enough to leave a crater on the spot hit.

So, if in the course of the operation can be developed for almost spherical asteroid with a diameter of 10 meters, consisting entirely of useful materials (eg platinum), how much will it cost resulting prey?

The density of platinum 21.45 grams per cubic centimeter. If we assume that the entire 10-meter asteroid (523 cubic meters) consists of platinum, we get about 11.2 million kilograms of platinum. At current market prices it is about 12.1 billion dollars.

Of course, these estimates are based on very optimistic assumptions. Although asteroids composed of pure metal, do exist, they often represent something close to 90% iron and 10% nickel. One-tenth of our hypothetical asteroid (466,000 kilograms) of nickel would cost about 8.1 million dollars. Iron is so cheap that hardly able to add something to this price.

Thus, it should be honest and admit that make resource extraction in space commercially viable — can be a challenge. Also note that the massive influx of any kind of resources will inevitably lead to a reduction in the market price. But then, as in fact would happen, we will see with your own eyes in the next couple of decades.



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