The future of our world depends on technology. Technological advances are essential for the continuation of progress, and socio-economic development. However, materials necessary for building a bright future are being exhausted at a rapid rate and become more and more expensive, namely the so called ‘technology metals’; gold, iron, nickel, platinum, tungsten, the list goes on. The best mines are either empty or will be very soon, while recycling is still too inefficient; therefore, logic dictates a necessity to look for alternative sources, and the largest source is above our heads – in space.
Near Earth Asteroid mining is a promising new industry outside of our planet, offering lucrative riches both financial and technological but at a great initial long-term investment and risk. Development of NEA mining provides a plethora of opportunities since the concentration of metals listed above is much greater on asteroids than on Earth, which makes it possible to compete with Earth’s companies. It will also make it possible to set up cosmic infrastructure, boosting exploration and colonisation efforts of the solar system. Water can be mined and delivered to space stations, and metals can be loaded into orbital 3D-Printers to build components for new ships or stations. R&D associated with this program can spark a new technological enthusiasm unseen since the Apollo program, helping inspire generations of engineers and maybe even a generation of Martians.
Most experts agree that to undertake such a venture it must be a government funded project spanning 20 years. Currently the price per launch is around 1000 $kg-1 for a Falcon Heavy rocket whereas it should ideally be reduced to 400-500 $kg-1. Since new generations of super heavy rockets are in development right now; BFR, New Glenn, SLS, Yenisei etc. they will be fully operational by the time a bright generation of current college students will be ready to step into the space business.
Human colonisation of space is inevitable, and one must look at the opportunities this can bring right now when the process is still in conception. Pushing the limits of what humans can do and extracting practical use along with new knowledge have always been key factors in driving of progress and in the words of Benjamin Franklin – “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.