The mining industry seems to be alive and kicking, but some are looking ahead – and looking up. Mining asteroids is the next frontier, and the payloads could be worth the effort.
Asteroids are nearly infinite in number and made up of immense amounts of compounds and minerals. Meteorites – space rocks that have reached the Earth’s surface – have been found to hold deposits of platinum, palladium and water. Metallic asteroids out in space can contain critical metals, precious metals and even rare earth elements, at purities much higher than what’s found on our planet.
The idea of mining asteroids was first proposed by a Russian scientist way back in 1903. It started to make headlines again in recent years with astrophysicists as well as startups pitching that existing innovations can make it reality.
In an exciting milestone, NASA is set to launch the Psyche Mission next month, aiming to study a specific asteroid’s composition in order to determine how it could be mined. The ‘16 Psyche’ asteroid is 200km wide and thought to carry iron and nickel in quantities worth an estimated US$10,000 quadrillion (that’s 19 zeroes in total – let that sink in). Asterank, an aptly named database of over 600,000 asteroids, reckons the ten ‘most cost-effective’ asteroids could produce a handsome profit of about US$1.5 trillion.
With that kind of money in play, the asteroidal race isn’t even about concerns of running out of minerals. And NASA isn’t the only organisation at it – China, Japan and Russia are some of the countries putting their space agencies in the fray. So far, asteroid resources are largely considered ‘first come, first served’, urging governments to hurry up.
Even if still decades away, successful extraterrestrial mining would really shake up the resources sector here on Earth. Which is why industry-led consortiums are already banding together, with companies such as Rio Tinto ($RIO) getting involved. If they’re watching this space, maybe every investor should.
Stella is a markets analyst and writer with almost a decade of investing experience. With a Masters in Accounting from the University of Sydney, she specialises in financial statement analysis and financial modelling. Previously, she worked as an equity analyst at Australian finance start-up, Simply Wall St, where she took charge of the market insights newsletter sent out to over a million subscribers. At Stake, Stella has been key to producing the weekly Wrap articles and social media content.