The US Geological Survey (USGS) is seriously mulling the extraction of minerals from asteroids. The department admitted that they have been eyeing space resources for years.
Laszlo Kestay, a research geologist at the USGS Center of Astrogeology said that private companies are approaching starting a mining industry on asteroids, so the task of the civil service is to join this endeavor.
“The USGS realized that our congressional mandate also covers natural resources in space,” Kestay told the space.com earlier this week.
“At this point, we have done enough work to feel confident that the methods the USGS uses to assess mineral, energy and water resources on Earth can be used to assess space resources with minimal modification,” the researcher said, and admitted that a lot of work has also been done to determine areas where mankind lacks knowledge, which can lead to the appearance of considerable uncertainty in assessments.
The greatest benefit can potentially be obtained through the extraction of useful elements on the moon and asteroids. For example, it is known the Earth’s natural satellite contains significant reserves of the radioactive isotope helium-3. Estimates indicate that there is about a million tons of this isotope on the cosmic body. The extraction of matter and its delivery to Earth can give mankind an ecologically clean and safe source of atomic energy.
Meanwhile, asteroids are rich in platinum and gold, whose deposits on the Earth are rapidly declining. The organization Visual Capitalist in 2016 estimated that the asteroid ring between Mars and Jupiter consists of more than a million bodies. And the potential cost of resources for them is about 700 quintillion dollars.
However, by that time no country had succeeded in developing a technology for effective space mining, the cost of which would be reasonable. In addition, USGS is a state structure, and governments around the world are slow to work on the development of the space mining industry because of the “Outer Space Agreement”, by signing which countries agreed that space bodies including the Moon cannot be in the sovereignty of any earthly state.
However, while states cannot extract raw materials in space, no international agreement prohibits private companies from doing this.