As human beings, capable of abstract thought for at least the last 70,000 years, we’ve always been fascinated with space.
What is the future of space exploitation?
With Elon Musk talking about colonizing Mars with SpaceX though, the possibility of space exploitation is becoming more real, even if it isn’t going to happen for a while.
Although conspiracy theorists may have something to say about it, we’ve put men on the moon. We’ve put countless satellites into orbit, and have been investigating the far reaches of space to find out more about Jupiter’s rings, but only recently does it seem that actually getting into the realm outside of the stratosphere is becoming a concrete reality.
Thoughts on Space Exploitation: Meteor Mining
In a recent chat during our weekly “Wait, what?” sessions, where members of our team get together to discuss something random, but interesting, we talked about meteor mining, and the possibility of extracting resources from the meteor rocks that pass by earth on a regular basis, and exist throughout the known universe in large quantities.
One of our Deployment Consultants, Ronaldo Oda, from Curitiba, Brazil, put together a very well researched presentation on space exploitation and meteor mining, and presented his findings to us in our weekly meeting.
Here’s a summary of what we spoke about in the session:
The Fundamentals: What is Space Exploitation Actually?
We all know that Earth has limited resources, and people all over the world are actively working towards more sustainable resource management, but what if we could look to space too?
Space exploitation is therefore the use of resources found in space, and primarily, developing the kinds of technology that can enable us to take advantage of these resources outside of the planet. And this is the key, because space exploration is still an extremely expensive exercise, and that’s just when it comes to developing things that can actually go into and not break down in space, nevermind things that can work without human intervention to harness resources.
Although the focus of our chat was on meteor mining, space exploitation also encompasses a variety of other kinds of exploratory activities, which include space farming, harnessing solar energy, developing the capacity for humans to live in space and harvesting organic compounds.
Space Exploitation and Resources: What Can We Really Get From Meteors?
Although space exploitation can involve many different things, the focus of our chat was on meteor mining and the harvesting of organic compounds. Meteors are valuable because, as rock, they contain many different elements that we mine on earth, as well as water.
In the observable universe (we don’t actually have a clue how big it really is), there is 91 Billion light years of space in which to find resources, but it’s only Near Earth Asteroids (NEA’s) that are realistically a target for space exploitation, at least for a future that isn’t light years away. According to Ronaldo’s research, there are 14, 967 NEA’s circling earth just waiting for us to figure out a way to harvest all of the resources they contain.
One idea is to use the moon as a “meteor farm”, where instead of sending asteroids towards earth (we all know what happened when one particular one got too close), asteroids are directed to the moon, where they can then be more easily “exploited”. Apparently a soft target for countless meteors over the immeasurable age of the moon, it’s taken a lot of hits from passing meteors, and shouldn’t get too damaged from ones directed towards it.
Space Exploitation and Ownership: Who Owns Meteors?
It’s incredible to think about the possibilities for space exploitation, but even besides the logistical challenges of running a moon meteor farm, the legal issues that would come from this kind of activity raise a lot of questions. For one, who decides who gets to harvest minerals and compounds from meteors? Would similar laws apply to space as they do to the ocean, albeit in a more infinite scope?
Other challenges that come with space exploitation are issues like energy transmission, how much energy it take to run these kinds of meteor harvesting activities and what energy would they use to propel objects into space. Developing stable and effective mining equipment is also a concern, as we are still finding ways to mine resources more effectively on Earth.
Other questions come up after thinking about this. For example, where would we keep asteroids in case of more effective mining methods in the future? Where would this happen?
There are also a number of social issues raised with this, and any, kind of economic exploration. Who would benefit from these kinds of resources, which individuals and companies would be able to benefit from mining in space?
Other issues raised are environmental and ethical. What if there is life on asteroids that we might disturb when harvesting resources? If we come across a previously undiscovered form of life, what will this mean?
So many questions, so few answers, for now. We’ll just have to wait and see.
What are your thoughts on space exploitation, SpaceX and society’s general obsession with the universe? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
We share summaries of our weekly “Wait, what?” sessions on a bi-weekly basis, so follow us on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook to stay up to date with all of the random but interesting things that we talk about each week.