Space: the final gold rush frontier

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Published : May 03rd, 2012
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Category : Market Analysis

 

 

 

 

Last week the company Planetary Resources held a press conference to discuss whether the production of precious metals on Near Earth Asteroids might soon become a reality.

Analysts, commodity producers and metals traders agree that Earth's precious metal reserves are steadily decreasing. In South Africa, gold is often extracted at depths of up to 6,000 metres, which is leading to big increases in production costs. According to recent analysis from the World Gold Council – an umbrella organisation representing miners, traders, and gold exporters – the volume of gold extracted throughout human history would only fill three and a half Olympic swimming pools, or 8,000 cubic metres.

Should Planetary Resources' plans become reality at some point in the future – a big “if” – they would of course drastically increase metal supply here on Earth. Experts are convinced that gold, silver and platinum production on Near Earth Objects can become a reality. The decisive question is how much such an ambitious project might cost. According to calculations made by staff members of the Collaborative Modelling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems (COMPASS) at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, producing metals on Near Earth Asteroids would have an approximate cost of $2.6 billion. During last Tuesday's press conference Dr Peter Diamandis, co-founder and vice-president of Planetary Resources, stated that those metals can be found in almost unlimited quantities in space. Even if a large amount of these precious metals produced on asteroids would most probably not find their way back to Earth, the ideatwinned with the right equipment and technological advancescould trigger space’s first gold rush.

An increasing number of successful entrepreneurs and investors are backing the project. According to Planetary Resources, cost-effective production will mainly depend on the water resources found on those asteroids. Minerals extracted through “ exploration telescopeswould be transported to Earth by space ships powered by energy from hydrogen. Though ambitious and somewhat outlandish at the moment, the company's founders defend their plans, arguing that throughout human history great ideas have mostly been met with rejection or great scepticism. This was the case with the first trip to the Moon, and with plans about offering pleasure trips into space. But today both these ideas have become a reality (thought admittedly the latter is only available to the very wealthy).

Should these production plans become reality and so flood the markets with metals from space, this would result in a drop in metal prices. But of course, we are still a long way from this particular (space) ship sailing.

 

 

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