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
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.
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 idea – twinned with the right equipment and technological advances – could 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 telescopes” would
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).
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.