The bowels of the universe: which cosmic bodies are suitable for mining and why scientists are against it today

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the rate of iron use in industry is doubling every 20

years.If in 1800 industry around the world required 450 thousand tons of this metal, then in 1994 - already 900 million tons. By 2016, this figure had grown to 2.2 billion tons - and continues to grow to this day.

If people start mining for planets,moons, asteroids and other bodies in the solar system, they are partially depleted in about 460 years, scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory calculated.


The researchers found that the annual increase in3.5% would use up an eighth of the solar system's resources in 400 years. At this point, humanity will have only 60 years to limit production and avoid complete depletion of mineral reserves.

“If we don’t think about it now and goto master the next cosmic bodies, we will move forward, and in a few hundred years we will be confronted with an extreme crisis, much worse than now on Earth. Once you finish mining resources in the solar system, you have nowhere else to go, ”says Martin Elvis, a senior astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge.

This restriction has two goals: to protect the worlds that have not yet been mastered from the worst manifestations of human activity and to avoid a catastrophic future in which all the resources that are within its reach will be used on an ongoing basis. At the same time, Elvis notes that the eighth of all iron in the Asteroid Belt is more than a million times higher than the estimated reserves of iron ore on Earth, which can be enough for several centuries.

Space bodies in the solar system

Specific areas of mining inwhich will be banned, astrophysics do not call. This question requires more detailed study, explain the authors of the study in an article in the journal Acta Astronautica.

What mineral reserves exist in the solar system?

Cosmic bodies in the solar system are of interestscientists and entrepreneurs from the point of view of the extraction of three types of resources - water, metals and gases. Water is necessary for the most part for future colonizers - both as a source of moisture for living organisms and as fuel for spaceships when split into oxygen and hydrogen. Gases and heavy metals (iron, nickel, molybdenum, cobalt, gold, platinum and others) are of interest to the Earth, where their reserves are close to depletion.


The natural satellite of the Earth does not representOf great interest as an object of mining. First of all, because the Moon is a basalt body - that is, in essence, the same rock that forms the bottom of the ocean.


Helium-3 is the greatest value.- the lightest of the helium isotopes, which in large quantities (according to various estimates, from 500 thousand tons to 2.5 million tons) is contained in the surface layer of the satellite, but rarely occurs on Earth. The element can be used in power plants as a fuel that practically does not pollute the environment. Hypothetically, during thermonuclear fusion, when 1 ton of helium-3 with 0.67 ton of deuterium reacts, energy equivalent to burning 15 million tons of oil is released.

The surface of the moon is rich in helium-3, which can be used as an eco-friendly source of energy on Earth

However, the Moon, like Antarctica, is protectedinternational law - no country can claim the rights to the natural satellite of the Earth. In addition to legal, there are physical limitations - the speed of the runaway moon. To remove 1 kg of material from the satellite's gravity, it must be accelerated to 2.4 km / s. For comparison, for the same result on the comet 67P / Churyumov - Gerasimenko, the load must be accelerated only to 1 m / s.


The second closest planet to Earth, Mars,geological structure similar to ours. This means that all the main compounds can be found on it, such as iron, aluminum, tungsten and so on. Researchers have also discovered traces of lithium, copper, gold, zinc, nickel, cobalt, niobium and other elements on the Red Planet. In other words, you can randomly point to the elements of the periodic table and have a high probability of guessing the ones that can be found on Mars.


Rover Opportunity also found on MarsHematite spheres rich in iron ore are the so-called Martian spheroids. The latter are not of interest to the industry and can become a value only for collectors. Water, nitrogen and argon can only be used for the needs of future colonizers.

Hematite spheres

Some elements appeared on Mars as a resultasteroid bombardment. The other was formed due to the fact that the Red Planet and Earth were formed from the same cloud of gas and dust. However, the concentration of substances in Martian soil is highly likely to be low or vary greatly depending on the region. Along with the high cost of extracting and delivering resources to Earth, this makes Mars an unattractive location for mining for Earth-based industries - something that cannot be said for possible future colonists.


Venus and Earth are actually twins in size,mass, composition and conditions in which they were formed. Like Earth, Venus has a large iron core and a rocky silicate mantle, and its crust, similar to our planet, is basaltic.

Judging by Soviet research dataVenera 13, 14 and Vega 2 devices, the concentration of silicon, aluminum, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, titanium, manganese and sulfur in the basalts of Venus depends on the location, but generally corresponds to their concentration on Earth.

Observations also showed that deposits of theseThe minerals are likely coated with a layer of semiconductors of unknown origin - perhaps iron-containing minerals such as pyrite or magnetite. In addition, Venus contains lead and bismuth, to which the planet owes its bright glow in the night sky.

Venus and the Earth are very similar in structure and conditions

However, these minerals are unlikely to succeed -pressure on Venus is 92 times higher than on our planet. The average temperature is 460 ° C - more than on Mercury, located two times closer to the Sun. This heat is enough to melt the lead. The reason is the special arrangement of the planet’s atmosphere: instead of heating the surface to a tropical climate, like on Earth, the clouds reflect heat and burn Venus.


The situation is further aggravated by the fact that on Venusthere is no oxygen - 96% of the atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide, and sulfuric acid rains on the surface several times a day. It is unlikely that at least one organism known to science will live in such conditions for more than a few seconds, and technology for more than a few hours.

Asteroid belt

Asteroid belt - the main candidate for miningminerals on space bodies and the farthest from the Earth among the above space bodies: the distance from our planet to the nearest point in the asteroid belt is 1.2 AU (180 million km).

Asteroids in the belt are divided into two types: water and stone-metal. The first contain a large amount of water. They are, in general, useless for earthlings, but they can be an extremely valuable resource for future space colonists: a single “water” asteroid can be enough to supply a space colony for many, many years. This type of asteroids is the most common, “water” asteroids about 75% in our solar system.

The asteroid belt may become the center of mining in the solar system, but only in the distant future - the distance to the nearest belt point from the Earth is 180 million km.

Rock-metal asteroids contain a lot of iron,nickel and cobalt. In addition, there is gold, platinum, rhodium, rare earth metals and more. Of course, scientists and business representatives are most interested in metallic asteroids with the maximum metal content.

Most of the asteroids of both species contain nickel, iron, cobalt, and some contain platinum, gold, and ammonia. The problem is to extract these resources and deliver them to Earth.

Economic benefit

One of the biggest obstacles in addition toThe equipment for the extraction of mineral resources on asteroids and other bodies described so far has not yet been developed - the transportation of the extracted resources to Earth. We are talking about millions and billions of metric tons of minerals - otherwise they simply do not make sense to mine. Modern missiles and spacecraft with this task can not cope.

In addition, such flights will be very expensive -for comparison, the entire Apollo program, which cost the United States $25 billion, allowed only 383.7 kg of lunar soil to be delivered to Earth. At the same time, the astronauts were not faced with the task of extracting or processing minerals.

NASA is currently working on a mission to send a probe to the asteroid Psyche. The goal of the mission is to obtain a tiny sample weighing about 60 g. The estimated cost of the mission is about $1 billion.

But costs can pay off - if scientists estimatetrue, the most cost-effective asteroid 253 Mathilde with a diameter of 2.8 km can bring up to $ 9.53 trillion in profits. The estimated cost of the cosmic body is more than $ 100 trillion.

The most economically active asteroid is considered2000 BM19, a very small O-type object (less than 1 km wide). It is quite close to Earth, and its estimated value is $18.50 trillion. Profit is estimated at $3.55 trillion. More information about the assessment of the economic efficiency of asteroid mining can be found here.

Legal issues

Legal restrictions on matters related tothe development of asteroids is perhaps the most complex for the future space mining industry. Can minerals on space bodies belong to companies or private investors, governments or they are the property of all mankind, as follows from the Space Treaty?

The Space Treaty, or the Treaty on the Principles of Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon- an intergovernmental document signed in1967 The main provisions of the treaty boil down to the prohibition of placing nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in the orbit of the Earth, the Moon or other space body. The document limits the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies to peaceful purposes only and prohibits making claims to own a cosmic body or part of it.

Some countries—for example, the United States and Luxembourg—have already passed laws that allow private companies to obtain the right to extract resources in space. However, such decisions are not yet consistent with international law and have not been discussed with other governments.

So far, the Outer Space Treaty, ratified by nearly 100 countries, stipulates that no nation can lay claim to asteroids, planets or any other space objects.