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

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the rate of iron use in industry doubles every 20

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

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% will consume an eighth of the resources of the solar system for 400 years. At this point, humanity will be only 60 years old to limit mining and to 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?

Space bodies in the solar system are interestedscientists and entrepreneurs in terms of the extraction of three types of resources - water, metals and gases. Water is needed mostly for future colonizers - both as a source of moisture for living organisms, and as a fuel for spacecraft 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 is Marsgeological structure similar to ours. This means that it can detect all the main compounds, such as iron, aluminum, tungsten, and so on. Researchers have also found traces of lithium, copper, gold, zinc, nickel, cobalt, niobium and other elements on the Red Planet. In other words, you can randomly point to elements of the periodic table and with a high degree of probability to guess those 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

Part of the elements appeared on Mars as a resultasteroid bombardment. The other was formed due to the fact that the Red Planet and the Earth were formed from a single cloud of gas and dust. However, the concentration of substances in the Martian soil, with a high degree of probability, is low or varies greatly depending on the region. Along with the high cost of mining and delivering resources to Earth, this makes Mars an unattractive place for mining for the earth’s industry - which cannot be said of 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 core, by analogy with our planet, is basalt.

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

Observations have also shown that deposits of theseThe minerals are probably covered with a layer of semiconductors of unknown origin — perhaps they are iron-containing minerals, such as pyrite or magnetite. In addition, there are lead and bismuth on Venus, 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 aggravated by the fact that on Venusthere is no oxygen - 96% of the atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide, and several times a day rain falls from the surface from sulfuric acid. It is unlikely that at least one body known to science will live in such conditions for more than a few seconds, and technology - 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.

There are a lot of iron in stone-metal asteroids,nickel and cobalt. In addition, there are gold, platinum, rhodium, rare earth metals and more. Of course, scientists and business representatives are most interested in metal asteroids with a 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 program "Appolon", which cost the US $ 25 billion, allowed to deliver to Earth only 383.7 kg of lunar soil. In this case, the astronauts were not tasked with the extraction or processing of minerals.

Now NASA is working on a mission to send a probe to Psyche asteroid. The mission goal is to get 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 is the asteroid.2000 BM19, a very small O-type object (less than 1 km wide). It is close enough to Earth, and its estimated cost is $ 18.50 trillion. Profit is estimated at $ 3.55 trillion. More information on the assessment of the economic efficiency of the development of asteroids 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 on1967 The main provisions of the treaty are to ban the deployment of nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in orbit of the Earth, the Moon, or another space body. The document restricts the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies only to peaceful purposes and prohibits a claim to possession of a space body or its part.

Some countries - for example, the USA 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 Space Treaty, ratified by almost 100 countries, suggests that no nation can claim its rights to asteroids, planets or any other space objects.

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