The companies are currently searching for asteroids close to Earth which are composed of ice, minerals, metals, silicate minerals and carbonaceous minerals. The primary aim is to collect materials for space exploration, although they are also investigating ways of bringing materials back to Earth.
Water is one very important resource in enabling missions further into space. Asteroids generally contain lots of ice which could be collected and broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to be used as fuel for spacecrafts.
It may seem like the stuff of science fiction but NASA seems intent on mining asteroids to enable the exploration of deep space. The space agency recently announced its intention to send a manned mission to Mars within the next 25 years.
Platinum mining is another potential source of revenue from asteroids. The companies are investigating a viable method of transporting materials to Earth, but costs look to be prohibitive.
Differing methods for asteroid mining
In order to search for the asteroids with the best potential, Planetary Resources intends to use mid-sized space telescopes. In the future the company would like to create a space depot from which mining operations could be undertaken.
In contrast Deep Space Industries plans on using compact spacecraft known as “FireFlies” to evaluate asteroids. Once it has determined the potential of an asteroid, it will then capture it using its “DragonFly” spacecraft, before a “Harvester” craft potentially brings resources back into Earth’s orbit.
For its part NASA has sent a spacecraft known as OSIRIS-Rex to study the “Bennu” asteroid, which is relatively close to our planet. The spacecraft aims to land on the asteroid and carry out studies of its composition, with a projected landing date of September 2016.
This latest announcement from NASA follows hot on the heels of the successful landing of the Philae probe on a comet known as 67P, which marked the first successful landing on a comet. Probes have previously landed on asteroids, but never with the specific aim of studying the possibility of mining.