Mining Asteroids

Instead of trying to send supply ships up the gravitational well from Earth to supply colonies in space, it is more sensible to find the supplies out in flat space. It is possible to extract precious metals and valuable minerals and elements from asteroids in the asteroid belt. How it will be done is open to speculation.

Types of asteroids
C-type – carbonaceous (metals and volatiles) – 75%
S-type – silicaceous (stony/silicates) – 17%
X/M-type – metallic (iron-nickel ore) – 6%
An asteroid 100 meters in diameter will contain approximately 2 million tons of material.

Extraction
Mining robots can be used to extract materials from target asteroids. Cutting tools can drill into and separate manageable chunks that can be moved over to a processing plant. Sensors can identify materials and take appropriate action to preserve materials such as frozen gases that need special handling.

Processing
A portable processing plant can be towed into position near a mining operation. Solar energy will be collected to power the plant and the bots used in the mining operations.
Hard materials can be cut, crushed and/or ground into small pieces.
Metals could be either melted and refined or simply packaged for transport to another processing location.
Volatile gases will be collected and frozen for transport.

Transport
Different materials will require varying modes of transportation, but most materials will be accelerated into a trajectory toward the desired target destination and then herded by bots to make sure it arrives safely.

Value

  • Water containing oxygen and hydrogen will be among the most valuable materials extracted from asteroids. They will be used primarily for atmosphere and water. Carbon and nitrogen will also be available.
  • Metals found in asteroids include iron, nickel, cobalt, platinum and more.
  • Any materials left over after all the most valuable parts are gone can be used as raw materials for building and fabrication. Even substances considered to be dirt, dust or broken rocks (regolith) on Earth can be used as radiation shielding for habitats and ships. Nothing will be wasted or left behind.

Mining The Sky: Untold Riches From The Asteroids, Comets, And Planets – [amazon.com]

Asteroid Mining for Profit – [tricitiesnet.com/donsastronomy]

This page (and the accompanying CHART) attempt to give the prospective entrepreneur a better idea of a typical asteroid’s true potential as a mineral resource. Now it’s true that no one has actually ever set foot on an asteroid, but that does not mean that we don’t have any information about them. The astronomical community has conducted numerous spectral analyses of asteroids in various wavelengths, and we have actually orbited and landed a probe on the surface of one. From these data, as well as analysis of meteorites, we have a pretty good idea of the kinds of minerals and the relative abundance we can expect to find on and in an asteroid. The results are startling.

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