Google take front seat in space mining

Mining in space has taken a leap forward as Google founder Larry Page and director James Cameron start up an asteroid mining company.

The two are among a consortium of investors dedicated to mining asteroids via a new company Planetary Resources, which will launch tomorrow, the Herald Sun reports.

It is believed the company is "looking for ways to extract raw materials from non-Earth sources," describing itself as "commercial space pioneers".

Earlier this year, the heads of the world’s five largest space agencies gathered in Canada to discuss interplanetary mining.

Several countries, including China, have already expressed an interest in mining the moon’s resources and a number of prototype machines already exist.

Moon mining prototypes, including specially designed drills, are set for testing this year in Hawaii.

The Canadian Space Agency says it is waiting for Federal approval and an increase in interest from other countries before moving forward with more advanced space mining technology.

"When members of the international space community decide to go to the Moon or Mars, the CSA and Canada will be ready to contribute," it said.

The Moon contains reserves of gold, platinum-group elements, and rare earths minerals.

It also contains compounds not readily available on Earth, including Helium-3, a gas that could potentially be used in power generation.

However, many believe that mining is more likely to place on near earth asteroids (NEA) rather than the moon, a view which Planetary Resources has taken.

Late last year Australian Mining investigated the potential for mining these NEA.

Speaking to Mark Sonter, who has written extensively on the technical and commercial feasibility of asteroid mining, he told Australian Mining that the potential for mining small near earth asteroids (NEA) and bringing them into earth’s high orbit is increasing as robotic and automated technology develops.

“There is no obvious showstopper that would impede mining in space,” Sonter said.

With the consistently growing number of near earth asteroids being identified, following funding boosts in the 90s, distance and accessibility is much better than many people would think.

He explained that there has been a growing interest in the feasibility of bringing small asteroids into near earth orbit for research and their potential resources for the construction of structures in space.

And here is where the value can be added, rather than by sending the minerals and metals back to earth.

“It is not really about bringing it back to earth but about using the ore in space for the growth of outer space facilities,” Sonter told Australian Mining.

“If we see the development of large scale orbital structures – factories, hotels, power stations and the like, then as soon as they begin to be constructed then we would probably use materials from easily accessible asteroids as a resource base.”

While this is a possibility in the future, it is all a pipedream until methods are set down for accurately identifying asteroids which have the potential to hold valuable minerals.

He added that bringing the NEA into earth’s vicinity would be easier and less time consuming than sending astronauts to the asteroids.

Current UN laws prohibit any body from claiming these space rocks for a nation, there is no prohibition on actually digging on them.

Similar to most mining, the majority would be done by private companies with no intention to make nationalistic claims on the mined land.

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