After the Rosetta mission's successful landing of a probe on a comet more than 300 million miles away from Earth earlier this month, NASA's plans for future asteroid mining may be looking more realistic not just to the general public but also to investors.
The European Space Agency pulled off the comet feat when its decade-long Rosetta mission landed the Philae probe on the chunk of space rock it had been chasing, and in true entrepreneur spirit, David Gump, vice chairman of Deep Space Industries, told the Boston Globe
his company may start trying to prospect near-earth asteroids within a year.
In June, NASA signed two contracts with Deep Space Industries to boost its asteroid prospecting and harvesting program. Deep Space will analyze commercial approaches to NASA's asteroid goals and how an industry-led asteroid economy can make manned Mars missions safer and less expensive.
The second NASA contract will allow Deep Space to examine how several small asteroid-prospecting payloads can be launched as hitchhikers on NASA missions. Gump told the Globe the big trick for commercial asteroid mining is cost because it is still expensive to build something safe enough to escape Earth's atmosphere and re-enter it.
He said that since asteroids have little to no gravity, a probe would need little fuel to get on or off it.
"Right now it costs $17 million per ton to get anything up to geosynchronous orbit," said Gump. "If we can beat whatever that price is in 2022, we'll have a big market."
Eric Anderson, chief executive of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, told the Globe that finding material like platinum on an asteroid would make up the cost of mining.
"An asteroid 30 or 40 meters wide has more platinum on it than five years of platinum trading on earth," Anderson said to the newspaper. "We could bring platinum back at cost of $300 per ounce and that could go way down over time."
The Globe reported that terrestrial platinum currently trades at $1,185 per ounce.
Hoyt Davidson, managing member at Near Earth LLC, which is collaborating with Deep Space on NASA contract, said in a statement that the future cost of space exploration will continue to go down with experience, making it more economical.
"The space industry is transforming with new lower-cost launch options and inexpensive small satellites, trends that Deep Space intends to exploit for its prospecting missions," Davidson said in a statement.
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