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Mining Platinum & Other Valuable Metals on Asteroids

Platinum on Asteroids

Platinum has a variety of uses, and similar to gold in value. Most of its mines on earth have been depleted, with the richest ores being mined out long ago. New platinum mining projects are in the works, but supply is not likely to keep up with demand of this valuable metal.

A number of multinational mining firms and wealthy investors have begun thinking of mining outside the earth atmosphere.

Evidence from spent comets and asteroids that enter the earth show that these bodies contain a significantly higher amount of platinum and other precious minerals than some of the richest mines on Earth. Already a number of asteroid mining projects for platinum and other precious metals have been planned; however, the cost of mining in space and other challenges of mining in space is what is delaying the start of these projects.


Asteroid Mining


Asteroids and the rest of the planets in the solar system including the earth were created from the same materials. However, the Earth’s high gravity ensured that most precious metals (which are often heavier than other minerals) were pulled to the core of the Earth during its molten state, leaving the crust with just traces of such minerals.

Although volcanic activities have been responsible for bringing a lot of these minerals to the surface, the majority still remains deep inside the Earth. It is inaccessible to us using our current technologies.

Asteroids, on the other hand, have little or no gravitational pull at all. This has ensured that they have a rich distribution of precious metals such as platinum, gold, and silver. Quite a number of asteroids that ended up on the earth surface and those collected in the outer space and on other planets such as on Mars have shown to contain higher levels of platinum. This is the main reason why many investors together with large mining firms have been considering going after the asteroids.


Asteroid Selection


Asteroids are all over space. It is therefore important that selection is done so that only the right asteroids are mined.

When mining asteroids for platinum specifically it will be important to consider a lot of things. First, not all asteroids contain platinum in quantities that will make economic sense to go after. And second, the distance from the Earth’s orbit plays an important role in the selection of the asteroids to mine.

Already researchers have come up with three important categories of asteroids to be mined for platinum. These three include:

  • Near Earth Asteroids: – These are all asteroids that contain platinum that are near the earth orbit. Most of these asteroids may not contain higher amounts of platinum but most have other minerals and precious metals that are ideal for creating space bases to facilitate mining asteroids far away.
  • S-type Asteroids: – these are asteroids that high levels of precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and gold and also contain a high concentration of other valuable minerals such nickel, cobalt, and copper. In fact, it is estimated a small S-type asteroid with a diameter of 10 meters could contain more than 650,000 kg of metallic elements with rare metals such as platinum being as much as 50kg!
  • M-Type Asteroids: – these are rare forms of asteroids in space but contain about 10 times more metallic elements than the S-types asteroids. It is believed that most of these types of asteroids are further away from the Earth orbit.

  • Also Read: Placer Platinum Nuggets – Where You Can Find Them


    Proposed Projects


    Although asteroid mining for precious metals such as platinum is still considered a far fetch dream for many stakeholders in the mining sector, already there are plans by some billionaire investors and well-funded mining firms to set up mining bases in the space. Already there are a number of planned and ongoing projects. Some of these projects are:

  • The Planetary Resources Project

    This project was announced in 2012 with the aim of mining asteroids for platinum and other precious metals. The project is backed by billionaire entrepreneurs. With the high value for gold and platinum proponents of this project believe that it will be sustainable despite the high cost. In addition to precious metal, the project is also expected to produce a fuel depot in space that will be supplied by water mined from asteroids then split into hydrogen fuel for rockets and liquid oxygen. The depot is expected to be ready by 2020.

  • Deep Space Industries Project

    This project was announced by people who have been involved in space ventures before. They are on a mission of prospecting asteroids for precious minerals and it is expected that the actual mining will start by 2023.

  • KESE Project

    This project was announced in 2013 by the Kepler Energy and Space Engineering. The KESE plan is to use simple and already existing technologies to develop and mine minerals from asteroids. This will help make the mining affordable and more sustainable than investing in new technologies.

  • Other planned asteroid mining projects include:

  • The Robotic Asteroid Prospector Project (2012) by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
  • The Asteroid Mining Corporation Project (2016) by Mitch Hunter- Scullion
  • The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (2017) by the Chinese Government
  • Also Read: Lithium Mining in the USA


    Will it Ever Become Reality


    We are yet to see whether asteroid mining is a thing of science fiction of whether actual mining of asteroids can become a reality. No doubt, any project that successfully begins extracting platinum will be of exceptional value and will dominate the platinum market.

    With the amount of interest in this idea, I suspect that its a matter of WHEN and not IF asteroid mining activity will be a reality.

    Next: Mining Mars – The Potential for Gold and other Precious Metals

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