Mining asteroids for valuable resources is a familiar science fiction trope, and one that modern science, pushed by economic necessity, is working hard to realise.
Resources are becoming increasingly scarce. The rush for oil, gas and valuable minerals taking place in the Arctic is the result of a combination of global shortages, rising prices, technical advances and the exposure of wide areas of the Arctic Ocean during summer melts. Most commentators expect the Arctic to play a key role in meeting the world’s energy needs in the twenty-first century. The US Geological survey estimates that the Arctic holds thirty percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas, of which eighty percent will be off-shore. On land, however, the areas exploited for minerals or hydrocarbons are likely to remain relatively small.
It’s time to look beyond the Earth for essential resources. Asteroids are a potential source of valuable materials, including nickel, water and gases that could be used to make fuel for future space missions. But much of their value comes from the fact that they’re already in space.