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  • On the 15 February 2013, an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere over Russia.

  • It created a fireball brighter than the sun.

  • Its shockwave injured more than one thousand people.

  • Videos like this show why asteroids pose a great threat to life on Earth, but they

  • are also the reason why some see them as a golden opportunity.

  • This clip was watched millions of times on devices like this.

  • Such small and powerful machines are built with precious metals like gold,

  • silver, and platinum.

  • These rare resources are not just pretty, they are among the most conductive,

  • durable and malleable of all elements.

  • They are highly important for medicine, aerospace, and technology.

  • But getting them is an ugly process.

  • Mining destroys entire ecosystems, displaces communities,

  • and creates toxic waste.

  • And there's a tragic irony: platinum is

  • used to make solar panels, hydrogen,

  • and wind turbines.

  • So, the more the world goes green, the more toxic mining it needs.

  • But our planet is not the only source of these special elements.

  • The key to sparing Earth this devastating mining may lie in the planet's

  • ultimate threat: asteroids.

  • Meet Lucy, a star nicknamed after the famous Beatles' song.

  • That's because Lucy's core is likely made of crystallized carbon.

  • Alas, it is a giant diamond the size of our sun.

  • The sky certainly is no longer the limit in space.

  • This is Chris Lewicki.

  • He was the co-founder andchief asteroid minerof Planetary Resources,

  • the first company with the explicit goal of mining asteroids.

  • He even has an asteroid named after him.

  • I am very grateful to have 13609 Lewicki named in my honor.

  • Lucy is too far away to reach.

  • But other celestial bodies closer to Earth are just as incredible.

  • Platinum and gold are very heavy

  • and over time they sank into the planet's core.

  • That's why they are they are so rare on the Earth's crust.

  • But again because asteroids don't have much gravity, that didn't happen on asteroids

  • and in some cases, they are a hundred times as concentrated.

  • In 2015, for example, an asteroid that passed close to our planet was estimated

  • to contain more platinum than has ever been mined on our planet.

  • Or take 16 Psyche, a metal world estimated to be worth 700 quintillions of dollars.

  • Until now, this was all just theoretical because space travel was

  • just too expensive.

  • But that's changing.

  • A seat on a SpaceX rocket is three times

  • cheaper than it was on the Space Shuttle.

  • This has started a new gold rush.

  • In 2012 Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, put his wealth behind Planetary Resources.

  • The year after, a new company joined the race to mine asteroids.

  • And in 2017 NASA announced it would pay a visit to Psyche.

  • We will get there.

  • She is Lindy Elkins-Tanton, and she is the one leading NASA's Psyche mission.

  • An important thing to note is that the Psyche mission that I'm running

  • is a pure science mission.

  • But although the program has no relation to asteroid mining, it could lay the

  • groundwork for the first step in the asteroid mining playbook:

  • Choosing an asteroid.

  • The kind that you are interested in are the kind that have an orbit very similar to

  • the Earth's own orbit.

  • Most asteroids orbit the sun between Mars

  • and Jupiter in the asteroid belt.

  • But some of them sometimes pass close to Earth.

  • But you also gonna wanna make sure that it's big enough.

  • The ideal size is probably a couple hundred meters across,

  • something maybe the size of a city block.

  • So it's not huge, but it's also not tiny.

  • Then you have to get to the asteroid.

  • And here there is some good news.

  • Asteroids are really the low hanging fruit of the solar system.

  • They might be physically far away most of the time,

  • but the amount of energy that it takes

  • to get to an asteroid is a lot less

  • than it is to land on the Moon or Mars.

  • And that's because asteroids have very

  • little of their own gravity which means

  • you don't have to spend a lot of energy

  • to land on the surface, and you don't have

  • to spend a lot of energy to back get off the surface.

  • Then comes the real mining, and here it gets tricky.

  • You can't just use a pickaxe on an asteroid because its gravity is so tiny

  • that your gold would float away.

  • But different elements melt at different temperatures, so miners can heat them up,

  • and then separate them using gigantic mirrors to concentrate sunlight.

  • You apply heat, you evaporate the material, and in the process of doing

  • that you can separate the stuff you don't want,

  • and concentrate the things that you do want, and condense them back out.

  • Crazy as it sounds, mining asteroids might not only be feasible, but also much more

  • sustainable than mining Earth.

  • This is a very interesting point and the point which

  • interestingly has been overlooked in the past literature.

  • He is Andreas Hein, a researcher who has actually crunched the numbers!

  • And it actually turns out that the answer seems to be yes!

  • He estimates that the rocket fuel necessary to go and bring back one kilogram of

  • platinum from an asteroid would release 150 kilograms of CO2.

  • On the other hand terrestrial mining would generate 40,000 kilos of CO2.

  • Mining asteroids could be hundreds of times more sustainable.

  • Essentially the main reason is there is almost no other substance you can

  • mine which generates that much greenhouse gases.

  • Outsourcing mining to space would decrease pollution on Earth.

  • But there is an economic problem.

  • In terms of sustainability, it's a gigantic win.

  • In terms of economics, it's not profitable yet.

  • The problem if you mine five times of the platinum you have on Earth,

  • right now, it means that the market prices will immediately crash.

  • You can sell it at a much lower price,

  • which means that you are diminishing your profit margin.

  • So you are operating your infrastructure at a loss,

  • and that makes that very unattractive for investors.

  • Carbon taxes and new technologies could change this equation,

  • but it would still take several years for space mining to become profitable.

  • Investors decided to not wait so long.

  • The world doesn't quite support a business model that takes more than a hundred

  • million dollars and more than ten years

  • to make a return on an investment,

  • and maybe it should.

  • Lewicki's company failed to raise enough funds, forcing it to abandon its goal of mining asteroids.

  • Planetary resources didn't succeed in their ultimate goal to mine asteroids.

  • But I think it succeeded in a lot of ways of the steps to get there.

  • There wasn't much gold in California, after all.

  • But yesterday's settlers succeeded in something else, although with great

  • harm to the indigenous population.

  • In the rush to get to the frontier, they accelerated

  • the development of the West.

  • Today's space miners are doing something similar.

  • We are, as a world, a lot closer to using resources from space than we were when the

  • company was founded in 2009.

  • You now can get a degree in space mining!

  • The business case doesn't quite yet close.

  • But we could make it get there, we can find a way.

  • And I think it is in some ways the inevitable future of human kind

  • because we can't resist.

  • It's been our history as long as we've been able to track it going backwards

  • that humans are explorers.

  • New technologies can make space mining economical.

  • Just a few decades ago, the very technology you're using to watch this

  • video seemed impossible.

  • Today, we can use satellites to beam the internet everywhere on the planet.

  • In 10, 15, or 20 years a lot can happen.

  • One day, mining Earth may seem obsolete.

  • A bit like using candles to light up your room.

  • That would be the beautiful goal, that is the utopian future of humankind where we

  • have learned to take care our Earth and we can do

  • our heavy industry and our mining and mineral extraction in space.

  • Thanks for watching, and if you like the video

  • please subscribe and check out our YouTube channel.

  • We have a new video coming out every Friday!

On the 15 February 2013, an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere over Russia.

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B2 US mining asteroid earth platinum space psyche

Asteroid Mining: How to mine in space instead of on earth

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/08
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