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  • Iron,

  • Gold,

  • Copper.

  • Minerals are the lifeblood of the world's economy.

  • From the Arctic circle to the Sahara desert.

  • The $1.7 trillion mining industry supplies raw materials

  • needed for everything from sky scrapers to smart phones.

  • But mining also comes

  • with an increasingly critical environmental cost.

  • One that may require us to think about off planet solutions

  • before it's too late.

  • Asteroids, moons and planets in our own solar system

  • hold an essentially unlimited supply of untapped resources.

  • The first trillionaires,

  • will be those who mine asteroids.

  • Resources like gold,

  • platinum and rare Earth metals

  • make some of those asteroids incredibly high priced

  • but the most valuable element may be our most basic one.

  • What you want to mine in space is what you need a lot of.

  • And while humans have been mining

  • for thousands of years.

  • Mining in space requires new,

  • innovative technologies to realize any potential business

  • and economic opportunities.

  • Such technologies might just allow humanity

  • to expand operations off Earth.

  • And take that next giant leap.

  • These tiny dots represent the millions of asteroids

  • in our solar system.

  • Over the past two decades government

  • and private aerospace companies

  • have been investigating their composition,

  • location and even possible pay offs to mine them.

  • This one, known as Bennu

  • has an estimated value of $669 million.

  • Ryugu, $82 billion.

  • Better yet,

  • an asteroid called Davida

  • which is valued at more than $100 trillion.

  • And the reason for these high price tags,

  • they're made up of valuable metals

  • like platinum, gold and iron.

  • We believe that asteroids have platinum group metals,

  • rare Earth metals in higher percentages

  • than you might find on the Moon, for instance.

  • Only once in human history

  • has an astroid sample been brought back to Earth.

  • On the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's

  • Hayabusa mission in 2010.

  • And even then, the return sample was merely dust particles.

  • And the total cost of that mission,

  • approximately $250 million.

  • One problem is that compared to the Moon,

  • there's very little gravity.

  • So somehow you have to attach yourself to the asteroid

  • whereas on the Moon,

  • the gravity will hold your processing equipment in place.

  • So, the general answer to the question,

  • can we bring mining materials from space back to Earth?

  • The general answer is no.

  • Bringing things from space to Earth,

  • only makes sense if what is retrieved

  • is so extraordinarily valuable

  • and just not available on Earth.

  • And even returning the most valuable asteroids

  • could drastically devalue those materials.

  • Take asteroid 16 Psyche, for instance.

  • NASA is constructing a probe to launch in 2022.

  • To study the potato shaped object

  • which is roughly 95% metals.

  • Nickel iron, platinum and even gold.

  • Some estimates value the asteroid at $700 quintillion.

  • NASA says it may be the inner core of a developing planet

  • that somehow lost its outer layers.

  • Offering incredible insight into how planets are formed.

  • If someone did manage to bring large amounts

  • of this asteroid back to Earth,

  • supply of the resources would sky rocket.

  • Meaning we'd have more of the material

  • than we would have use for.

  • Causing the price to crash to almost zero.

  • Once we erode the rarity of a high value metal or mineral.

  • The value of that terrestrially could drop significantly.

  • Experts agree that a more likely scenario

  • is materials mined in space will stay in space.

  • Jump starting a whole new money making industry.

  • Any space nation will have looked at what's called

  • in-situ resource utilization.

  • Which is a very common space term

  • meaning you use the resources where you are.

  • So taking that model of

  • if you need it in space, mine it in space.

  • What would you be mining?

  • Mostly you need fuel.

  • There's something else much more valuable

  • for use in space that's abundant on Earth.

  • Water.

  • Not only can water sustain human and plant life

  • for future manned space missions.

  • The components of water,

  • hydrogen and oxygen can also be separated

  • and reassembled to make fuel.

  • The zero emission fuel called hydrogen fuel

  • is the same used in spacecraft propulsion

  • and fuel cell vehicles.

  • Hydrogen fuel research in this new space race

  • could also spur new technologies

  • that can help fight climate change

  • by speeding the elimination of fossil fuel use on Earth.

  • And there's already a high demand for it

  • and an immediate business opportunity

  • for risk tolerant companies wishing to make a fortune.

  • In a 2018 paper by industry, government

  • and academic experts,

  • they estimated that for an initial $4 billion investment

  • in the Moon water mining operation.

  • Which is about the cost of a luxury hotel in Las Vegas.

  • About $2.4 billion in revenue could be generated annually.

  • The sort of business case 101 for mining in space

  • is if you're gonna launch something from Earth,

  • it's gonna cost you about $10000, $20000 per kilo

  • to get it into space.

  • So if you need water for something in space.

  • And you can produce it for less than $10000 a kilo

  • then do it in space.

  • Do you know Launch Alliance, ULA?

  • They have put a price on the water in space.

  • They have said

  • "We'll give you this amount of money for the water."

  • Which means people who're going out

  • and trying to produce that water now have a customer.

  • In 2016 the ULA announced it's willing to pay

  • around $3000 per kilogram for propellant in an orbit

  • less than 2000 kilometers in altitude.

  • Called low Earth orbit.

  • Compared with the estimated price of $4000 per kilogram

  • to deliver the propellant from Earth.

  • Most experts believe the Moon

  • is a logical starting point for this.

  • It has more gravity than an asteroid,

  • making it easier to land.

  • And it's poles are thought to hold

  • vast amounts of water ice.

  • That potential volume of water has made it the focus

  • of NASA's Artemis program

  • Which aims to land astronauts on the Moon's southern pole.

  • And also make the space agency a critical first customer

  • for any water harvested on the Moon.

  • China, India, Israel.

  • The U.S., Europe.

  • Everyone is now sort of focusing on the Moon.

  • And all of these government programs

  • are looking to set up shop for a water mining future.

  • A fueling station on the Moon

  • could ultimately make space ventures much cheaper

  • and make future space missions possible.

  • Although entirely theoretical at this point,

  • here's how it could play out.

  • Water is mined on the Moon and a fueling station is set up.

  • This would provide the first customers,

  • most likely government agencies with water

  • for human consumption and fuel for spacecraft.

  • Water derived fuel could also be harvested on an asteroid.

  • Propellant transports then carry the fuel

  • from the surfaces to a stable storage point

  • between the Earth and the Moon.

  • Fueling stations can also be set up in low Earth orbit

  • making it accessible to satellites and other space craft.

  • As of now,

  • satellites that run out of fuel are decommissioned.

  • Extra fuel would allow them to stay in their orbits.

  • Increasing their life span.

  • Since using a rocket

  • to get fuel out of Earths atmosphere is expensive,

  • refueling in low Earth orbit can greatly improve the size,

  • type and cost of missions in space.

  • The commercial launch industry like Spacex