Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to questions we encounter regularly in relation to asteroid mining and our plans to develop it:
- Q: Have asteroids been mined yet?
A: Commercial asteroid mining hasn't been accomplished yet, though JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) has successfully brought samples to Earth from asteroids Itokawa and Ryugu with their Hayabusa and Hayabusa-2 probes. Our mission will be similar in concept, however a larger sample will be sought in order to inject commercial incentive into the mission profile. In partnership with world-leading academic institutions, AMC is researching and developing technologies tailored to this goal.
- Q: How do you mine an asteroid?
A: AMC is developing Space Capable Asteroid Robotic Explorers (SCAR-E), robots that can reach areas inaccessible to humans. SCAR-E will use drills to recover material from the asteroid, process it in-situ and return it to Earth.
- Q: Will mining cause asteroids to hit Earth?
A: No. The first sample return missions will not disturb asteroids from their orbits. Smaller asteroids could potentially be redirected to a lunar orbit to be mined there, rather than having to wait for the asteroid to achieve a close approach to Earth. However, this would take place decades, and perhaps even centuries, into the future.
- Q: Will mining asteroids pollute space?
A: As asteroids have neither atmospheres nor ecosystems, mining them will cause significantly less damage than mining on Earth. However, loose dust and rock ejected by mining could create a collision hazard to spacecraft if managed carelessly. This is why worldwide governing bodies are emerging to regulate international space resources law. The outlining of safety zones and priority rights is fundamental to safe mining operations in space.
- Q: Will adding mass from asteroid mining change the Earth's orbit?
A: The Earth is under constant bombardment from natural asteroid impacts, which add 37,000-78,000 tonnes annually. It also loses mass due to gasses being stripped from the atmosphere by the solar wind. The addition of a few hundred tonnes of metal per year will be a fraction of the tonnage raining down on Earth on a daily basis.
- Q: Is asteroid mining legal?
A: At present, companies registered in the USA and Luxembourg may use asteroids for the material found on them. Whilst they would not own the asteroids concerned, the resources recovered may be sold. In the UK, however, there remains a legal grey area as it is bound by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which neither explicitly permits nor prohibits the monetisation of asteroid resources. The Artemis Accords of 2020, which the UK signed alongside global partners, add regulatory certainty, though AMC wishes to go even further and effect a change in UK legislation, in line with the USA and Luxembourg, to grant asteroid miners registered in the UK the right to own the resources they extract from asteroids. This is why we are lobbying for a UK Space Resources Activities Bill, which will permit mining operations under the supervision of the UK Space Agency.
- Q: How will you bring material extracted from asteroids down to Earth?
A: With a growing international fleet of spacecraft presently carrying people and cargo between Earth and the ISS, we envision plenty of choice in transportation craft by the time AMC enters the extraction phase.