Frequently asked questions

Here are some answers to questions we encounter regularly in relation to asteroid mining and our plans to develop it:

  • Q: How do you mine asteroids?

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 inevitably 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: Will mining cause asteroids to hit Earth?

A: No. The first sample return missions will not displace asteroids from their orbits at all. In future, it is likely that smaller specimens will be redirected to a lunar orbit to be mined there. This is useful as it will allow constant access for material recovery, instead of having to wait for a close approach, which may only occur once per century. Furthermore, proximity to the Moon will aid development of the lunar infrastructure: asteroid mining does not exist in its own vacuum but forms part of a wider extraterrestrial economy.

  • Q: Will mining asteroids pollute space?

A: Pollution in the sense of damaging ecosystems or contaminating atmospheres is not an issue, since neither exist on the inert lumps of rock we will be targeting. This is one of the many compelling reasons to migrate our heavy industries to space over the coming centuries. Loose dust and rock ejected by mining, however, could create a collision hazard to spacecraft if handled carelessly. This would clearly be problematic for the transportation craft, therefore our designs for extraction equipment are based around internalised processes, with no ejecta being discarded into the vacuum.

  • Q: Will adding mass from asteroid mining change the Earth's orbit?

A: Negligibly. 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 peanuts compared to the tonnage raining down even as you read this!

  • Q: Is asteroid mining legal?

A: At present, companies registered in the USA and Luxembourg may exploit asteroids for the material found on them. Though they would not own the asteroids concerned, the spoils of mining may be brought to market. In the UK, however, there remains a legal grey area as it is still bound by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which neither explicitly permits nor prohibits the monetisation of asteroid resources. AMC wishes to 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. To this end, 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.