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 by either a private or state owned organisation yet, though JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) has successfully returned a sample from the Asteroid Itokawa with their Hayabusa 1 probe. While Hayabusa 2 is currently in orbit around Ryugu and is preparing to take a sample. Our mission concept will inevitably be similar to the Hayabusa missions; though the sample return will be on a larger scale in order to inject commercial incentive into the mission profile.
AMC is researching and developing technologies tailored to this goal. We are fortunate enough to have excellent links to the academic communities in the UK and Netherlands who are regularly keen to collaborate and assist in our goals.
Q: Will the activities of The Asteroid Mining Corporation cause an asteroid to hit Earth?
A: While there are currently no plans by the AMC to move the asteroids from their orbits at this time, it is inevitable in the future that small asteroids will have their trajectories manipulated in order to place them in better orbits for extracting the materials within. AMC ultimately intends to have the capability to redirect small asteroids into a Lunar Orbit to be mined there. This is important for a number of reasons: firstly it will allow constant, year round access to the Asteroid for mining, instead of waiting until the next closest approach to Earth to recover the materials mined from the Asteroid. Secondly redirecting Asteroids into a Lunar Orbit will also be critical to the development of the Lunar Infrastructure: Asteroid Mining does not exist in its own vacuum but forms part of a larger extraterrestrial economy. The economic development of the Moon will benefit the Asteroids and vice versa.
Q: Will mining asteroids cause pollution in space?
A: If by pollution you mean loose dust and rock ejected by a mining method than yes that could cause problems if handled carelessly. Loose material could create a collision hazard to our spacecraft and others. However loose material could also be considered wasted material and therefore wasted profit for the AMC which would serve as an additional incentive not to cause this problem from the onset. Therefore all our designs for mining equipment are based around internalised processes; with no loose ejecta being exposed into the vacuum environment unless we chose to do so.
Q: Will the introduction of asteroid derived rare and precious metals cause a crash of markets?
A: The introduction of additional commodities into a market causes a shift in it’s value and is dependant on supply and demand. The Platinum group of metals that the AMC wishes to source from asteroids are rare and very useful in a number of applications and are in demand but restrictive due to their high price.
If the price of these metals goes down a bit due to increased supply then more of that metal will be bought and used increasing demand.
AMC will be limited by several factors:
The amount of valuable materials we can extract and the speed we can bring those materials to a place for further processing or storage. This will serve to keep the prices high even with an increased supply.
How much material we can add to the cargo of return vehicles and how often we can do it. The maximum we envisage being able to return from an Low Earth Orbit depot to the ground would be around 10 tonnes at a time, this being a mere 5% of the global annual supply of Platinum.
AMC do not project that, at least in the initial years, the AMC will be able to bring enough Platinum group and precious metals down to the Earth market to make a sizeable and sustained difference in the price of those metals taking the global supply and demand into account. However our ultimate goal is to develop an industrial scale Asteroid Mining capability which will eventually have the potential to disrupt global commodities prices, making Space Mining concerns the most powerful of all commodities brokers.
Q: What can you do with the stuff you get from asteroids?
A: With the development of microgravity manufacturing and 3D printing whatever your imagination can conceive. Asteroids contain base metals such as Iron, Nickel, Cobalt, Titanium and Aluminium just to name a few plus they contain carbon compounds and water which is a source of Oxygen and Hydrogen. These are all used to construct anything from tools and machinery to structural components and complex chemistry. Everything that humanity needs to live in Space can be found on Asteroids: water will be used to grow food and to provide oxygen for breathing, hydrogen for rocket fuel. Metals will be used to construct habitats and infrastructure, even Orbital Shipyards where spacecraft can be manufactured exclusively for use in Space, negating the need for the heavy shielding and thrust capability required to get through the Earth’s atmosphere and gravity well.
Q: Won’t adding mass from asteroid mining change the Earth’s orbit?
A: No not at all. The Earth acquires mass derived from asteroids and other sources all the time and has been doing this over the entirety of it’s history! Estimates for the mass of material that naturally falls on Earth each year range from 37,000-78,000 tons. The Earth also loses mass due to gasses being stripped from the atmosphere by the Suns solar wind. Even if the AMC brings down 100 tonnes of Gold and Platinum group metals in a year, it’s nothing compared to the tens of thousands of tons that rain down naturally!
Q: Is asteroid mining legal?
A: Yes it is legal in two countries; the US and Luxembourg where commercial entities that have residence in those countries may exploit asteroids for the material found on them. Companies in those countries may extract material from asteroids to sell to the market but do not own the asteroid as a whole.
In the UK there is currently a legal grey area surrounding the extraction of Asteroid Resources as it is still bound by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that doesn’t explicitly say that a private commercial company can exploit asteroids for their resources, however it doesn’t explicitly prevent it either. The AMC wishes to bring a change in UK legislation in line with the United States and Luxembourg to grant Asteroid Miners the legitimate rights to own the resources they extract from Asteroids if they are licensed from the UK. To this end we are currently lobbying for a UK Space Resources Activities Bill which will allow us the legitimate right of operations, supervised by the UK Space Agency.
Q: How big is the APS-1 satellite?
A: The APS-1 is a “6U Cubesat” satellite which is a class of small craft where “1U” measures just 10cm cubed.
The APS-1 at 10x20x30cm – it’s not as big as you would imagine a satellite to be, it would probably fit on your desk!
Q: How does the APS-1 mine asteroids?
A: The APS-1 is a surveying satellite where it detects what target asteroids are made from by analysing light reflected from it. From this we can then detect which asteroids would be viable candidates for mining.
Q: How will you get asteroid mined material back to Earth?
A: Even today there are return vehicles that bring people and cargo back down to Earth from the ISS. We envision that by the time the AMC is successfully mining asteroids and has material available to bring to Earth, there will be sufficient opportunities to bring material down with those return craft.