COLUMN: Miners cast an eye on final frontier

Asteroids are the new mining frontier.

Asteroids are the new mining frontier.

In April the California-based company, Planetary Resources, unveiled its plans for asteroid mining.

The company estimates there are more than 9,000 near-Earth asteroids. About 1,500 of them are as easily accessible as it is to get to the moon and they could contain iron, nickel, water and platinum.

Future plans call for mapping these asteroids, discovering where they are located around Earth’s orbit and what they are comprised of.  The company has been working since 2010 to start the project, which will work to “expand humanity’s resource base”. More information is available on the company’s website, www.planetaryresources.com.

Private companies are starting to view space as a destination to make profit, but are laws keeping up?

What happens if a company wants to mine an asteroid? Who has jurisdiction?  What happens when you throw private companies into the mix of parties interested in getting a piece of outer space? Who decides what company can mine an asteroid for resources?

According to Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty signed by 126 countries in 1967, including Canada, outer space, including the moon and celestial bodies, are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of occupation or other means. The treaty can be found at www.state.gov.

The Dawn Mission, launched by NASA in September 2007, is currently gathering information on the dwarf planet Vesta, previously classified as an asteroid. It reached Vesta in 2011 and will leave it behind this August. It will make its way to Ceres in February 2015 before finishing its mission in July of that year.

The mission objective, according to NASA’s website, www.nasa.gov, is to discover how size and water determine the evolution of planets. It will gather information on the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where Ceres and Vesta are located.

What happens if research gathered makes scientists change their mind about Ceres again and reclassify it as an asteroid? Will companies fight for the right to mine it?

Ceres, once considered the largest asteroid located in the belt, was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. It is about 930 kilometres in diameter. Through studies with the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists surmised Ceres is composed of a dense rocky core with a mantle of frozen water.

If Ceres is composed of just 25 per cent frozen water, it would have more water than all the fresh water on Earth, according to SpaceFlight Now.

With resources on Earth becoming stressed under the pressure of human development, space might be where people turn to for future expansion.

Mining an asteroid might be better than strip mining a section of Earth, which could mean the destruction of sensitive habitat.  It could mean that forested areas that hide precious resources in the earth could be saved from mining pressure.

People need to be careful how they use resources no matter where they come from, but the idea of mining in space opens up a whole world of possibilities that make me hopeful for the future. We need to learn to conserve, but at the rate the human race is growing, will conservation be enough to meet future needs?

Asteroids might hold the answer. According to the video release from Planetary Resources, there could be an asteroid that contains more platinum than has been mined in all of Earth’s history.

Private companies are now embarking into space for commercial opportunities. On May 22 the SpaceX Dragon of Space Exploration Technologies – also a California company – launched. On May 26 it docked with the International Space Station, delivering 453 kilograms of cargo. It was the first mission for commercial space transportation.

reporter3@nanaimobulletin.com

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