Monday, July 20, 2015

Asteroid Mining Wars

As per the linked Forbes article concerning an asteroid with a platinum core that space entrepreneurs would love to mine (how it is known the asteroid has a platinum core is unmentioned in the article, but another source says it's from spectrometer readings), there are a number of asteroids that fly relatively near the Planet Earth which have an estimated value far above what it would cost to travel into space to capture them and bring them back to Earth. The object just referenced, Asteroid 2011 UW158, has an estimated value between $300 billion and $5.6 trillion dollars. That would be 5600000000000 US dollars at estimated most.  

Planet Earth has limited amounts of certain rare metals like platinum. Though of course gaining a massive new supply of platinum from outer space would tend to flood the platinum market and reduce the overall selling price of this precious metal. This flooding effect would also be true from diamonds or other items obtained from outer space, at least to a degree. Still, it is nevertheless true that there is real treasure to be gained in outer space and that some of it passes close enough to Earth that recovering it would be of a similar technical difficulty to sending a man to the moon.

In other words, the technology required to mine near-Earth asteroids isn't anything new or exotic; it lies firmly with the realm of things that either have already been accomplished or are well-understood. And it could be hugely profitable.

And it happens to be the case that whenever an activity is hugely profitable, it's something human beings will fight over. Perhaps the fight would take the form of the corporate competition struggle, with Earth-based companies fiercely trying (in a metaphorical sense) to outfox one another to be the first to capture asteroids like these and bring them home.

Perhaps, if we imagine Earth having a somewhat different history than it has had (or a somewhat unexpected future) asteroid minding would be something space-exploring nations would fight over. Imagine the Soviet Union had not collapsed and NASA had sill received Apollo era funding. It's easy enough to see these two space powers competing over very valuable near-Earth asteroids. Under some circumstances, such competition could degenerate into a shooting war.

Perhaps the most interesting take on stories set in stiff competition for the resources represented by these asteroids would start with having corporations lead the way. But then adjust the setting so that even though the corporations are guided by international law in their behavior on Planet Earth, out in outer space, on asteroids in which it would be possible to jam outbound communications, where no one on Earth can see what is really going on, corporate methodology would rely on actual fighting, shooting competitors on sight or sabotaging them in dangerous ways, companies fiercely trying (in the non-metaphorical sense) to outdo one another in order to capture these asteroids. While all of them would try to keep the fighting a secret the inhabitants of the Earth would know nothing about...

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