A private company wants to mine an asteroid. However, which one it should be, remains a secret. Astronomers are worried.
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- A space company wants to extract iridium from an asteroid.
- However, the company did not reveal which asteroid it should be.
- Before there is a new gold rush, costs may have to be cut.
The gold rush is not particularly known for generating a lot of cooperation between people. In California and the Klondike of the nineteenth century, it was mainly lone fighters who tried their luck. Naturally, the other gold prospectors were not told where they were digging because that would only lead to trouble.
The space company AstroForge is now taking a similar stance. It wants to make its way to an asteroid in 2024 to extract the precious platinum metals there. But AstroForge didn't say which asteroid it should be. The argument goes that competition can get ahead of the company.
There are no rules for the space gold rush
The fact that the purpose of a space mission is not known is almost unprecedented. Occasionally, spy satellites are secretly sent into orbit, but journey into deep space has never remained a secret.
Although UN regulations stipulate that countries and companies must disclose the paths of their space probes to avoid collisions, there are no penalties for violations.
Astronomers are worried. Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said the The New York Times said that AstroForge would set a “bad precedent.” “I'm not in favor of having things floating around in the inner solar system without anyone knowing where they are.”
The practicality of space mining is questionable
AstroForge primarily researches iridium. Although this is present in sufficient quantities in the Earth's interior, it is so rare in the Earth's crust that it can actually be accessed. A troy ounce currently costs about $5,000, much more than gold or platinum.
Some asteroids are thought to be remnants of a protoplanet's core from the early days of the solar system. Therefore access to precious metals should be relatively easy. AstroForge is targeting exactly an M-type asteroid. There are about 300 asteroids of this class known near Earth, and thus they are potential targets for AstroForge.
However, the extent of space mining currently remains questionable. NASA recently managed to bring about 250 grams of samples from the asteroid Bennu to Earth for research purposes. However, the entire mission cost $1.6 billion. Iridium is valuable, but not that valuable.
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