Enticing space rocks
As private companiesprepare for a developing space mining industry, the US space agency NASA announced in August it plans to launch a spacecraft in 2016 in an effort to pave the way for future asteroid mining expeditions.
“The mission will be a proof-of-concept — can you go to an asteroid, get material and bring it back to Earth?” says Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona in Tucson, principal investigator of NASA’s mission.
The spacecraft will travel through the solar system for two years and begin a yearlong study of asteroid Bennu, which has an average diameter of around 500 metres. After studying the asteroid for a year, the spacecraft will return to Earth with a surface sample for further scientific study.
“Next, people will have to industrialize it so that the economy works out, so for the recoverable value in any given asteroid, you’re spending half that to bring it back,” Lauretta says.