Less than a century ago, man first flew into space. Today, there are plans for colonies on Mars, settlements on the Moon, and asteroid drilling to extract resources. How expedient it is and what it will give the planet - in our material.
On June 30, 1908, one of the most significant collisions of the Earth with an asteroid took place. A cosmic boulder, 60 to 190 meters in size, exploded in the atmosphere over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, destroying more than two thousand square kilometers of forest. Fortunately, he fell far enough from human settlements. If the asteroid arrived 6.5 hours later, it would fall on Berlin and change the course of history. Now, June 30 is celebrated annually as International Asteroid Day.
And while today we can reflect on what kind of destruction rocks from space can bring, recent technological developments have given humanity the opportunity to look at asteroids as a valuable source for mining minerals - and not only.
So, already two companies intend to become the best in the asteroid drilling industry - Planetary Resources in Washington state and Deep Space Industries in California.
In addition, Luxembourg has recently announced itself, which some call the Silicon Valley for drilling asteroids. Local authorities have pledged to spend at least $ 230 million to support asteroid drilling companies if they open offices in the country.
The thing is that with the help of such enterprises, you can earn much more money. For example, NASA intends to probe the asteroid (16) Psyche, located in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. The only iron that can be mined on it is estimated at 10 thousand quadrillion dollars. For comparison: according to the CIA, in principle, only about $ 80 trillion circulates on the planet.
The value of the minerals contained in asteroids is so great that experts have expressed concern that their extraction could collapse commodity prices and lead the world economy to collapse.
You might be wondering how feasible it is to mine minerals from asteroids, given the incredible amounts of fuel required for space missions and the amount of minerals that spacecraft can bring back to Earth?
Now there are no answers to these questions, but we hope that they will appear with the development of technologies necessary for the space industry. Nevertheless, the mineral value of asteroids is undeniable.
The co-founder of Planetary Resources commented on the situation as follows: “There are many rare metals and minerals on Earth present in almost infinite quantities in space. With increasing access to these materials, we can expect not only lower prices for everything from microelectronics to energy storage, but also the emergence of new applications for these elements."
The future mining industry in space has also received financial and information support from many prominent people. They include Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft's Charles Simonyi, director James Cameron, and investors Ram Sriram and Ross Perot Jr.
According to The Guardian, in April 2017, Goldman Sachs sent out a letter to customers that drilling asteroids could be more realistic than it sounds, with dropping launch prices and more minerals in space rocks.
Perhaps the biggest challenge this industry has faced is creating legal restrictions on the ownership of resources outside of our planet. Are these products owned by private companies or investors? Maybe it is generally worth following the Outer Space Treaty and classifying asteroids as the property of all mankind, like the transboundary waters of the ocean?
And although countries such as the United States and Luxembourg have passed bills granting companies rights to resources they mine on asteroids or other celestial bodies, there is no international agreement on this issue yet. Experts from different countries oppose individual countries granting the right to extract minerals in space to private organizations.
To resolve this issue, it is necessary to revisit the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. This agreement, ratified by nearly 100 countries, prohibits any nation from claiming celestial bodies or using them for military purposes.
Although the treaty does not contain a word about asteroid drilling, some states - for example Belgium, Brazil and Russia - oppose this idea, since the process requires "national appropriation" of asteroids, which, in turn, is prohibited by the treaty. As a result, it turns out that for the start of this industry it is necessary to develop some kind of regulatory body that will monitor the global distribution of benefits from the extraction of minerals and metals from asteroids before private individuals join.
In December 2014, the International Institute of Air and Space Law established the Hague Working Group on Space Resources Management to resolve conflicts between obligations under the Outer Space Treaty and individual countries. The goal of the working group is to recommend to the UN a strict space law that will take into account space resource extraction.
In September 2017, the working group circulated the "Draft guidelines for the development of a legal regime for mining in space."
He calls for the sharing of benefits arising from the use of space resources, as well as the establishment of an international fund for the extraction of resources in space. It also mentions that the distribution of the financial benefit is optional and the operators should share it, but again, it is not necessary.
Considering the fact that private companies are literally itching their hands, just to start mining on asteroids as soon as possible, we can say that the moment has come when international laws supporting the fair use of resources on asteroids should be updated.
One thing can be said with certainty: as soon as all laws are approved and adopted at the global level, mining on asteroids will open up new opportunities not only for companies that will send their missions to celestial bodies, but for all of humanity. Of course, this will be a serious shake-up for the long-term foundations: the markets will collapse, something will depreciate, the precious will become ordinary, but for humanity this will become a new and surprising frontier.