This Fleet of Nanosatellites Could Revolutionize Asteroid Mining

Thursday, 14 December 2017 - 12:50PM
Technology
Space
Thursday, 14 December 2017 - 12:50PM
This Fleet of Nanosatellites Could Revolutionize Asteroid Mining
Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Between Luxembourg's plans to seize the title of "Asteroid-Mining Capital of the World" and China's plans to start mining those rocky, potato-shaped goldmines by 2045, asteroids are probably going to be this century's most lucrative investment.

The only problems are that space is big, asteroids are far away, and launching old-timey prospectors into space with pans and pickaxes isn't ideal.

Instead, a group of European scientists has proposed creating a fleet of 50 nanosatellites to head into space, catalog six or seven asteroids each, then return with the data. That's more than 300 asteroids in the span of just three years.

Despite all the resources spent making sure that asteroids don't kill all life of Earth, not much is known about them.

"Since the number of targets is large, the mission is bound to produce a large number of outcomes. We still do not know so much about the small bodies of our Solar System, because the number of bodies is large and only small number of them has thus far been studied at close range," said Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Each satellite will be equipped with a tiny telescope (about 1.57 inches long) and a spectrometer, which will allow the satellites to determine the mineral composition of asteroids just by examining the light reflected by or emitted from them. They'll also be equipped with "E-Sails" that allow them to ride on solar wind.

NASA's already developing a solar sail design for a long-range satellite (watch the video here to learn more about how E-Sails work).
 
The entire project is projected to cost around $70 million and would take about seven years for the first demo flight to get into space.

From there, it would take about five years for the fleet to leave Earth and start surveying asteroids.

Despite the seemingly hefty price tag, the "Asteroid Touring Nanosat Fleet" (as its called) is actually one of the more economical options for exploring nearby asteroids.

In any case, NASA estimates that of the two million asteroids floating around, each one contains about $1 billion worth of mineral wealth, especially platinum.

Whoever can pull off asteroid mining first will see a very, very hefty windfall.

Here's Neil DeGrasse Tyson's thoughts on mining asteroids:



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This Fleet of Nanosatellites Could Revolutionize Asteroid Mining
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