$700 Quintillion Asteroid Ignites Space Mining Gold Rush Between Mars and Jupiter
The asteroid Psyche 16 is a very special space rock: it's almost entirely made of metal, including iron, nickel, and gold, which has led astronomers to believe that it was originally the core of a planet. It's also estimated to be worth around $700 quintillion—enough to give each of the 7.6 billion people on Earth about $92 billion each. You read that correctly—$92 billion each. This asteroid has the potential to make us all richer than the Pharaohs—or, you know, crash the world economy.
Psyche 16 lies between Mars and Jupiter, and is already the target of a NASA mission, scheduled to launch in 2022. That mission will explore the history and composition of the asteroid, but the question on everyone's mind is when we can start collecting ore from it. It turns out that will take a bit longer—according to Professor John Zarnecki, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society:
"The timeline for space mining is the $64,000 question. My opinion is probably 25 years for a 'proof of concept' set-up, and 50 years for a commercial start. But there are so many uncertainties—mostly based around economics and the progress of space technology."
Zarnecki speculates that asteroid mining will gain momentum once rare metals start to run out, especially those used in microelectronics and mobile phones.
As soon as the prices of those metals reach unsustainable heights, asteroid mining will start to make sense economically.
We've already noted that Luxembourg is preparing to make itself a haven for European asteroid mining companies, while private space companies across the world garnered about $4 billion in new investments last year.
One of these space exploration companies, Deep Space Industries, is working on new technology to make asteroid mining feasible, but the first step will probably look like the Asteroid Touring Nanosatellite Fleet proposed earlier this year: a group of small satellites that scout out different areas for mining and pave the way for another wave of robots to carry out the actual mining and collection.
Between Psyche 16's untold wealth, Elon Musk's growing space empire, and China's plans to dominate space in the coming decades, it looks like we're poised to enter a new space age—or Blade Runner's dystopian future.