The Asia Miner

JUL-SEP 2017

The ASIA Miner - Reporting Important Issues to Mining Companies in the Asia Pacific Region

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10 | ASIA Miner | Volume 14 • Issue 3 | 2017 AS mining of resources gets more difficult, riskier and expensive, forward thinking companies like Planetary Resources are looking further afield – beyond the bottom of the ocean and the far reaches of Antarctica, into space. It's not that Planetary Resources only wants to mine minerals such as platinum or nickel and bring them back to Earth, although this is possible and becoming increasingly feasible, it wants to mine the most essential ingredient to the sustaining of life – water. H 2 O can be extracted from many asteroids in a fairly simple pro- cess and then used in its natural form for drinking, protecting hu- mans from cosmic radiation and, most importantly, for the produc- tion of rocket fuel. The latter is the focus of Planetary Resources' work, according to the US-based company's CEO Chris Lewicki, who says water can be the fuel of space. "Water is pretty simple stuff but in space, you can't get enough of it. It's useful for supporting life but you can also turn it into rocket fuel to refuel spacecraft," he says. "A modestly sized asteroid about 75 metres across can have enough components of rocket fuel to have fueled the entire US space shuttle program – all 135 launches. This is just one object of about 60 million in the Solar System." This process makes the prospect of living, working, holidaying and travelling in space much more feasible and a lot less expensive. The work of Planetary Resources and others in this niche area was given credence by a recent report from banker Goldman Sachs, which explains, "Space mining could be more realistic than perceived." It also states: "Asteroid mining could quickly supply an emerging on-orbit manufacturing economy with nearly all the raw materials needed." The company's plan has also been boosted by the tiny European country of Luxembourg, which last November invested US$27.7 million to help the company accomplish its goal of launching its asteroid prospecting system into space by 2020. This forms part of Luxembourg's $225 million investment in asteroid mining initia- tives, which has seen Planetary Resources establish an office in the country. Space travel will be the norm Chris Lewicki says as life becomes more complicated and more high-tech, change has never been more rapid and greater space use is inevitable. The CEO, who is a former flight director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was responsible for landing rovers on Mars, says private companies are now playing greater roles in this process, advancing work that was once just the domain of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the US and Russian govern- ments. He says the industries that drive commerce on Earth - energy, minerals, construction, transportation, tourism and hospitality - are beginning to see that space is not a stand-alone industry, it is a new medium to conduct business and generate revenue, and some companies realise there will be economic opportunities. "Amazon's Jeff Bezos is an example. He is investing US$1 billion into his company Blue Origin because he sees a future in his lifetime of millions of people living and working in space. "This is exciting but also presents supply chain problems, which Planetary Resources believes it can help solve," Chris Lewicki says. "There are two views of the future. One is the rather closed view that this is all we have, it is all there will ever be and we are stuck on this nice planet, for which we have to take great care. However, we have crossed continents and oceans, taken to the air and to space, so I prefer the more open view that we have developed technology to do all these things, and this continues into new frontiers. Space – the next frontier of mining Throughout the ages, mining has faced and met the challenges thrown up by new frontiers that have been necessary to exploit due to decreasing resources. With deep-sea mining of oil and gas commonplace and exploitation of seabed mineral resources imminent, the next frontier is space. The Moon and Mars might seem the obvious choices but an easier option is the asteroids where there is no gravity, and this is the goal of Planetary Resources, whose founder and CEO Chris Lewicki spoke to The ASIA Miner's editor John Miller. There are thousands of asteroids in the Solar System that have potential to be mined for water and/or minerals. A representation of how prospecting could be carried out on an asteroid.

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