What is Asteroid Extraction?

Asteroid extraction refers to the extraction of minerals and other raw materials from minor planets and asteroids in outer space. Some of the raw materials found during asteroid extraction include: silver, gold, platinum, rhodium, nickel, aluminum, manganese, iron and cobalt (among others). Minerals and other materials extracted in space could be used in space as rocket propellant or as building materials.Furthermore, these materials can also be sent to Earth for use and sale. Currently, however, the cost of mining asteroids and transporting materials is prohibiting this practice. The techniques are still under development and potential mining sites are still being researched. The demand for asteroid extraction continues to grow as natural resources on Earth become increasingly scarce.

Choose asteroids for mines

One of the most important factors that scientists must determine is how to select the correct asteroid or minor planet for extraction. Travel time and speed change are two factors that play an important role in this decision. The asteroids closest to the Earth were selected for the first experimental extraction attempts. The materials extracted from these early asteroids will be used in space bases to reduce the cost of transporting objects into the Earth’s orbit.

The main types of asteroids 3 identified as potential mining sites include: Type C, type S, and M-type :

  • Type C asteroids contain a high amount of water, which could help reduce the cost of a mining mission. These asteroids also have high levels of phosphorus and organic carbon, which are needed to produce fertilizers.
  • Type S asteroids do not contain much water; however, they are more likely to have a wide variety of minerals for extraction. For example, a small asteroid can supply 1,433 million pounds of metal, such as nickel or cobalt, with 110 pounds of this precious metal, such as gold or platinum. This variety would help compensate for the increased cost of mining the asteroid.
  • Type M asteroids are much more difficult to find, however, they retain 10 times the amount of metal found in an S type asteroid.

Regulation of mining of asteroids

As with all mining efforts (especially those of an international nature), there are some regulations that could help guide the management of asteroid mineral resources and safety issues. The United Nations Office for External Space Affairs has established five international space treaties and five declarations that help define the international space law. These legal documents address topics such as freedom to explore, arms control, liability for damage, rescue of astronauts, recording of space activities and conflict negotiations. The outer space is considered a neutral territory that does not belong to any specific country.

Both the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Agreement deal with the problem of asteroid extraction. Both of these legal documents allow the extraction and private ownership of the extracted natural resources. Of these two treaties, the Outer Space Treaty is more widely accepted and agreed than the Moon Agreement. The Outer Space Treaty was promulgated in 1967 after a decade of international discussions among 100 countries. This document sets out the idea that space belongs to all humanity and that all countries have the right to explore and use materials from space as long as it benefits humanity.


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