The asteroid NASA say is about the half the size of a football field that will blow past Earth on Feb 15 could be worth up to $195 billion in metals and propellant.
That's what the scientists at Deep Space Industries, a company that wants to mine these flashing hunks of space materials, thinks the asteroid known as 2012 DA14 is worth - if they could catch it.
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The lack of a rocket and spacecraft that could actually catch such as asteroid of course is a big problem. There are a few other major issues as well. The path of asteroid 2012 DA14 is tilted relative to Earth, requiring too much energy to chase it down for mining. Deep Space believes there are thousands of near Earth asteroids that will be easier to chase down than this one.
Still, according to DSI experts, if 2012 DA14 contains 5% recoverable water, that alone -- in space as rocket fuel -- might be worth as much as $65 billion. If 10% of its mass It could mass which could range from as little as 16,000 tons or as much as one million tons -- is easily recovered iron, nickel and other metals, that could be worth -- in space as building material -- an additional $130 billion.
Once reusable launch vehicles are more readily available, future prices to fall to 20% of today's levels, an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 would still be worth $39 billion, and the cost of launching hardware to retrieve and process it would be much lower, DSI stated.
DSI has said it wants to begin asteroid mining in 2015. That's when the company said it plans to send out a squadron of 55lb cubesats called Fireflies, riding along with already scheduled launches, that will explore near-Earth space for two to six months looking for target asteroids.
In 2016, Deep Space said it will begin launching 70-lb DragonFlies for round-trip visits that bring back samples. The DragonFly expeditions will take two to four years, depending on the target, and will return 60 to 150 lbs of asteroid materiel.
Collecting asteroid metals is only part of the company's plans however. DSI said it has a has a patent-pending technology called the MicroGravity Foundry that can transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. The MicroGravity Foundry is a 3D printer that uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, causing the nickel to be deposited in precise patterns.
A much larger spacecraft known as a Harvestor-class machine could "return thousands of tons per year, producing water, propellant, metals, building materials and shielding for everything we do in space in decades to come. Initial markets will be customers in space, where any substance is very expensive due to the cost of launching from Earth, over time, as costs drop and technologies improve we can then begin "exporting" back to Earth," the company stated.
The company envisions creating outposts that could offer satellite or spacecraft refueling for example. Sending fuel, water, and building materials into high Earth orbit costs at least $10 million per ton, even using new lower-cost launch vehicles just now coming into service, DSI stated.
Planetary says asteroid resources have some unique characteristics that make them especially attractive. Unlike Earth, where heavier metals are close to the core, metals in asteroids are distributed throughout their body, making them easier to extract. Asteroids contain valuable and useful materials like iron, nickel, water and rare platinum group metals, often in significantly higher concentration than found in mines on Earth.
Meanwhile NASA insists NASA added that while 2012 DA14 has no chance of striking Earth, since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet. NASA added 2012 DA14is a fairly typical near-Earth asteroid. It measures some 50 meters wide, neither very large nor very small, and is probably made of stone, as opposed to metal or ice. The space agency estimates that an asteroid like 2012 DA14 flies past Earth, on average, every 40 years, yet actually strikes our planet only every 1200 years or so.
The impact of a 50-meter asteroid is not cataclysmic--unless you happen to be underneath it, NASA said.
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