With advances in space technology, we’re on the edge of the next gold rush—but not on Earth. Based on recent scientific and engineering breakthroughs and commercial interests, off-Earth mining is expected to begin in the next decade.
The motivation for off-Earth mining is multifaceted: access to an unlimited wealth of valuable space resources, the spirit of discovering new planets and the development of spin-off technologies to be used back on Earth.
However, off-Earth mining has many challenges: there are geological uncertainties—we don’t know exactly where the water is and how much there is; infrastructural needs such as landing pads; social considerations—people have a strong emotional attachment to the moon; and financial constraints, with high risk but high potential return.
Looking toward the future, the mining industry is working towards zero-entry mines (with no human access required) and invisible mines (low-impact, reduced-footprint mining sites) to reduce the effect on the environment, improve energy efficiency and achieve decarbonization.
Improved social acceptance and reputation are also critical for the mining industry’s future. The space resources industry is motivated by colonization and creating a market for its product.
The mining and space sectors both thrive in challenging environments, making collaboration essential. They can mutually benefit, with the mining sector gaining from systems engineering and autonomous technology, while space can leverage operational experience and market creation.
The path ahead is loaded with uncertainties, but merging mining knowledge with space exploration will be paramount in the years ahead.
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