About a decade ago, the prospect of “asteroid mining” saw a huge surge of interest. This was largely due to the emergence of the commercial space sector and the belief that harvesting resources from space would soon become a reality. What was once the stuff of science fiction and futuristic predictions is now being talked about in earnest in the business sector, with many claiming that the future of resource exploitation and industrialization lies in space. Since then, there has been some lull as these hopes failed to materialize in the expected time frame.
However, there is no doubt that human presence in space will necessitate harvesting resources from near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and beyond. In a recent paper, a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China, examined the potential impact Asteroid mining On the International Economy. Based on their detailed assessment which includes market forces, environmental impactAsteroid and Metal Type, and Mining Volume, show how asteroids can be mined in a manner consistent with the Outer Space Treaty (i.e. for the benefit of all mankind).
The research was conducted by He Sun, Junfeng Zhou and Weiping Xu, three researchers from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. They are part of a research group known as GemAI (Stock Modeling with Artificial Intelligence Group) that is exploring the intersection between mathematical modeling, AI, and the social sciences (focusing heavily on equity issues). The paper describing their findings is currently being reviewed for publication in Annual Review of Sociology.
Simply put, the prospect of asteroid mining is reduced to resources and the continued growth of human civilization. There are many reasons cited for this, from ensuring the survival of humanity and life on Earth (having a “reserve site” or becoming “multiplanetary”) to satisfying a basic, ancestral need to explore and “wander”. Then there’s the idea of preventing environmental collapse here on Earth through mining and manufacturing or ushering in a “post-scarcity” society by moving all resource extraction and manufacturing to near-Earth space, Cislunar space, and beyond.
Carl Sagan, the late and great physicist, writer, and science communicator, summed these things up beautifully and connected them to how the two intertwine on an intuitive level. As he says:
“The open road still calls softly, like a childhood song almost forgotten. We invest in faraway places with a certain romance. Gravity, I think, has been finely crafted by natural selection as a key ingredient to our survival. Long summers, mild winters, Rich crops, bountiful game–none of it lasts forever. Your life, the life of your band, or even your race may owe it to a restless few–they are drawn to their passion for hard-to-express or understand, undiscovered lands and new worlds.”
From a physical perspective, the rationale is that human growth is an exponential phenomenon that has been occurring since the Upper Paleolithic period (about 50,000 to 12,000 years ago). The ensuing period since then – the Holocene – has seen a rapid spread of human societies and the growth of their impact on ecosystems around the world. This trend became so severe that by the mid-20th century, geologists began referring to the current era as the Anthropocene, in which humanity is the single largest driver of environmental changes on the planet.
The belief that the future of humanity lies in space has large numbers of followers today, thanks in large part to the rise of the commercial space industry (aka NewSpace). Another factor is the constant pressure to ensure there are enough resources to meet the needs of a growing population, along with the effects of climate change. As we approach the middle of the 21st century, the greatest challenge will be providing for the estimated 10 billion people worldwide amid the effects of climate change. The argument goes that if our future is to be secured, then resources from outside the world must be harnessed.
He Sun explained to Universe Today via email that demand for minerals is a key factor in ensuring resource abundance:
“Because the total amount of minerals on the planet is limited, the continuous progress in resource recovery technology cannot fundamentally solve the problem of mineral depletion. In this context, the importance of asteroid mining is becoming more and more obvious. Large asteroid mining companies (including Space X and Blue Origin and others that already have a presence in this field) can create hostile competition. To prevent the uncontrolled expansion of capital and related industrial monopoly, it is necessary for the United Nations to establish relevant regulations.”
To prevent asteroid mining and the future space economy from becoming a “Wild West” type situation, there are many calls for laws to be drafted that can prevent fierce competition and ensure mineral wealth is used for the benefit of all mankind. This is in line with the Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 between the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, which were the most influential players in space at the time. The treaty has since been signed and ratified by 112 countries (as of February 2022) and remains the most important space legislation ever passed.
According to NASA, the Outer Space Treaty is the inspiration for the Artemis Accords, a set of principles and best practices that govern international partnerships to advance the Artemis Program. As stated in Section I – Purpose and Scope, the agreements “are intended to increase the safety of operations, reduce uncertainty, and promote sustainable and beneficial use of space for all mankind.” The treaty served as the background for the team’s analysis, says Hee Son:
“On the one hand, this reflects the UN’s concern about asteroid mining (the important value of asteroid rare-earth minerals, and the growing space power of companies and national space agencies),” he said. On the other hand, our paper advances [the UN] With improved programmatic policies to prevent negative impacts on global equity from potential scenarios such as monopolies, resource curses, etc.”
He Sun and colleagues began their analysis with an assessment of the global situation and the space exploration capabilities of various countries. They then focused on creating a model that would measure the impact of space mining on global justice and crafting policies that would ensure (as far as possible) all people shared the benefits. The first step was to calculate the Unified Equity Index (UEI) for each country, which consists of an analysis of six factors: economy, education, science and technology, health, environment, and social stability.
In short, they looked at how a country’s UEI is affected by things like wealth inequality (Gini coefficient), gross domestic product (GDP), unemployment, average level of education, average number of patents and research expenditures, and life expectancy. and health outcomes, environmental issues, and crime rates. From this, they obtained the stock index for the entire world based on each country’s UEI entropy. This led them to the second step, in which the impact of asteroid mining was simulated based on the types of asteroids being mined.
This was based on three broad categories that scientists use to classify asteroids: C-type, S-type, and M-type. While C-type asteroids (chondrites) – the most common – contain large amounts of carbon and are composed primarily of clay and silicate rock, asteroids are composed of Type S (“rocky”) are silicate and metallic minerals (nickel and iron), and M types are mostly metallic. They also looked at the participating entities (private, national, international) and the values of the minerals changing over time.
He Sun said: “In addition, we determine the impact of mining and equity through a gray correlation matrix derived from the mineral development data of a typical country (the United States) over the past 50 years with data from these indices. This gray correlation matrix is used as a bridge for future impacts on global stocks. We use these gray correlation coefficients, the magnitude of future asteroid mining plans for each entity, and the change in equity in 20 countries over time to predict the impact of asteroid mining on global stocks in the coming decades.”
In particular, their model looked at how the value of minerals might change between 2025 and 2085, coinciding with the projected growth of asteroid mining in this century. Ultimately, their model showed that without regulation, the gap between entities with space competitiveness (countries with space programs, companies with advanced space capabilities) and other entities would increase exponentially, and equality within nations would become more precarious. To that end, they made some specific recommendations.
“We propose that the UN add mining information policy, mineral legacy policy, mutual assistance policy, antitrust policy, and transaction routing policy to the updated version of the Outer Space Treaty,” He Sun said. “There are vast, unimaginable resources in space, and if we don’t exploit and distribute them wisely, the consequences will be dire.”
Of course, He Sun and colleagues make these recommendations with the caveat that asteroid mining remains a hypothetical venture, mainly because the associated costs are still prohibitive. There is a lot of work to be done before it becomes an industry that promises to take resource extraction into space and usher in a “post-scarcity” economy. This includes a further reduction in launch costs, building infrastructure in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and wherever else we intend to drill, and the ability to process minerals in space inexpensively.
However, there is no doubt that the possibility of an asteroid Mining approaching, and there are many legal, ethical, and economic questions that need to be addressed beforehand. Like many aspects of humanity’s future in space, these efforts aim to prevent a “freedom for all” that could turn space into the next scramble for resources, territory, and imperial projects. if outer space To be for all of humanity, we need to take the necessary steps to ensure that it is not claimed and exploited for the benefit of the few.
He Sun et al., Research on the impact of asteroid mining on global stocks, arXiv (2022). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2211.02023
the universe today
the quoteWhat will asteroid mining do to the world economy? (2022, November 17) Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-asteroid-world-economy.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.