The article below is my first assignment I submitted to the Commercial Space Executive Leadership Course I am on.
My Important truth that few people agree with me is that space mining will become a major industry in the next few decades.
“But we already struggle so much with mining on earth. Why would we want to try mining on the moon / Mars / asteroids?” This is a much too common response. Or worse yet, “Just watch out for the blue Avatar people.”
To me it is dead obvious: if you want to sustain people on Mars, they need to live off the land as much as possible. They can’t be perpetually tethered to Earth for water, oxygen, fuel and building materials. It borders on ridiculous to imagine a future where mankind is spread over the solar system, and even the orbital station around Neptune imports everything from earth. Talk about draining the resources of our planet!
I realise that maybe I use the term “mining” a bit loosely. I’m referring to any kind of material gathering, with or without beneficiation, for any kind of utilization. Early stages would be very crude utilization close to where the material has been gathered from. It could be as simple as gathering lunar regolith to shield an experiment from radiation and micro-meteorites. This is what people don’t think about intuitively. When you talk mining, they think of massive machines hauling millions of tonnes of material to be processed, concentrated and refined; and then you still only have a raw material to be turned into a product.
We need to seriously think about utilizing space resource if we want human space exploration to thrive. Going to Mars could be much easier if you had refuelling stations everywhere between here and there. The material for producing this fuel is available on the moon, Mars, and Mars’ moons. Jim Keravala (a fellow student to this course) told me that the economic impact of such depots would be similar (in concept, not magnitude) to the construction of railroads over the US. I fully agree with him, and believe there are very juicy business opportunities to be explored in this arena.
However, (and here is where I agree with many of the general population), what do we do NOW? Will we get major mining houses to invest in space mining, or even just space in general? They have shareholders and they need return on investment. Even when they develop technologies there needs to be a prospect of that improving their business in the next couple of years. Is it even worth fighting that fight before we have established a space demand for the space materials?
In short: “No”. I don’t think we’ll convince the mining industry to invest purely in space and / or space mining for the sake of one day being in the lead. I believe the best way to currently make a business out of combining space and mining, is a spin-off-spin-in technology development approach. We need to 1) see what mining technologies need to be developed for space mining, 2) understand how those technologies could benefit the mining industry, 3) sell that benefit to the mining industry so they will help develop the technology and 4) be one step closer to space mining while being commercially sustained.