Asteroid Mining: Facts, Figures

If a new company has its way, mining asteroids has the potential to add "trillions of dollars to the global GDP." Technology Review states a new company called Planetary Resources will combine aspects of space exploration and natural resources. Its mission will be outlined in a press conference to be held Tuesday, April 24, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Space.com relates the new company has the backing of well-known names such as film director James Cameron, Ross Perot Jr. and Google's Larry Page.

Where are asteroids located?

NASA estimates there are tens of millions of asteroids in between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Most of these objects are between 186 million to 370 million miles from Earth. Some objects get closer to the Earth and are called near-Earth objects. NASA has cataloged more than 8,800 of these asteroids to date. Asteroids are separated by hundreds of thousands of miles between Mars and Jupiter. The mass of all of these minor planets combined is thought to be less than that of Earth's moon.

How large are asteroids?

Asteroids, also called minor planets, range in size from 600 miles across to as small as a pebble. Probes such as the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous in 1997 determined asteroids can be large enough to have craters miles across. The rocky objects are often irregular in shape and have jagged edges from impacted other objects.

What are asteroids made of?

There are three main classifications of asteroids based upon their brightness. Scientists also use what is called absorption spectra to determine the chemical makeup of astronomical bodies. C-type asteroids are mostly made of carbon. S-types are mostly made of silicon. M-types have heavier metals such as nickel and iron. The most common of these asteroids is believed to C-type asteroids.

Is there mineral wealth in asteroids?

NASA predicted in 1996 the mineral wealth in asteroids would be around $100 billion for every human on the planet. Metals can be used to build space colonies. Water from comets can be used as fuel and for human consumption. At this point, mining asteroids is out of reach of current human technology. Mining resources outside of our own planet will save natural resources and the environment on Earth.

How will humans get to asteroids?

The technology for humans to get to asteroids is still in the design phase. Space.com purports President Barack Obama set a long-range goal for NASA to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich believes in setting aside federal money to encourage private industries to develop space technologies.

What will the Planetary Resources press conference reveal?

CNET states the press conference held in Seattle will be livestreamed on the Internet starting at 10:30 a.m. PT. The museum's website reveals the organization has set aside four hours of time for an event called "The Future of Space."

William Browning is a research librarian.