Asteroid mining?! Can this be profitable?!

Apparently the Google guys and director James Cameron, who presumably know some things about money, think it can be . . . And they’re talking about snagging asteroids that pass near Earth, not going out to the Belt . . . Still, given the enormous costs of getting anything from Earth to space or from space to Earth, wouldn’t you lose money even if all the asteroids you find are solid gold?!

I had the same reaction-given the immense costs of spaceflight, it is hard to believe that such a project could be profitable. In the first place, aren’t asteroids likely to be mostly silicate rock?
It would be cheaper to process seawater to extract the materials. There is a mountain of high-grade iron ore-on Baffin Island, in the Canadian Arctic-and it isn’t operating (the price of iron is too low). Imagine mining on asteroids millions of miles away.
I am skeptical.

Before the naysayer types infest the thread, I’ll just say that it could be done, and it makes sense to go after NEO’s instead of going to the asteroid belt because it takes a lot less energy. I am not in a position to read the link, but IIRC they are talking about sending out automated robotic explorers to look over the various close orbit asteroids and search for particularly rich ones. At that point they think they will have a lift system that costs less than today, so it might be feasible. Again, from memory, they will be looking for more than just metals…they want to find water ice as well, with the concept of being a water refueling station for future missions (thus you wouldn’t need to go to the large expense of having to lift water out of Earths gravity well).

Lots of IIRCs here, but from memory there are asteroids that are really, really rich in water ice and rare metals that could be profitable depending on your lift and infrastructure costs. I don’t think they are talking about human miners here, but maybe that’s changed.


Isn’t there a big asteroid made of gold out there? I don’t know where I heard this, but that could make it worthwhile.

Gold probably wouldn’t be worth it. Platinum maybe. But IIRC the big money is in large quantities of rarer metals that only come from asteroids…and that water which would be a bonus, assuming they could package it up and assuming anyone ever has a major manned space presence and needs it.

It’s a cool idea…like Bigelow’s space structures…I hope it works. I think it’s something that has huge potential and something that mankind needs, since I think it’s our duty to expand Earth life off this ball of mud instead of having all the eggs in this one basket.


My opinion: this isn’t about making a profit (at least that’s not the primary goal), this is about a bunch of dudes who genuinely, literally, have more money than they know what to do with, and they’re inspired by space exploration. And I think it’s great- governments do not seem to be that intersted in space right now… if obscenely rich people want to pick up the slack, I’m all for it.

They don’t have to make a profit for this to be a success- they just have to do some really cool stuff. I think if I had 10 billion dollars, I might try to do something like this too.

Just FYI: Currently, the price of gold per ounce is greater than the price of platinum, although that it is likely to be temporary.

I think some folks might be confusing 2 things. Even if gold bars were on the asteroids it would likely not be profitable to bring them back to the Earths surface. However, if you need material X in low Earth orbit to build some stuff or do some shit, it may be cheaper to bring it from an asteroid than to launch it from the surface of the Earth.

So, lets say some guy wants to do some stuff in low Earth orbit. He need a gallon of water to do it. It cost him 10,000 dollars to ship it up from the Earth’s surface. Now, Asteriod Miners Inc (a LLC) tells you he can give it to you for only 8,000 dollars ( but it only cost 6k to go get it, pay for everyone and everything ect ect). “Some guy” jumps on that shit and its a win win.

One should note there are fair number of asteroids (about a thousand IIRC) that are easier to get to energy wise than the moon (and landing a taking off of them is probably an non event compared to landing and taking off of a surface with significant gravity).

Not profitable, not practical, probably more about low cost ‘we’re visionary’ PR, and ‘isnt this neat’ for rich people factors than anything else.

It wasn’t really profitable to send expeditions to the new world for quite a while either, but eventually they worked out. If you were doing a cost to benefit analysis in the late 15th century on European exploration you’d probably say ‘Not profitable, not practical, probably more about low cost ‘we’re visionary’ PR, and ‘isnt this neat’ for rich people factors than anything else’, and you would be right…in late 15th century Europe. Yeah, they probably aren’t going to be successful, which is why they are in the exploratory phase of this. If you think we’ll never have extended manned missions anywhere in the solar system then you are probably right…it probably isn’t going to ever be cost effective to do stuff like this. If you think that we WILL have manned missions to the moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond, however, and if you think that by actually developing technologies for space flight it will lower costs for future space flight then it might be profitable in the future. Sort of like how traveling to the new world pushed European sea going technologies and eventually made them more cost effective, faster and more economical and reliable.

To me, a lot of folks are taking a very 15th century view of space travel, exploration and exploitation, as if because it’s not cost effective right this minute that means it never will be. I think the fact that more and more private companies are seriously looking at space exploitation is a good indication that this view is pretty short sighted. Guess we’ll see. I think the US is missing the boat by not really pushing our manned (and unmanned) space exploration when we had/have the chance to do so.


But the Ming Court was wiser. And that is how the Golden Mountain and all our great Eastern Kingdom came to be colonized by the illustrious Zheng He.

How did that work out for them and their descendents compared to the Europeans? :stuck_out_tongue: The Chinese at one time put together vast exploration fleets…then, pretty much abandoned them, mainly due to the same sorts of cost to benefit analysis I see from folks opposed to space exploitation. It’s not cost effective…it’s silly…it’s just a rich mans folly…can’t be done.


Heh, for a moment I thought you were referring to the court of Ming… the Merciless. This asteroid mining could be a good plot for a Flash Gordon adventure. :slight_smile:

Here’s an article from Forbes about how they could make money using the futures markets.

According to the article some of the things they might mine are worth $50-$150 million per ton, so if they can find asteroids that have high levels of these metals it might be profitable even without the futures market.

From Wikipedia:

I think for $20 trillion dollars we could drag an asteroid into earth orbit, then drop it on Texas. Or we could find a way to bring it to earth intact and use the money to pave over Texas. Either way, win-win. The economics sound very good.

I’m not sure if this New Scientist article is viewable by non-subscribers, but it says in part:

The article acknowledges that your standard asteroid is uneconomic to reach and harvest from, but the increasing numbers of mini-moons being discovered could change that:

Wait a tick, doesn’t the act of bringing such quantities of the metal to the earth could cause prices to drop so fast as to possibly cause a catastrophe for the markets of those metals?

IIRC some sci-fi tales in the past made this “twist” at the end, but that is fiction; in reality, how much more metal brought in could cause bad results for earth’s economy?

And in the 15th Century with the technology available, it was true. And even more true for the Vikings who came before. And we cant hope for the equivalent of America to be found in between to save our bacon like it did for Columbus.

Im not saying it will never ever be worth doing, or ever profitable. But right now, absent some concrete data, my bets on the above with the current effort inside meaningful time frames. I hope Im wrong, it was certainly a childhood dream to see real space travel happen in my lifetime.


It’s a good vision, Given the history of technological advancements. sounds like a doable thing
Imagine how the idea of “Deep sea grilling” would have sounded like in17 th century. It’s the same thing.