Mining asteroids…for water

A huge NASA-built contraption capturing an asteroid

The human species is hardwired for survival. What’s paramount is having a shot at existence beyond the confines of our dissipating home world. It makes little sense for us to squander opportunity. Luckily for us, the team at Planetary Resources received that memo in advance. At first they responded with rudimentary theory. Now prototypes are designed to withstand the ancient dusts of excavated asteroids.

As it turns out, asteroids are packed with precious goodness. Two of those natural resources are hot listed: platinum-group metals and water. Planetary Resources is inventing technology to mine for those (and others) via near-Earth asteroids.

There are advantages to crafting space machines, which hungrily stuff their cavernous bellies with such metals. Back at home these seemingly indigenous metals are in high demand, but aren’t from Earth. These limited resources are forced deposits left ages ago by happenstance asteroid impacts.

But, water? Really?!

Hominoid star trekking has a prohibitive driver. Outer space is thirsty. Out there we will be too. Since we live on a planet comprised mostly of water, it’s counterintuitive to get it elsewhere. Yet, blasting rockets into space with weighty, watery payloads is problematic. It’s also expensive.

This is where Planetary Resources enters the annals of awesome.

Their company charter mandates the eventual launch of sky piercing vessels. Those will be the first in throngs of robotic mining ships. While in space these ships will catch asteroids and extract their treasures. That’s just the beginning. Besides uses like hydration, water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen. These are the core elements of rocket fuel.

In their vision of the future, Planetary Resources sees asteroid water powering passing space ships via fueling stations. These gas stations are dotted throughout the solar system. This scheme reduces the financial burden of space travel. It simultaneously enables longer, deeper and more expansive exploration of galaxies. And that’s where we’re headed. Precisely because we’re human. Off Earth.

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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