It’s sounds unlikely, perhaps more for publicity than a real degree but the Colorado School of Mines is extremely serious with it’s new program. It’s called Space Resources, but it effectively offers the chance for post-graduates to study a course on the various aspects of space mining.
The course is believed to be the first of it’s kind in the world and will focus on the logistics of extracting and using the various materials we can expect to mine from space rocks such as asteroids or from the moon. The course is already running and it’s expected to become increasingly popular with mining students. The program will cover all sorts of areas linked with the subject including science, economics and of course policies which may effect space exploration.
It’s not only mining students who will be expected to consider the course. The directors believe that many engineers and planetary scientists will gain benefit from studying the course too. Indeed the college is hoping to expand it’s students beyond the current range which is those studying specifically mining. There is also the question of how space mining will take place and there will almost certainly be a large robotics component.
The mining of space resources is expected to be a huge growth area in the decades to come. Indeed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson famously suggested that the first trillionaire in the world would be the person who exploits the natural resources on asteroids. It is highly likely that most asteroids for example will be full of precious metals like platinum and gold plus valuable resources like iron and nickel.
One asteroid which is a future target of NASA dubbed 16 Psyche which is orbiting the Sun in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is estimated to contain minerals and resources of around $10,000 quadrillion. Indeed the number is so large some economists have suggested that the global economy would be overloaded if it were ever retrieved. Of course it would require someone figuring out how to get it to Earth without crashing it into the surface.
It’s easy to get a little distracted about these figures and the potential of mining asteroids. After all many of us have grown up with a raft of disaster movies which you can still find on Netflix, access here if needed. Most of these involve them crashing into the Earth and causing untold damage or even human extinction. Yet it’s not all about blockbuster movies and becoming rich.
Lots of people think that being able to harvest resources in space, especially water is essential in expanding the human race’s space exploration efforts. After all there’s only so far you can travel if you have to carry your fuel and resources with you. However if you can gain the ability to harvest this fuel, many suspect that water could be refined into rocket fuel, then you expand your range almost indefinitely.
There’s plenty of frozen water to be found in space in a variety of forms. Including on the polar tips of the moon, on asteroids and many other locations. That doesn’t mean that the moon is an easier option though, fighting the gravitational field of the moon could actually be harder than coping with the speeds of an asteroid surprisingly. These considerations and others are often covered by the wonderful science programs you can find on the BBC. You can even access them from abroad using this free trial method – http://bbciplayerabroad.co.uk/free-trial-of-bbc-iplayer-in-australia/, which anyone can use for nothing for 14 days.
It’s all fascinating stuff and could very well become a reality in the near future – The presence of frozen water around the frigid polar regions of the moon, for example, represents an invaluable source to power future deep-space missions. Splitting H20 into its component elements of hydrogen and oxygen would provide a nearly inexhaustible source of rocket fuel. Today, it costs $10,000 to put a pound of payload in Earth orbit, according to NASA.