Soon, humanity will return to the Moon, aiming to build bases there before venturing on to Mars and beyond. To do so, and to become truly spacefaring and interplanetary, humanity will need to develop and use technology across many fields including but not limited to medicine, engineering, agriculture, and artificial intelligence. Another crucial area of development is space resources. Space resources have the potential to not only facilitate the exploration and long-term habitation of this solar system, and eventually beyond, but also to improve life here on Earth. Given their value, space resources pose numerous policy issues, but also significant opportunities.
The term “space resources” is broad, as is how and where space resources could be used. In the near term, space resource use will likely be the use of lunar regolith (the top soil covering the surface of the Moon) for lunar civil engineering purposes to protect lunar bases and their occupants from radiation or to build lunar roads. There’s also water ice that can be used to generate rocket fuel. More long term, there’s asteroid mining.
The need to consider space resources has recently become more important, and more real. Recently, NASA unveiled the material contents retrieved from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu that were returned to Earth. The sample from Bennu, which is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old, was obtained through the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission, and was found to be high in carbon, with water molecules locked in clay fibres. A few days after the return of this sample, NASA launched a spacecraft to Psyche – a metal-rich asteroid. However, unlike OSIRIS-REx, this mission won’t return a sample to Earth.
The material abundance created through space resources, in particular asteroid mining, has the potential to lead to abundance and greater sustainability here on Earth.
While these NASA missions are not specifically looking at developing space resource capabilities for asteroid…