Will Mining Space Produce the World’s First Trillionaire?
The renewed interest in space exploration sparked by Tesla billionaire Elon Musk and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos has also reawakened speculative thinking about the resources present on the moon and beyond.
In papers dating back to 1970, the concept of mining the moon for raw materials - for both energy and construction in space - is nothing new. What has changed is our knowledge of the moon, the logistics behind construction in space, and what kind of resource expenditure would be required to get such an operation up and running.
Like everything in the free market, a lot of the reasons behind why we haven’t seen anything like this have to do with return on investment and perceived need, neither of which are there at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that space won’t always be prohibitively expensive to use as a vital resource and it could lead to the first trillionaire when someone or something first masters how to extract resources from the moon and beyond.
One of the biggest use cases for mining in space has to do with the moon and the construction of a colony on the lunar surface. While this is often the dream of science fiction, it is becoming more and more a scientific possibility as the resources needed to sustain a colony on the moon are being discovered and technology has finally caught up to allow this to happen.
How lucrative will this venture be?
In the immediate future, not very but, depending on the eventual size of this market, extracting resources from the lunar surface could prove one of the most profitable ventures ever undertaken. A huge reason for this is that mining for resources on the moon involves techniques that are impossible on Earth’s surface due to gravity and other factors. These novel extraction methods could allow for an abundant supply of certain materials for energy and construction in space.
What kinds of resources could we extract from space?
Let’s take our satellite, the moon, as an example. Scientists speculate that the lunar surface regolith, the fine lunar dust, could be used to shield structures from the effects of radiation once lunar colonies start being built. Near the moon’s poles there is also the presence of water ice, which could be used for everything from supporting a colony to creating rocket fuel. This is no small deal, either, as CEO of Moon Express Robert Richards points out that, “Water is the oil of the solar system and those companies who are able to harvest and harness extraterrestrial deposits of water will make Exxon look like a lemonade stand.”
Miners could also obtain metals from the soil through a process of chemical reduction including things like iron, titanium, and aluminum. Shipping these back to Earth would not be very profitable, however, due to the metals relative abundance on the planet’s surface. They could be useful for a lunar colony and would provide raw materials needed for an established base. Down the line, as a lunar colony grows and becomes more established, rare earths, thorium, and helium-3 could be mined from the moon and would be suitable for export back to Earth but this will only happen after a well-established lunar colony exists on the moon.
Does all of this sound a little bit far fetched?
Yes and no, but really it all depends on the development of the market and how much of a demand there is out there. Plus there is the impact of enabling technologies suchh as the increase in the number of nations with space faring capabilities as well as more and more companies getting in on that game. Heck, it could become such a veritable landscape of profiteering that we could see space pirates and the like. Imagine a Cowboy Bebop-esque world if you want an accurate picture of what we’re talking about.
Mining space isn’t so far fetched when you consider how much humanity’s access to space will increase over the coming decades. As long as progress remains unabated, you can expect to see nations and companies racing to the stars and you can bet your bottom dollar that each one will be seeking an advantage over the other. Until that market emerges, space will remain the final frontier but it could be the biggest profit opportunity staring us all in the face right now.