Powered by

Advertisment
Home Environment Stories

Space Mining: an eco-friendly choice or a climate change catalyst?

Space Mining; Meteorites could hold the key to resolving our natural resource crisis, and the treasure troves aren't just in outer space

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Space Mining: an eco-friendly choice or a climate change catalyst?

Space Mining: Meteorites could hold the key to resolving our natural resource crisis, and the treasure troves aren't just in outer space but scattered right here on Earth.

Earth sees an annual shower of nearly 40,000 tonnes of meteoritic material, with prominent sightings in desolate areas like Antarctica, Siberia, the Sahara, the Canadian Steppes, and the Australian outback. While their full commercial potential remains untapped, projections suggest the global space mining market will reach USD$1.99 billion by 2027.

Among these fallen fragments, we've unearthed valuable resources like graphene, a material with outstanding conductivity and strength, and tetrataenite, an iron-nickel alloy that could replace rare earth minerals in everyday products.

The true wealth of meteorites is still awaiting discovery, and they might hold the key to solving our critical mineral shortages by providing chemical and mineralogical models for replication right here on Earth.

Though mining asteroids or the Moon presents challenges, including the need to prospect viable zones and overcome high costs, extracting resources from meteorites on Earth appears more feasible and cost-effective.

Is Space Mining best option to face climate change?

The idea of space mining as a solution to climate change has been proposed by some researchers. They suggest that mining the moon could help deal with global heating by creating a “solar shield” in space. This would involve mining the moon for millions of tons of its dust and then ejecting it into space to partially block incoming sunlight.

However, not all experts agree with this approach. Frank Biermann, professor of global sustainability governance at Utrecht University, stated, “The idea to mine the moon or near-Earth asteroids in order to artificially block parts of the sunlight is no solution to the ongoing and intensifying climate crisis”.

Ted Parson, an expert in environmental law at UCLA, referred to the moon dust proposal as “fun, scientifically interesting speculation” that was unlikely to be put into practice.

publive-image
"Harasser" Capital Ship (Fractured Space "Hunter" inspired). Photo Credit: Flickr/Israel Mayen

Moreover, a report on Phys.org casts doubt on the benefits of space mining. It highlights the environmental challenges associated with space mining, such as the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from rocket launches and the potential for space debris. The report also points out that the full environmental and safety implications of waste disposal in space are not yet clear.

In conclusion, while space mining presents a potential solution to resource scarcity on Earth, its role in combating climate change is still a matter of debate among experts. It’s clear that more research and discussion are needed to fully understand the environmental implications of space mining.

Environmental impact

While the idea of space mining might seem like a far-fetched concept, humanity is already moving in that direction. The Moon, with its abundant raw materials, could serve as the first off-world industrial assembly and processing location. However, the environmental impact of space mining is a significant concern. The launch of rockets and the potential for space debris could have detrimental effects on our planet’s atmosphere.

The launch of rockets for space mining missions could lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions contribute to global warming and have a detrimental effect on Earth’s climate. Moreover, the potential for space debris from mining operations poses a threat to both space travel and our planet’s atmosphere.

On the other hand, some argue that space mining could be more environmentally friendly than Earth-bound mining. The use of renewable energy sources instead of burning coal to generate power could make the industry more sustainable. Additionally, the development of more eco-friendly fuels for rocket launching could further reduce the environmental impact.

However, the long-term effects of space mining on the celestial bodies being mined are still unknown. Disturbing the lunar or asteroid surface could have unforeseen consequences, potentially disrupting their orbits or even causing interplanetary contamination.

Future of space mining

The race to build an industrial foundation in space has already begun, with companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin leading the way. As launch costs continue to decrease, we are on the cusp of a new era of space mining. However, the burden will be on us to prevent the ecological mistakes of previous generations.

Space mining, the extraction of valuable minerals from celestial bodies, is being hailed as the next frontier in resource acquisition. As Earth’s resources dwindle, the gaze of scientists and entrepreneurs has turned skyward.

Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are leading the charge, developing technologies to make space travel more affordable and accessible. Scientists see the Moon, with its abundant resources, as a prime candidate for the first off-world mining operations.

publive-image
This painting shows an asteroid mining mission to an Earth-approaching asteroid. Photo Credit: Flickr/NASA Johnson

However, the environmental impact of space mining is a significant concern. The launch of rockets and the potential for space debris could have detrimental effects on our planet’s atmosphere. But proponents argue that space mining could be more eco-friendly than Earth-bound mining, especially if powered by renewable energy sources.

The race to build an industrial foundation in space has already begun. As launch costs continue to decrease, we are on the cusp of a new era of space mining. However, the burden will be on us to prevent the ecological mistakes of previous generations.

Space mining isn't feasible yet

In the future, we may harvest extraterrestrial resources to sustain bases beyond Earth, but we're not there yet. Present missions to comets and asteroids have returned with minuscule samples, and for now, space mining remains a costly endeavor unless we discover a substance so valuable that even a few micrograms could fetch billions.

Moriba Jah, a former NASA navigator, who is now a professor in Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas, has some ideas about the healthiest ways to approach outer-space resource extraction. In this next phase of expansion, Jah suggests that we take our cues from ancient indigenous land-management practices.

Jah says, "When we assess a new territory like the Moon or an asteroid, it doesn't mean that we don't exploit resources. It doesn't even mean that we don't make lots of money. What it means is that we don't treat it as something that we own." Legislative authorities would guide mineral-rich space territory as a shared resource, embracing this mentality. As a result, the burden of stewardship becomes the price for access. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which has been in development since the 1980s, could serve as a robust basis for moving forward and drafting such legislation.

While we anticipate a golden era of space exploration, the reality is that the capacity for significant space mining is a distant goal. Asteroid mining might become a reality, but the quest for resources in outer space doesn't eclipse the more practical solutions available right on our home planet.

Sustainable Development Goal 12 and initiatives like India's Lifestyle for Sustainable Environment encourage responsible consumption and production, emphasizing that solutions to Earth's increasing demand for water and minerals may already lie in meteorites here on Earth, waiting for us to uncover their secrets.

Keep Reading

Follow Ground Report for Climate Change and Under-Reported issues in India. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterKoo AppInstagramWhatsapp and YouTube. Write us on [email protected]