NASA is dreaming about creating a trillion-dollar industry from asteroid mining for precious metals

Photo of asteroid, 253 Mathilde.

Asteroids might not look like much but under the surface of some is a treasure trove of water and highly valuable minerals, including platinum group metals.

Platinum Group Metals (PGM) are exceptionally rare on Earth and therefore incredibly valuable — 1,000 cubic centimetres of platinum is worth around $US1 million.

And many asteroids contain huge quantities of these PGM.

One of these platinum-loaded asteroids flew by Earth over the weekend — Asteroid 2011 UW-158 — which is thought to harbour anywhere from $US300 billion to $US5.4 trillion worth of platinum and other precious metals and materials.

Astronomers estimate this by studying the object’s size as well as general composition using spectrometers, which measure the intensity of light.

Planetary Resources came up with this infographic to explain how PMG harvested from asteroids can be used to create valuable resources, worth trillions of dollars.

Just one platinum-rich asteroid could contain more PMG than has ever been mined on Earth, helping to reduce the cost of electronics, electrify transportation and drive innovation.

The graphic also shows mining one single 500m water-rich asteroid could produce over $US5 trillion worth of water for use in space.

But it’s a very distant goal. Even at its closest approach, the asteroid will still be 2.4 million km from Earth — that’s about 6 times farther than the Moon.

However, NASA hopes to capture and collect asteroid samples as early as 2025.

NASA says materials frozen in asteroids could “be used in developing the space structures and in generating the rocket fuel that will be required to explore and colonise our solar system in the twenty-first century.”

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