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What Would Really Happen If We Mined a $27 Quintillion Asteroid?
In 2023, NASA plans to launch a mission to Psyche, a weird and wild metal asteroid. Psyche is 140 miles across and is composed almost entirely of iron and nickel, with some estimates suggesting the dollar value is in the quintillions.
Presumably, automated robotic mining equipment would be needed to mine the asteroid, since the job would be too difficult and dangerous for humans. Costs to design the equipment, research the asteroid’s surface, and return to Earth with its resources would be expensive.
It might be difficult, but it's not impossible to mine an asteroid. Recently, NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission succeeded in an incredible feat: touching on asteroid Bennu and collecting a small sample from its surface.
The mission is extremely challenging and took years of planning to execute. From launch to landing back on Earth, the mission is expected to take seven years, which is a lot of work for a few ounces of material from the asteroid.
The biggest issue with mining asteroids for profit isn't necessarily about the practical difficulties but about supply and demand, as materials like gold are valuable largely because they are rare. That’s not to say that there isn’t potential value in mining asteroids — even if it’s not financial value — but space mining technology will need to be developed further first.