There are a few startups out there such as Peter Diamandis’ (Singularity University Founder) company Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries that have set a course to try and mine asteroids. But now China is looking to get in on the race for the riches in space. China’s National Space Administration has announced that it is planning on conducting their first exploration of an asteroid possibly as early as 2020, only three short years from now. China is also planning on doing a feasibility study on the required technologies for mining asteroids and transporting the required equipment and materials. Currently only the US, Europe and Japan have successfully conducted asteroid explorations.
The potential potential profits from mining just a single asteroid are truly staggering. Just one asteroid half a kilometer wide could contain almost 200 times today’s annual platinum production and 2 times the total amount of platinum on earth. Obliviously flooding earth’s market with that much platinum would decease its market value but even so we’re still talking about potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in profit if it can be mined and transported back to earth efficiently.
Some asteroids are potentially even more lucrative such as Anteros which is a near-Earth asteroid about 2 kilometers in diameter and packed to the brim with highly concentrated magnesium silicate, aluminum, iron silicate with a value on today’s market of almost $6 trillion.
China is also on its way to having the launch capacity required to consider conducting something like asteroid mining. China’s space program which was first launched in the 1950’s has been historically dwarfed by the US and Soviet/Russian space programs. But in the early 2000’s China’s space program began to seriously pick up the pace and they achieved their first man in orbit in 2003, first Lunar orbit in 2007 and their first space walk in 2008. Last year China surpassed Russia and tied the US for first place in the total number of rockets launched. China has been increasing CNSA’s (their equivalent of NASA) budget every year by double digit growth rates, while the budget for NASA has declined by more than half since the 1960s when adjusted for inflation.
I applaud any achievements the Chinese or Russians make in space because I believe the US needs to have another Sputnik moment to kick it out of its complacency and force it to take space exploration as seriously as it did during the cold war.