Asteroid mining future beckons with flyby of US$5trn platinum asteroid (infographic)

20 Jul 2015

An asteroid that is currently whizzing by Earth might be junk as far as space is concerned, but for us on Earth a recent estimate values its platinum contents at being worth US$5trn, highlighting an asteroid-mining future.

Just 2.5m km from Earth (closer than Mars or Venus), Asteroid 2011 UW158 is garnering a lot of attention on this planet, not just from astronomers eager to catch a glimpse of a near-Earth object, but mining companies who see the platinum asteroid with dollar signs in their eyes.

With the inevitability of limited resources on our own planet, companies are beginning to look to the stars for answers to their demand for materials, especially when that potential source is worth more than most of the world’s nations combined.

The space debris is believed to be rather small as far as space is concerned, being just less than 1km wide, but is believed to weigh in at somewhere close to 100m tonnes of the incredibly valuable metal platinum.

Lucrative future

And now, one company in particular is heralding this recent flyby, which took place on Sunday evening as an example of what could be achieved by asteroid mining, that company being Planetary Resources.

The company is by far the biggest company in the yet to be undertaken industry of asteroid mining, having received backing from a number of influential people and organisations in tech and science, including Google’s Larry Page.

Last March, the company teamed up with NASA to develop a desktop software app capable of detecting 15pc more asteroids than previously possible for amateur astronomers and only last week launched its first test craft from the International Space Station (ISS).

Speaking of the recent flyby, Planetary Resources said it is a “prime example of an asteroid Planetary Resources will aim to mine in the future”.

Platinum asteroid infographic

Asteroid image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic