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This artist's concept shows NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbiting the giant asteroid Vesta. The depiction of Vesta is based on images obtained by Dawn's framing cameras. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Asteroid Mining Takes Off with Many Startups Eyeing Deep Space Exploration

asteroid 2011 UW158

Asteroid 2011 UW158 will fly by Earth in 2108.

At a time when astro-physicists were planning in London to kick off a huge project to scan 100 planets in the universe to listen to their radio signals and decode them, a US-based firm has come out with a plan to mine asteroid for minerals.

Deep Space Industries (DSI), a U.S.-based start-up firm plans to send rovers to asteroids and use hydrogen and oxygen, the components of water locked in compounds on asteroids, to refuel rockets for return journey.

DSI is planning initial exploration satellites, smaller than toasters, to pillion-ride on rockets to scout for suitable rocks on asteroids, while another U.S.-based venture, Planetary Resources, is also expected to launch a spacecraft to hunt for viable asteroids. “They are the low-hanging fruit of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, an American aerospace engineer who co-founded Planetary Resources, that was funded by Google’s Larry Page.

While the look out for water is merely a beginning, mining gold and platinum is not faraway, said researchers. Even NASA is keen to give a push to these startups, ahead of its ambitious plan to send astronauts to one of these asteoroid in a decade from now and then to Mars by 2030.

“We are dreamers,” declares the web site of Deep Space Industries (DSI), which displays a giant floating rock in its entrance. And they are right. Few meteorites which fell on earth from these asteroids had significant amounts of precious metals like platinum, rhodium, iridium, rhenium, osmium, ruthenium, palladium, germanium and gold. Then what about huge asteroid or mini-planets as they are in the neighbourhood?

Recent reports of an asteroid believed to be carrying up to 90 million tons of platinum in its core, called 2011 UW158, is flying by at a distance of 2.4 million kilometers, have given rise to hopes of possible mining for the mineral to cater the industrial needs for years on Earth.

With more such startups coming up, future man will scout for any asteroid or planet for minerals, the way Europeans began their outward journey in the 14th century in search of India and its spices before landing in America.

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