Credit: ESA – P.Carril


What do we need to know to mine an asteroid?

To make this concept a reality there’s need to increase knowledge regarding the very diverse population of accessible Near Earth Asteroids (NEA).

Last year, dozens of the world’s leading asteroid scientists and asteroid mining entrepreneurs came together in Luxembourg to discuss key questions and identify scientific knowledge gaps.

A just-issued White Paper outline the results of that discussion — “Answers to Questions from the Asteroid Miners” – and has been presented at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2017 in Riga now underway.

Hand over hand contact with asteroids – part of our future?
Credit: NASA


The White Paper covers questions surrounding the need for asteroid surveys in preparing for mining missions, the asteroid’s surface and interior, implications for astrobiology and planetary protection and other questions relating to policy and strategy for developing a roadmap for advancing asteroid in-space resource utilization.

For example, asteroid miners looking for water to use in rocket fuel or life support systems, being able to identify the class of asteroid is vital.

Furthermore, comprehensive knowledge of regolith properties at asteroids’ surface and subsurface will be vital for developing strategies for landing and extracting materials. However, as yet, no mission has explored how asteroid regolith might vary with depth.

Asteroid Ida
Credit: NASA/PL

Potential targets

“Aside from samples returned from a handful of missions, the only way we can study the composition of asteroids is by analyzing light reflected from their surfaces, or by examining fragments that have landed on Earth in the form of meteorites,” says lead White Paper author, Amara Graps of the University of Latvia and the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

A number of knowledge gaps were identified: the asteroid miners need access to a map of known NEAs with an orbit similar to the Earth so that they can fine-tune their selection of potential targets.

Many objects are – as yet – undiscovered or very little is known about them, so there is also a need to develop a dedicated NEA discovery and follow-up program.

Business plan for asteroid mining.
Credit: Joel Sercel/ICS Associates Inc. and TransAstra


We have never seen inside of an asteroid. Which is it?
Credit: Walker et al., 2006 and Murdoch, 2016

“Asteroid mining techniques will need to adapt to the low-gravity environment. Possible solutions include cancelling out action-reaction forces by digging in opposite directions at the same time, or by producing a reaction force, such as by strapping a net around the asteroid for robots to grab onto while they dig,” says J. L. Galache of Aten Engineering, an asteroid “astropreneur” and contributor to the White Paper. “It’s a challenge! But answering the questions posed in this White Paper will be an important first step.”


Questions from the asteroid mining companies have been sorted into the three asteroid science themes: 1) survey, 2) surface and 3) subsurface and 4) Other.

The answers to those questions have been provided in the Asteroid Science Intersections with In-­‐Space Mine Engineering (ASIME) 2016 White Paper: In-Space Utilization of Asteroids: “Answers to Questions from the Asteroid Miners”

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One Response to “Asteroid Mining: White Paper Explores Knowledge Gaps”

  • Going after water for rocket fuel is pointless because nuclear space propulsion systems are neither being permitted in space nor developed! Yes, you can use solar heating as a substitute, but not far out from Earth as say to Mars and the Main Asteroid Belt.

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