Companies such as Deep Space Industries hope for a bonanza from space mining in resources such as iron, magnesium and gold found on asteroids.
The numbers are huge. Asteroid 2011 UW158, which passed near Earth in July, holds an estimated $5.4 trillion worth of platinum.
“Pure science is great at discovering new things about the universe, it needs to be built on a foundation which can fund itself,” Andrew Langendam, an astrogeologist at Monash University in Melbourne, says.
NASA scientists are developing systems and equipment to make prospecting easier and more accurate.
A new gamma-ray spectroscope uses a newly developed SrI2 crystal to ‘read’ the spectroscopic barcode of each element giving future prospectors information about the quantity of each element. The crystal itself is highly tuned to detecting the valuables locked up in the rock and ice of celestial bodies, and is compact enough to be fitted to small spacecraft.