“Thar’s gold in them there asteroids!” – Behind The Black – Robert Zimmerman

Actually, the “gold” in the quote refers less to the actual element and more to the potential wealth lurking within the resources available in many asteroids in space. I base this optimistic assessment, which is looking at the very long term and not the near future, based on the following chart, just published in a new white paper report [pdf] dubbed “Asteroid Mining: Key to Large-Scale Space Migration or Rocky Road?” The chart itself comes from this October 2023 research paper.

Except for gold, the estimated abundances in metallic asteroids of all these important minerals exceeds the entire reserves contained on Earth, by many times. And even though the asteroid reserves of gold do not exceed that of Earth, that in-space gold is likely far easier to access and mine. As the report notes:

It has been estimated that one asteroid, 16 Psyche, has $700 quintillion worth of gold and other precious metals, which is equivalent to around US$93 billion for each person on Earth!

Note that the probe Psyche is presently on its way to the asteroid Psyche, and will arrive in 2029.

As the report correctly notes, the in-space technology to mine these resources presently does not exist, and will likely not be available for decades. Moreover, the initial users of these resources are likely going to be those living and working in space, and such a population also does not exist at this time.

Nonetheless, as the cost to get into orbit continues to drop, so will the cost to bring payloads back to Earth. Consider this: A single Starship has the potential to return as much as a 100 tons from orbit. There are more than 3.5 million ounces in 100 tons. At present gold is trading at a little more than $2,000 per ounce. Do the math. That one cargo would bring back gold worth $7 billion at today’s prices.

Obviously, such a sudden influx of gold would cause the price per ounce to plummet, but even it that price were to drop by 90%, the value of that gold cargo would still be $700 million, more than enough to pay for the flight.

Though these numbers are very uncertain and must not be taken too seriously, the bottom line remains: The resources from just the metallic asteroids in the main asteroid belt will significantly disrupt the world’s economy, with most of that disruption being gloriously positive….

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