Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt are throwing their money at a new venture in hopes of bagging a 50 billion dollar rock.
Let me explain.
In 2012, a company called “Planetary Resources” appeared on the radar. It was the first company in human history to announce the intention to mine asteroids. You heard that right: asteroid mining.
When most people hear the word ‘asteroid’, they associate it with a giant hunk of useless rock. This notion couldn’t be further from the truth.
Asteroids are actually packed with valuable resources. Many are highly concentrated in copper, gold, silver, platinum, and other valuable metals. Asteroids also contain plenty of water, which is extremely valuable in space due to its use as a propellant.
In fact, the vast majority of rare and precious metals that exist on Earth today are not native to our planet. Many of them were brought here by resource-rich asteroids.
It’s been estimated that a large enough asteroid containing platinum would be worth between 25 and 50 billion dollars!
And that’s just one rock. The are millions of these asteroids, and we are swimming in a river of them.
A Bird in the Hand…
One year ago, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the first commercial spacecraft to dock to the International Space Station, deliver cargo, and return to Earth. This mission bumped the company’s net worth from $2.4 billion to $4.8 billion, according to financial data company Privco.
Since that time, SpaceX has conducted two more successful missions to the ISS, 80 thousand people signed up for a one way trip to Mars, the Voyager 1 has entered deep space, and a NASA rover landed successfully on Mars.
It is obvious that a revival of space exploration is occurring, but the prospect of bagging an asteroid is still beyond our reach.
Now, mark my words: this is going to happen – it’s just not going to happen overnight.
Planetary Resources estimates that it will take 5-10 years to begin mining, and I’m willing to bet that this is an overly optimistic prediction. This is definitely an industry to keep your sights on, but you won’t have to pull the trigger for some time.
For now, investing publicly in asteroid mining would not only be crazy, but it would also be impossible. The only two companies establishing themselves in the industry are still private.
But while we wait, there are already a few investments to make within the space industry that do not revolve around resource extraction.
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Transporting material from Earth into space is extremely expensive. It is the single greatest obstacle to establishing industries outside Earth’s atmosphere. This is exactly why NASA is investing in what is called ‘massless exploration’.
The term is slightly misleading. Massless exploration doesn’t mean exploring without any mass but rather without any mass from Earth. The idea is that by gathering and creating materials in space, we will reduce the need for costly transportation to and from Earth.
As of now, NASA is investing in massless exploration in two specific ways.
First, the agency plans to bag an asteroid and pull it into the moon’s orbit. The research gathered from this mission will be used to guide the asteroid mining industry in years to come.
But you don’t have to wait for that to happen to start making a profit.
NASA is also investing in 3D printing. The agency recently awarded a $125 thousand grant to Texas-based company Systems and Materials Research Consultancy to build a 3D printer which will make pizza in space.
In addition to food, 3D printers will also be used for additive manufacturing. The new technology will be used to produce replacement parts for spacecrafts and to build space habitats such as a lunar base.
If you think this sounds like science fiction, just know that China recently announced plans to establish a mining base on the moon. China will be mining for the moon’s vast quantities of helium-3, a rare and valuable material that could fuel the country’s nuclear-power ambitions.
But again, this won’t happen for at least a decade.
The best part about all this is that 3D printing is already booming because there are countless applications for the technology already in place. The technology has already been used to create artificial limbs, guns, blood vessels, and even airplane parts used by Boeing (NYSE: BA).
The 3D printing industry is set to see major growth within the coming years, and you are going to want some chips in that pot, space boom or not.
Turning progress to profits,
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