Asteroid mining and related ventures are making technological strides, moving closer to reality, and possibly even silencing skeptics. Asteroids are thought to contain huge supplies of gold, platinum, iron ore, and other minerals, but the implausibility of carrying these resources back to earth doesn’t seem to be dampening enthusiasm for the subject. NASA scientists suggest that advances in robotics and 3-D printing may lead to the development of self-sustaining machinery and tools that could make asteroid mining a reality. Companies interested in asteroid mining also point out that asteroids contain water which may be used to make rocket fuel in space and thus enable further exploration.
Recently, companies such as SpaceX and Planetary Resources have made significant progress in their commercial space exploration projects. SpaceX appears to have mastered the reusable rocket quandary with its third landing of a reusable spacecraft, the first step towards making space travel economically possible. The company plans to land its reusable rockets on Mars in 2018.
Detecting Materials Here on Earth’s Surface
Perhaps even more interesting to the mining community, however, is asteroid mining company Planetary Resources’ recent announcement that it plans to launch an infrared imaging system to help locate resources on Earth. According to the company’s web site, the company has secured funding for Ceres, “an advanced Earth observation business that…will leverage Planetary Resources’ Arkyd spacecraft to deliver affordable, on-demand Earth intelligence of our natural resources on any spot on the planet. While typical satellite imagery provides only a picture, Ceres will provide actionable data with higher spectral resolutions – going beyond what the human eye can see – by measuring thermographic properties and detecting the composition of materials on Earth’s surface. The midwave-infrared sensor is the first ever commercial capability from space to offer thermographic mapping and night-imaging, and the hyperspectral sensor includes an unprecedented 40 color bands in the visible to near-infrared spectrum…”
Ceres’ capability will include identifying oil & gas and mineral resources, and monitoring pipelines and remote infrastructure. Planetary Resources plans to test the platform with the help of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Should such technology come to fruition, it could greatly benefit the mining industry by streamlining the exploration process of today, where mining geologists perform ore grade control to figure out where the most profitable ore bodies are in terms of location and mineral concentration variability. The data collected during the grade control processes helps mining geologists conduct quantitative geochemical analysis of metal concentrations and create composite maps of elemental distributions within a sample to determine where the best targets are located. Geochemical maps can be used to see an anomaly or trend and make the most efficient and economical drilling and excavation decisions. Portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers help in this process by providing fast acquisition of geochemical data for ore deposit modeling, easily determining ore boundaries and quickly identifying increasingly low-grade deposits.
To learn more about mining in space, or about how XRF analyzers can help find the good stuff here on Earth, check out this recommended reading list:
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