Goldman-Sachs Says an Asteroid Mining Rush Is Coming

Asteroid (Windell Oskay / Flickr / CC)
Windell Oskay / Flickr / CC

Goldman-Sachs made its case for mining platinum in space in a 98-page note to its clients.

According to the Business Insider report, Noah Poponak and a team of analysts have made a forceful argument for the costs versus benefits of chipping platinum from roaming asteroids:

While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high, the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower. Prospecting probes can likely be built for tens of millions of dollars each and Caltech has suggested an asteroid-grabbing spacecraft could cost $2.6bn.

They’re not wrong. Where once it could cost a whopping $35 million to put a single person in orbit, Virgin Galactic will soon be doing the same thing for about $250,000. $2.6 billion also isn’t that crazy when compared to the roughly $1 billion for a mine on our own planet.

And if that’s not convincing enough, consider that even choosing a relatively small asteroid could yield between $25 and $50 billion worth of platinum:

Space mining could be more realistic than perceived. Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint. Water is easily converted into rocket fuel, and can even be used unaltered as a propellant. Ultimately being able to stockpile the fuel in LEO [low earth orbit] would be a game changer for how we access space. And platinum is platinum. According to a 2012 Reuters interview with Planetary Resources, a single asteroid the size of a football field could contain $25bn- $50bn worth of platinum.

There’s only one real downside, and it’s a problem on the inverse: Access to that much platinum would essentially destroy its value. Poponak and his team estimate that “successful asteroid mining would likely crater the global price of platinum, with a single 500-meter-wide asteroid containing nearly 175X the global output, according to MIT’s Mission 2016.” Yes, you read that right: that single asteroid could produce 175 times the platinum of every other mine on Earth combined.

The report concludes that the project could be even less expensive than estimated, “given trends in the cost of manufacturing spacecraft and improvements in technology.” And finally, that “given the [capital expenditure] of mining operations on Earth, we think that financing a space mission is not outside the realm of possibility.”

It is virtually inevitable that such a mining venture will occur, and the first to accomplish it will essentially seize control of the global platinum market. Only one question remains: Who will it be?

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