Thesis Open Access

Asteroid Mining and Prospecting

Esty, Thomas

Thesis supervisor(s)

Elvis, Martin

There has been a recent increase in interest in the idea of mining asteroids, as seen from the founding of multiple companies who seek to make this science fiction idea science fact. We analyzed a number of prior papers on asteroids to make an estimate as to whether mining asteroids is within the realm of possibility. Existing information on asteroid number, composition, and orbit from past research was synthesized with a new analysis using binomial statistics of the number of probes that would be required to find a valuable asteroid. This information, combined with data on the prices of potentially valuable materials found in asteroids and the past cost of NASA missions, allows us to make a guess as to the financial feasibility of locating asteroids to be mined. Ultimately it appears that finding valuable, ore-bearing asteroids will require a fleet of dozens of small, low cost prospecting probes that are on the border of economic feasibility with current space flight potential.

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