ASTEROID MINING

3554-Amun is an astrologically mundane near-Earth asteroid. Just over 2km across, it is almost impressively average in the galactic scale of things, one small space rock amongst countless billions of billions of others. It also has, if we could reach it, an estimated mineral value of around $20 trillion dollars.

$8,000 billion in iron and nickel, $6,000 billion in cobalt and another $6,000 in platinum – these are the figures that planetary scientist John Lewis claims in his book, Mining the Sky, and they’re just waiting there, ripe for the taking. With the 2011 world GDP given by the World Bank at $69 trillion, this places the resources on this one insignificant asteroid as valuable as almost a third of all services and products produced in a year across the entire globe.

Of course, if the asteroid was succesfully harvested, these figures would not stay true – because inevitably, it would precipitate global economic mayhem. With the market flooded by absurdly more resources than have ever been available before, market prices would drop through the floor. Regardless, whoever managed this would be richer than Croesus, and would irrevocably transform industry. No more resource scarcity.

And this is exactly what people are trying. Planetary Resources Ltd. is a key player, with a team including James Cameron and Google founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Though not yet beyond planning stages, a combination of some of the largest fortunes ever amassed and the realization of Cold War Apollo Programme-fueled childhood dreams means that if anyone can do it, they can.