From research to resource piloting near-Earth asteroids Through the Valley of Death
Author(s)Cohen, Dylan(Dylan H.)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.
Technology and Policy Program.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
Richard Binzel and Frank Field.
MetadataShow full item record
Can the resources of near-Earth asteroids be profitably mined? Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) contain water, which can serve as a fuel in space, and platinum group metals, which are valuable on Earth. The presence of these resources has prompted high valuations of the near-Earth asteroid population, but it is not immediately apparent if those valuations are accurate or if they can be realized. This thesis developed the Valley of Death model to frame the challenges opposing the development of an asteroid mining industry. This model poses the two following questions. What is the cash flow of a water/platinum group metal asteroid mining industry? How can the Valley of Death be crossed to realize that cash flow? The first question was answered in the affirmative for water with a Monte Carlo simulation of the near-Earth asteroid population under resource content, price, and accessibility constraints.To assess the cash flow of platinum group metals a basis of comparison was developed between large platinum-rich near-Earth asteroids and terrestrial mines. This comparison demonstrated that, while the high valuation of the asteroids is accurate, the technical challenges of mining, refining, and transporting platinum render it unlikely to have a positive cash flow without dramatic technological advances that provide no immediate benefits. To answer the second question, the twin concepts of uncertainty reduction and technological advancement, resting on a foundation of progress incentivization, were developed. Uncertainty reduction consists of clarifying the legal status of asteroid mining and identifying the precise content and location of near-Earth asteroid resources. Technological advancement is needed to mine water at scale and to accurately assess the costs of mining platinum group metals.Incentivizing both tasks, possibly with prize competitions, will enable the industry to traverse the Valley of Death. This thesis concludes by discussing edge cases in asteroid mining which provide avenues for future research.
Thesis: S.M. in Technology and Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Engineering, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, 2019Thesis: S.M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, 2019Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 103-114).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Technology and Policy Program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Institute for Data, Systems, and Society., Technology and Policy Program., Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.