Use the future to build the present
Asteroid Belt
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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Sub-Field:

3.4.3Asteroid Belt

While asteroid resources including minerals, metals and water will be useful for off-world activities, whether for space manufacturing, to sustain settlements on the Moon or Mars, or for refueling for long-duration space missions to the Outer Solar System, there is also a case for their utilisation on Earth.

Up until less than a century ago, society utilised just a few materials widely, including wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics.33 Today, a modern computer chip employs more than 60 different elements.34 For a range of different metals, the potential substitutes for their major uses are either inadequate or appear not to exist at all. Some asteroids are thought to contain significant deposits of rare metals and minerals, and are therefore a potential target for mining. In fact, the presence of metals on the Earth’s surface where we can extract them, rather than deep in the core, is thought to be the result of asteroid impacts in the first place.35

A study from 2012 estimated that moving a 7-meter diameter near-Earth asteroid into low-Earth orbit would cost about $2.6 billion USD and take 6-10 years.36 A rare-earth-metal mine has almost comparable set-up costs of around $1 billion USD.37 This study, however, was not extended to potential profitability of such retrieval. We know from meteorites that some asteroids are richer in platinum than any mine on Earth.38 However, the large and long-term investments required for the demonstration of asteroid resource extraction have forced space mining companies to adjust their short-term ambitions, for now.39,40 Nonetheless, the interest in this area raises the need to tackle important questions about how these resources ought to be governed under international law.

In addition to the presence of useful resources, the characterisation of asteroids is interesting for other important reasons. Mitigating potentially devastating hazards: An asteroid impact is the most widely accepted theory for the mass extinction at the end of the Mesozoic Era.41 Besides Apophis, a near-Earth asteroid over 300 meters wide recently declared no longer at risk of a collision with Earth in 2029, there are many near-Earth asteroids traversing the Solar System that are as yet uncatalogued. Enhancing scientific knowledge: Asteroids contain unique information from the origins of the Solar System. And as our understanding of organisms able to survive extreme environments, so-called extremophiles, grows, so does the momentum of the theory that life may have emerged on Earth as the result of the arrival of a microbe-containing meteorite that impacted the surface.42

Future Horizons:

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5-yearhorizon

Solar System sampling missions arrive home

Successful sample-return missions from the asteroid 101955 Bennu (NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex), from the Moon (China’s Chang’e 6) and from the Martian moon Phobos (Japan’s MMX) spark more ambitious studies of asteroids as potential sources of precious metals and in-orbit supplies.

10-yearhorizon

Asteroid prospectors

With continued reduction in costs of launch, as well as shortages in metal and mineral supplies that could emerge as early as ten years’ time43, there’s an increase in the number of organisations involved in local characterisation of asteroids, either by flyby or contact.44,45

25-yearhorizon

Planetary protection becomes important

Planetary Protection Policy46 reflects both the unknown nature of the space environment and the desire of the scientific community to preserve the pristine nature of celestial bodies for future investigations, particularly the search for life. Mass species extinction on Earth and irreversible disruption of the Moon environment are both attributed to rampant commercialisation. The Policy is extended to restrict commercial resource extraction on planets and moons.

Asteroid resources are utilisable within Policy guidelines. The abundance of metals, minerals and water in the asteroid belt means that the creation of technologies and communities anywhere in the Solar System is possible. The eradication of scarcity and poverty is conceivable when we are not confined to Earth’s limited resource base.

Asteroid Belt - Anticipation Scores

How the experts see this field in terms of the expected time to maturity, transformational effect across science and industries, current state of awareness among stakeholders and its possible impact on people, society and the planet. See methodology for more information.

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