Space mining is now being carried out

There is a huge amount of money waiting in space mining

About that - and about the role Poland can play - and how much it can benefit from it, said Dr. Closely. Adam Jan Zwierzyński, assistant professor at the Department of Drilling and Geoengineering at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, co-founder and president of the start-up Solar System Resources Corporation Sp. Z oo Zoo.

PAP: Famed astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil DeGrasse Tyson said the first billionaire would be a man to invest in asteroid mines. Do you think so too?

Dr. inż. Adam Jan Zwierzyński: I totally agree with that. It is estimated that the asteroid (6) Hebe, for example, contains so much iron that it would last for mankind for over a million years, nickel for 83 million, and gold for over 700 years. Years. It's a large asteroid (most are smaller) - but this shows how many resources can be found in the solar system. Even if we make a few mistakes in the calculations, the numbers are still colossal. Of course, if we use these raw materials, their price will fall due to the supply. But it will still have a lot to do with it.

PAP: You can also use the water that is in the room, right?

UNTIL: This is an interesting paradox, but the first space mines will likely produce water. Mainly because it can be used to generate hydrogen and oxygen i.e. H. Rocket Fuel. According to one of the well-known reports on the subject, the market for converting water from space into fuel for rockets will be worth $ 15 billion. yearly.

PAP: Why is it worth mining water in space?

UNTIL: The reason is simple - the earth's gravity. Carrying loads, including fuel, into space is the major obstacle in space flights. The price of a ton of fuel made from water thrown from Earth into space using current rocket technology would cost $ 10 million. per ton, and if it was made from local water (layers of ice) on the moon - only $ 0.5 million.

PAP: So the first mines could be built on the moon.

UNTIL: It will most likely be the moon for two reasons. First, asteroids are harder to reach because they are further away. Second, they have microgravity so there is practically no attraction there. A little force is enough to jump into space, so you have to anchor yourself somehow. The asteroids are therefore somewhat more technical difficulties that must of course be overcome.

Let us also recall the assumptions of the ARTEMIS program organized by NASA, according to which humans should land on the moon in 2024. The Americans have such ambitious plans about China, among other things. This country, in turn, wants to create a special earth-moon economic zone with a profit of 10 trillion by 2050. dol. yearly.

If it is built by SpaceX Starship, it will open the way to the Moon and Mars for private companies. This planet is even more interesting from a mining point of view as it is covered in a lot of asteroid craters. As we know, most of the rare earth metals on Earth come from asteroids.

PAP: Your team is already doing some work related to space mining ...

UNTIL: Our adventure began by working on a material that mimics the lunar soil (regolith), in collaboration with the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences, where the kret was created - a device for drilling into such soil. The material we created made it possible to test this device. It is worth noting that some of the people who built Crete started the Astronika company. The new version of the device developed by the company flew to Mars as part of the NASA InSight mission.

Later we took part in two projects. We were responsible for the development of drilling modules that could be mounted on moon or Mars rovers. Among other things, we have created a new solution that allows you to drill into stones and loose materials with low energy consumption. The model developed for ESA was tested in a vacuum chamber.

Two years ago we also filed a patent for a device for extracting water from space objects. What surprised us was that it was one of the few such patents in the world.

PAP: And now?

UNTIL: We are looking for new ideas and employees, partners at home and abroad with whom we can start new projects. At the moment, however, we are mainly concerned with organizational issues. We have probably already founded the first student space mining club in Poland, Cosmodrill. We are planning to set up the Space Mining Center, which is operated at AGH Space University. We want scientific achievements to be implemented in companies. We want our students to create startups that are involved in space mining.

PAP: However, exploring space is a difficult challenge. Two relatively simple countries, an Israeli and an Indian, recently crashed on the moon. How long will it take for space mining to become a reality?

UNTIL: First of all, you have to stop thinking that it will happen in 50-100 years. I think the first mining systems will be built this decade and even the first half. I'm talking about extracting water on the moon. Of course, these will not be efficient mines, but they will be gradually improved.

PAP: Where does this optimism come from?

Tremendous advances have been made in the field of space technology recently. For example, let's look at flights into orbit. In 2011, the price to start the shuttle was $ 450 million and the average over 30 years was $ 1.5 billion. The shuttle could only reach 23 tons. With a Falcon Heavy rocket costing much more, the theoretical cost is just over $ 90 million. It's like being in a Mercedes CLS class with 320th went down to 4 PLN. If a spaceship is created according to this example, this Mercedes will cost PLN 80. If today someone for a total of $ 200 million. he would send a device with a Falcon Heavy rocket that would bring 10 tons of gold or platinum, he would make a lot of money. So it would be profitable today. We will overcome technical difficulties sooner or later. Organizational barriers can be more important.

PAP: What are they about?

UNTIL: Polish innovations do not receive any significant financial support. The state finances companies that are already in operation, are achieving good results and want to improve or develop their product. In contrast, companies that are just starting out have no such help. There's a vicious circle - to get assistance you need a finished product, but to create it you need money.

A typical startup in the US is $ 20 to 30 million. He can develop a new technology and look for partners in the investment round. Polish young companies have no way of reaching this stage. This needs to be changed so that the state invests in risky projects. Different models are possible here, e.g. B. for an investment she could receive part of the shares. We're not a rich country, but get 100 or 50 such bands funded. Krakow is not the only place where interesting space projects are being created.

PAP: And private investors?

UNTIL: Capitalism in Poland is only 30 years old. Most of the rich people in the country did not earn money with new technologies, but with trade, for example. Such people don't understand modern technology. Venture capital funds usually have a capital of around PLN 100 million and therefore do not want to invest in risky projects. According to statistics, a successful investment in a successful startup can make up for some missed ones.

PAP: For example, what ambitions would your team have for the next 10 years with adequate funding?

UNTIL: I think we could send the probe into space, albeit not alone, but in collaboration with other teams. Let's take a look at the Polish Mars mission organized by Polish universities and the SatRevolution company. At the moment the project has stalled due to a pandemic, but there are plans to send three probes - one will pass near Mars, the other will go into orbit, and the third will fly the lander. The cost for each stage is PLN 140 million. The device we created would not have to break down the deposits yet, but rather look for them, for example. You can make money with data. Anyone who wants to extract water or minerals has to know where they are. I believe we should change our approach by just being subcontractors and starting to implement our own projects.

PAP: In addition to money, you also need know-how.

UNTIL: You can get it. For example, the organizers of the aforementioned Mars mission work together with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The USA recently invited allied countries to cooperate in the ARTEMIS project. We could get technology from them, of course not for free, but for part of the profit, for example.

PAP: There is talk of bold plans to make money from space resources. The human is about to land on the Silver Globe. What is real space mining related work like in the world?

UNTIL: The world is racing. A lot of money is spent on this, various technologies are being developed, for example to extract raw materials from regoliths or to drill asteroids with the help of a focused beam of light. We don't know exactly about many technologies. Companies are founded that want to deal, for example, with the recording of space deposits.

Some companies have really bold visions. One of them is the Japanese company iSpace, which wants to create a lunar city by 2050. At the same time, he has a detailed plan. The company wants to search for reservoirs and sell data first, then extract water and then more raw materials. Toyota joined investors and has to believe in the potential of such a deal.

Caterpillar also plans to invest in space mining. Regarding governments, Donald Trump issued a policy allowing the use of nuclear energy in spacecraft and mandated the development of ways to collaborate on the use of space resources with allied countries. The US has also developed a new space law. A special commission in this country recommended, among other things: Creation of an exchange of space resources and intensification of activities in order to maintain the leading position in the field of mining in space.

PAP: What role can Poland play and what can our country gain?

UNTIL: This is a historic and unique opportunity for us. We are not France or Germany who, 15 years later, can take part in the race and invest hundreds of billions of euros. We have to join space mining now if we want a slice of this pie. I believe that if we do not do this, we will be marginalized as a country in the future.

PAP: Doesn't that also apply to other technologies? Why is space mining so special?

UNTIL: I would be happy if other technologies were also seriously invested. First of all, however, we will not earn that much, for example with artificial intelligence, quantum computers or other areas. There is a huge amount of money waiting in space mining. Second, rapid advances can also be made in the development of many technologies, as they are also needed to carry out mining projects. Thanks to space mining, our country can become very rich.

PAP - Science in Poland, Marek Matacz

Source and photos: Science in Poland