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  • Some say humanity's future as a space-faring species is just around the corner.

  • But realistically, how are we going to get there?

  • The answer is asteroids.

  • These seemingly unimpressive lumps of rock could actually be the intergalactic pit stops for exploring the universe.

  • They have the potential to become cosmic gas stations and the building blocks for habitats

  • on Mars; to change how we navigate through space, and even to revolutionize Earthly engineering and economies.

  • But their potential remains untapped.

  • - We call the asteroids the stepping stones to the solar system.

  • And we live in the age where humanity will make the leap into space.

  • So how close are we to mining in space?

  • Scientists and entrepreneurs want to mine asteroids because they can contain metals,

  • water, rare minerals, and even elements that are impossible to form on Earth.

  • They're huge, they're everywhere, and while they all sort of look like your average

  • space rock, there are some key differences between each type that determine which one to mine first.

  • From the outside, the one with the most gold-rush potential would seem to bemetallic asteroids,”

  • made of nickel-ironthat may also contain valuable metals like palladium, platinum, and of course, gold.

  • But don't be fooled.

  • The real jackpot here is the Carbonaceous asteroids, which might just contain the most

  • valuable resource of all... water.

  • - Before we go after the minerals for mining purposes, the first thing we need to do is

  • learn how to extract water from asteroids.

  • Water is going to be like the oil of the Space Age.

  • A water source in our planetary neighborhood would be like a space oasis: a source of hydrogen

  • and oxygen for rocket fuel and life support systems, a tool to shield us from radiation,

  • and even a source of drinking water for astronauts.

  • The problem is, finding these C-type asteroids is... tricky.

  • - The carbonaceous asteroids are extremely dark, darker than a blackboard, darker than freshly laid tar.

  • How do you find those?

  • All that sunlight they don't reflect gets absorbed, warms them up, and they glow in the infrared.

  • That's why scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing the Near-Earth Object

  • Camera, or NEOCam, which, in addition to identifying potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects,

  • will be able to comb the infrared for evidence of C-type asteroids.

  • Okay, so we can identify which rock to target.

  • Now we just have to figure out how to get a piece of it.

  • While a number of space probes, like Hayabusa 2, are working on this right now, they're

  • still just at the sample collection phase.

  • What we need is to know how to successfully mine an asteroid.

  • Nets, harpoons, augers, and even a giant magneticrakehave all been proposed.

  • The problem is traditional mining methods rely on the application of forcewhich

  • is a challenge in low-gravity.

  • - If you saw the movie where Bruce Willis saved the Earth by landing on an asteroid

  • and dropping atom bombsthat's really problematic.

  • - A lot of these asteroids are just piles

  • of rubble, and they're held together by microgravity, a million times weaker than gravity on Earth.

  • If you hold onto a rock, you say, "Ah, I've landed on the asteroid," you pull on the rock

  • because you're trying to drill in, it'll come away, right?

  • And then the next one will come away, and then the next one.

  • What are you actually going to hold onto?

  • One Zen answer: nothing.

  • At least, that's the idea behind the approach that Dr. Sercel and his team at TransAstra

  • are developing, dubbed 'Optical Mining.'

  • - What we do is we take large, very lightweight, thin film solar reflectors, concentrate large

  • quantities of sunlight into small areas.

  • When the sunlight hits the surface of the asteroid, it causes a thermal shock that breaks

  • the surface and drives the water and other valuable volatile chemicals out.

  • That process of driving the volatiles out actually cleans the surface so that more sunlight

  • can drill holes in the surface.

  • We don't even have to touch the surface of an asteroid to dig holes in it.

  • This ant-and-magnifying glass technology sounds like some kind of sci-fi-laser-ray-gun, but

  • it's real.

  • And Joel's team is about to start the next phase of testing it using the world's biggest

  • lightbulb and synthetic asteroids at the Colorado School of Mines.

  • And with continued support from NASA, their experiments are generating some buzz.

  • But what then?

  • What do you do with a bag of vaporized space rock?

  • - A clever idea that TransAstra is developing is that they will go to an asteroid and use

  • some of the water that they mine as propellant to come back.

  • - If we can turn near-Earth asteroids into gas stations to refuel spacecraft, that has

  • a tremendous effect in reducing the cost of human exploration.

  • And the propellant thruster that TransAstra is developing channels one of the most industrious

  • creatures of the animal kingdom.

  • - Just as honeybees harvest nectar and they use then the energy of the nectar to power

  • their civilization, the APIS architecture harvests water and other valuable materials

  • from the asteroids, and then uses those materials with sunlight to power space industrialization and settlement.

  • First, TransAstra will launch Mini Bee, a small demonstrator vehicle, to test their

  • method on a simulated asteroid in low-Earth orbit.

  • If that can prove that Optical Mining works in space, a larger craft called the Honey Bee

  • will follow, and with the help of tug vehicles they call Worker Beesthey'll pave the way for the Queen.

  • - The Queen Bee is the ultimate asteroid mining system.

  • It's designed to fly out to an asteroid that might be a hundred feet across, capture that

  • asteroid in a giant enclosure, and then mine thousands of tons of water and other valuable

  • volatile materials from it.

  • - A small fleet of Queen Bees will create

  • a large ecosystem of water and other valuable materials in Earth space that'll make it so

  • that private venture can afford to build hotels on the moon and ordinary citizens will be

  • able to fly into space, aggregate their resources, and build space settlements out of asteroid resources.

  • But hold your horses... or, bees, I guess.

  • This sounds like we're getting back into that gold rush territory.

  • And what we don't want is to completely deplete the resources on Earth and then do

  • the same thing in the Solar System.

  • That's why Dr. Elvis is fighting to preserve the majority of our solar system as wilderness.

  • - We are very bad at looking ahead and seeing the consequences.

  • We need a warning bell, a trip wire saying, "If you got to this point, you may not think

  • it, but you're very close to finishing the entire resources of the asteroid belt."

  • So let's say we did preserve most of the solar system's untrammeled wilderness... like 7/8ths of it.

  • Then what would that leave us with?

  • - One-eighth is only three steps away from complete exhaustion of the solar system's resources.

  • And if we stopped at that point, we could keep that going for thousands of years.

  • So once we find the right asteroids, all we have to do is capture them, blast them with highly concentrated

  • sunlight, catch their debris and use it to propel insect-inspired spacecraft onto their

  • next stop, providing the ultimate 'cosmic gas stations' for humanity's highway through

  • the solar system - all while preserving the wilderness around that highway so that our

  • intergalactic future doesn't burn out before it even starts.

  • Wow... sounds like a lot of work.

  • Sohow close are we to mining in space?

  • - In 10 years, we'll be launching our first

  • asteroid mining vehicles to go out to asteroids and bring back substantive quantities of resources.

  • - In 100 years, it's quite plausible that

  • there will be people living on the moon in giant structures made of iron and solum,

  • which will come from the asteroids most likely.

  • - What we know about life is that as life

  • evolves, it fills whatever ecological niche or system it has.

  • Then it finds a way to jump to the next level.

  • Just at the time when we have the technology to make the leap into space, this is as significant

  • a moment as when fish came up on the land.

  • If you think the future is going to rock, check out more episodes of How Close Are We?

  • on this playlist.

  • And for more epic science stories, be sure to subscribe to Seeker.

  • Thanks for watching!

Some say humanity's future as a space-faring species is just around the corner.

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宇宙での採掘にどれだけ近いのか? (How Close Are We to Mining in Space?)

  • 90 3
    Jerry Liu に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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