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  • Iron,

  • Gold,

  • Copper.

  • Minerals are the lifeblood of the world's economy.

  • From the Arctic circle to the Sahara desert.

  • The $1.7 trillion mining industry supplies raw materials

  • needed for everything from sky scrapers to smart phones.

  • But mining also comes

  • with an increasingly critical environmental cost.

  • One that may require us to think about off planet solutions

  • before it's too late.

  • Asteroids, moons and planets in our own solar system

  • hold an essentially unlimited supply of untapped resources.

  • The first trillionaires,

  • will be those who mine asteroids.

  • Resources like gold,

  • platinum and rare Earth metals

  • make some of those asteroids incredibly high priced

  • but the most valuable element may be our most basic one.

  • What you want to mine in space is what you need a lot of.

  • And while humans have been mining

  • for thousands of years.

  • Mining in space requires new,

  • innovative technologies to realize any potential business

  • and economic opportunities.

  • Such technologies might just allow humanity

  • to expand operations off Earth.

  • And take that next giant leap.

  • These tiny dots represent the millions of asteroids

  • in our solar system.

  • Over the past two decades government

  • and private aerospace companies

  • have been investigating their composition,

  • location and even possible pay offs to mine them.

  • This one, known as Bennu

  • has an estimated value of $669 million.

  • Ryugu, $82 billion.

  • Better yet,

  • an asteroid called Davida

  • which is valued at more than $100 trillion.

  • And the reason for these high price tags,

  • they're made up of valuable metals

  • like platinum, gold and iron.

  • We believe that asteroids have platinum group metals,

  • rare Earth metals in higher percentages

  • than you might find on the Moon, for instance.

  • Only once in human history

  • has an astroid sample been brought back to Earth.

  • On the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's

  • Hayabusa mission in 2010.

  • And even then, the return sample was merely dust particles.

  • And the total cost of that mission,

  • approximately $250 million.

  • One problem is that compared to the Moon,

  • there's very little gravity.

  • So somehow you have to attach yourself to the asteroid

  • whereas on the Moon,

  • the gravity will hold your processing equipment in place.

  • So, the general answer to the question,

  • can we bring mining materials from space back to Earth?

  • The general answer is no.

  • Bringing things from space to Earth,

  • only makes sense if what is retrieved

  • is so extraordinarily valuable

  • and just not available on Earth.

  • And even returning the most valuable asteroids

  • could drastically devalue those materials.

  • Take asteroid 16 Psyche, for instance.

  • NASA is constructing a probe to launch in 2022.

  • To study the potato shaped object

  • which is roughly 95% metals.

  • Nickel iron, platinum and even gold.

  • Some estimates value the asteroid at $700 quintillion.

  • NASA says it may be the inner core of a developing planet

  • that somehow lost its outer layers.

  • Offering incredible insight into how planets are formed.

  • If someone did manage to bring large amounts

  • of this asteroid back to Earth,

  • supply of the resources would sky rocket.

  • Meaning we'd have more of the material

  • than we would have use for.

  • Causing the price to crash to almost zero.

  • Once we erode the rarity of a high value metal or mineral.

  • The value of that terrestrially could drop significantly.

  • Experts agree that a more likely scenario

  • is materials mined in space will stay in space.

  • Jump starting a whole new money making industry.

  • Any space nation will have looked at what's called

  • in-situ resource utilization.

  • Which is a very common space term

  • meaning you use the resources where you are.

  • So taking that model of

  • if you need it in space, mine it in space.

  • What would you be mining?

  • Mostly you need fuel.

  • There's something else much more valuable

  • for use in space that's abundant on Earth.

  • Water.

  • Not only can water sustain human and plant life

  • for future manned space missions.

  • The components of water,

  • hydrogen and oxygen can also be separated

  • and reassembled to make fuel.

  • The zero emission fuel called hydrogen fuel

  • is the same used in spacecraft propulsion

  • and fuel cell vehicles.

  • Hydrogen fuel research in this new space race

  • could also spur new technologies

  • that can help fight climate change

  • by speeding the elimination of fossil fuel use on Earth.

  • And there's already a high demand for it

  • and an immediate business opportunity

  • for risk tolerant companies wishing to make a fortune.

  • In a 2018 paper by industry, government

  • and academic experts,

  • they estimated that for an initial $4 billion investment

  • in the Moon water mining operation.

  • Which is about the cost of a luxury hotel in Las Vegas.

  • About $2.4 billion in revenue could be generated annually.

  • The sort of business case 101 for mining in space

  • is if you're gonna launch something from Earth,

  • it's gonna cost you about $10000, $20000 per kilo

  • to get it into space.

  • So if you need water for something in space.

  • And you can produce it for less than $10000 a kilo

  • then do it in space.

  • Do you know Launch Alliance, ULA?

  • They have put a price on the water in space.

  • They have said

  • "We'll give you this amount of money for the water."

  • Which means people who're going out

  • and trying to produce that water now have a customer.

  • In 2016 the ULA announced it's willing to pay

  • around $3000 per kilogram for propellant in an orbit

  • less than 2000 kilometers in altitude.

  • Called low Earth orbit.

  • Compared with the estimated price of $4000 per kilogram

  • to deliver the propellant from Earth.

  • Most experts believe the Moon

  • is a logical starting point for this.

  • It has more gravity than an asteroid,

  • making it easier to land.

  • And it's poles are thought to hold

  • vast amounts of water ice.

  • That potential volume of water has made it the focus

  • of NASA's Artemis program

  • Which aims to land astronauts on the Moon's southern pole.

  • And also make the space agency a critical first customer

  • for any water harvested on the Moon.

  • China, India, Israel.

  • The U.S., Europe.

  • Everyone is now sort of focusing on the Moon.

  • And all of these government programs

  • are looking to set up shop for a water mining future.

  • A fueling station on the Moon

  • could ultimately make space ventures much cheaper

  • and make future space missions possible.

  • Although entirely theoretical at this point,

  • here's how it could play out.

  • Water is mined on the Moon and a fueling station is set up.

  • This would provide the first customers,

  • most likely government agencies with water

  • for human consumption and fuel for spacecraft.

  • Water derived fuel could also be harvested on an asteroid.

  • Propellant transports then carry the fuel

  • from the surfaces to a stable storage point

  • between the Earth and the Moon.

  • Fueling stations can also be set up in low Earth orbit

  • making it accessible to satellites and other space craft.

  • As of now,

  • satellites that run out of fuel are decommissioned.

  • Extra fuel would allow them to stay in their orbits.

  • Increasing their life span.

  • Since using a rocket

  • to get fuel out of Earths atmosphere is expensive,

  • refueling in low Earth orbit can greatly improve the size,

  • type and cost of missions in space.

  • The commercial launch industry like Spacex

  • would also benefit from these fuel depots.

  • The use of lunar based propellant and commodities

  • may also provide a stepping stone

  • for interplanetary exploration.

  • But while there has been a renewed interest in the Moon,

  • it hasn't been easy.

  • In just 2019, missions to the Moons surface

  • by both India and Israel resulted in landing failures.

  • And the technology to mine and extract

  • these potential water reserves on the Moon

  • and beyond is still unproven.

  • But some entrepreneurs are still optimistic.

  • The answer is yes.

  • The technology exists.

  • We can put something together,

  • we can send something to the Moon that can mine water.

  • So we are sort of like the trail blazers

  • trying to figure out what's going on on the Moon.

  • What's below the surface?

  • Meet Honeybee Robotics.

  • They've designed drills used in NASA's past Mars missions

  • and have sampling and mining systems

  • going on future planned missions to the Moon,

  • Saturn's moon Titan.

  • Mars moon Phobos and Jupiter's moon Europa.

  • We've been focusing on developing high end,

  • fully autonomous drilling systems

  • from literally iPhone sized all the way to the size

  • that cannot fit inside this vacuum chamber behind me.

  • And that's why NASA

  • has long relied on their expertise.

  • Unlike your everyday drill from the hardware store,

  • their drills overcome the numerous limitations of space.

  • Which include extreme temperatures and low gravity.

  • That means you have to be very, very imaginative.

  • Very innovative.

  • To solve these problems.

  • He is actually trying to do what we do here on Earth

  • but with a fraction of the power.

  • With a fraction of the mass,

  • with a fraction of the volume

  • and drilling is unforgiving.

  • If you get stuck, if something goes wrong,

  • there is no second chance.

  • The difficulty in drilling would delay placement

  • of the second probe until the next day.

  • One of their innovative ideas called PlanetVac,

  • uses compressed gas to shoot material

  • into a sample container.

  • It's ergonomic design

  • allows it to be inside the foot of a lander.

  • And was chosen to go with NASA funded payloads to the Moon

  • and the Mars moon Phobos.

  • For mining and extracting water on the Moon,

  • they've created the planetary volatiles extractor

  • or PVEX.

  • And it not only drills, it mines.

  • It's based of a drill that removes a cylinder material

  • called a coring drill.

  • But it's not just any coring drill.

  • It's a system with heaters on the inside.

  • So you drill down, the required depth.

  • You heat up the material

  • that's on the inside of the coring drill.

  • And ice turns into vapor and vapor moves up the coring drill

  • into the cold finger.

  • So you're capturing water vapor like for example,

  • in your freezer when you have condensation.

  • PVEX is a mining system.

  • It can actually get into the soil.

  • It can actually extract water,

  • it can actually capture this water in a separate container.

  • We have all the pieces together.

  • And we can go to the Moon or Mars and mine it.

  • When it's tested on the Moon

  • which may happen in the next couple of years,

  • PVEX will be the first end to end mining system

  • deployed in space.

  • And they have even more futuristic ambitions,

  • to use a PVEX drill, like this one.

  • That not only extracts and stores water