Getting a mine up and running on the moon or an asteroid would cost less than building the biggest gas terminals on Earth, according to research presented to a forum of company executives and NASA scientists.
A mission to Ceres, a dwarf planet 257 million miles from the Sun and the size of Texas, may cost about $27 billion. The expense includes 10 rocket launches to convey equipment, the extraction of metals and water, and the construction of an in-orbit facility to process the raw materials.
The costing comes from graduate business students at Australia’s University of New South Wales, which is also collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the economics of space mining. By comparison, Australia’s biggest single resources development — Chevron Corp.’s Gorgon liquefied natural gas plant — has an expected price tag of about $54 billion.
Still, getting investors to buy into the grand vision that mankind has a future in the stars is a high bar to clear.
“We shouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid too hard,” said Rene Fradet, deputy director of the engineering and science directorate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a speaker at the Off-Earth Mining Forum in Sydney on Thursday. “Investors are out there, but they need to know what the risk and return will be,” he said by phone.
Crucially, proponents no longer intend to deliver metals to Earth to replenish finite resources. The costs of a two-way journey are considered uneconomic and the focus instead is on providing materials for industries operating in space to power the exploration and eventual colonization of Mars and beyond.
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