Asteroid Mining 101: Wealth for the New Space Economy
By John S. Lewis
Moffett Field, Calif.: Deep Space Industries, 2015.
Pp. 184. $25 hardcover.
John Lewis has written an incredibly informative book on the scientific, logistical, and business-related aspects of asteroid mining. Deep Space Industries, the publisher of the book, is poised to begin offering commercial space services in 2016, with a long-term view of profitably mining asteroids. Planetary Resources, another company founded with the eventual goal of asteroid mining, has a similar timeline. The presence of multiple firms already competing for a share of what seems to be a fantastic market is heartening and fulfills possibilities raised in previous accounts of private-sector developments in space (see, e.g., Lewis D. Solomon, The Privatization of Space Exploration: Business, Technology, Law, and Policy [New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2012]; Edward L. Hudgins, ed., Space: The Free Market Frontier [Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2003]).
The first seven chapters provide an outline of the composition and (orbital) locations of asteroids. This background knowledge is necessary to give context to the later chapters that more explicitly touch on business issues. The first chapter introduces readers to the idea of "geochemical differentiation," whereby the different layers of Earth were stratified by extreme heat and eventual cooling in the early days of Earth's planetary history (pp. 8-9). This history is important because it gave rise to the mining environment that exists on Earth: digging through top layers, where valuable minerals are scarce, to deeper layers, where concentrations of valuable ores lie. Most asteroids, however, never went through such a heating-cooling process, so even the surface layers are abundant in precious metals, such as platinum. This has profound implications, specifically technological, for how asteroid-mining operations will differ from mining operations on Earth.
The second chapter is an introduction to the structure of the Solar System, including the planets, their satellites, and asteroids. It also serves as an introduction to basic orbital mechanics and features an interesting history of the scientific discoveries made since the late eighteenth century concerning the Solar System's material bodies.
Next is an overview of scouting missions that attempt to acquire information about near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), which are also potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs)...