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Editorial comment

As the green energy transition continues to drive the need for critical minerals, figures within the mining industry have begun looking to the stars for innovative solutions. Space mining, an idea once restricted to science fiction, could become a reality. With companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, making rocket launches more cost-effective, mining resources from asteroids, or even the Moon, is gradually being seen as a viable way to meet rising demand.


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In the past decade, organisations and private businesses have begun assessing the feasibility of space mining, both in terms of its economic potential and the technologies needed for this ambitious endeavour. Space agencies from Japan and the US have started to collect samples from asteroids in order to glean better insights into the minerals that can be extracted, during missions such as NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex in September 2023. Private companies have also entered the stage, with AstroForge intending to simulate an extraction in space before heading for asteroids. Progress has been small, but significant in comparison to 15 years ago.

What are the benefits of exploring this new frontier? With rising awareness of the environmental and social impacts of mining on Earth, extracting resources from space could avoid further damage being done to our planet. It would also represent a greener alternative to deep-sea mining, which has already attracted much controversy and criticism. Recent studies have indicated that asteroids contain platinum and cobalt – key components of many electronics and electric vehicles – in higher concentrations than on Earth.1 Mining asteroids could boost finite mineral supplies and, in turn, strengthen economies.

However, it is still early days, and many obstacles remain that prevent the widespread adoption of space mining. Most notably, there is a significant lack of global consensus regarding the ownership of space resources, which could lead to conflict between competing nations. In 2015, the US passed the SPACE Act, giving its citizens the right to own materials extracted from space, and other countries, including Luxembourg and the UAE, have followed suit in passing their own legislation.2 Although the NASA’s Artemis Accords, signed in 2020 by 40 countries, established cooperation for safe and peaceful space exploration, there is still a need for a wider legal framework that concretely determines ownership rights and holds companies and governments accountable.

Moreover, space mining comes with a great number of uncertainties. A sudden drive to mine resources from space could not only disrupt economic markets, but also create irrevocable environmental impacts. Rocket launches emit a large amount of greenhouse gases, and there are concerns that mining asteroids could generate space debris. It is imperative that humanity avoids doing the same damage to space as it has to Earth.

So, will space mining take off any time soon? The mining industry is no stranger to innovation, and space might be the next frontier to target. While technological developments will undoubtedly skyrocket in the coming decades, pioneering companies and nations need to first ensure that extraction can take place in a sustainable and responsible way. We need to think before we act, and this can only be done with effective cooperation and regulations that safeguard the future of humanity, Earth, and the surrounding solar system.

  1. FLEMING, M., LANGE, I., SHOJAENIA, S., and STUERMER, M., ‘Mining in space could spur sustainable growth’, PNAS, (16 October 2023), https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2221345120

  2. OSBURG, J., and LEE, M., ‘Governance in Space: Mining the Moon and Beyond’, RAND, (18 November 2022), https://www.rand.org/pubs/commentary/2022/11/governance-in-space-mining-the-moon-and-beyond.html


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