30.05.2018 change 30.05.2018

Geologist on extraterrestrial mining: important in the context of human settlements in space

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Extraterrestrial mining is important in the context of establishing human settlements in space in the future. Raw materials on a given extraterrestrial object will be necessary for the settlers` survival, says geologist Prof. Tadeusz Przylibski from Wrocław University of Science and Technology.

The term extraterrestrial mining has been used at least a dozen years, the scientist notes. But practical extraterrestrial mining still does not exist; there are no extraterrestrial miners or extraterrestrial mining industry.

According to the scientist, this type of mining should be considered taking into account two aspects. The first is the need to meet the growing demand for raw materials on Earth. "Thinking about this, we would have to develop technologies for transporting raw materials from space" - the scientist says.

The second, more important aspect of extraterrestrial mining concerns the needs of people who would establish settlements away from the Earth in the future, for example on the Moon or Mars. "If we wanted to stay on these object for a longer time, we would have to use local resources of raw materials, because transporting materials from Earth is and will for a long time remain non-viable" - says Prof. Tadeusz Przylibski.

Asked about the time perspective, in which the first "excavators" could appear in space, the scientists says that the earliest it could happen is the second half of this century. According to the scientist, by 2050 scientists might define "some" goals of a space mission related to extraterrestrial mining, but the devices that will mine extraterrestrial raw materials will certainly not appear.

"It is not a technical, technological problem, but a financial one. Sending an excavator into space would involve huge costs" - he says.

According to Prof. Przylibski, in the near future NASA plans to change the orbit of one of the objects close to Earth - so that it could be verified whether we can redirect a celestial body that is a potential mineral deposit into orbit, and then mine it.

The professor points out that knowledge about extraterrestrial raw materials is not yet extensive. For the time being, the knowledge about the composition of extraterrestrial bodies of the Solar System comes primarily from meteorites that fall onto Earth and limited materials from space missions.

"On this basis, we can predict what material we will find on particular object in the Solar System. We can also give engineers directions on how to construct machines necessary to exploit these resources" - says the scientist. And he notes that wherever man appears, mining will follow.

Asked about the Polish contribution to the development of extraterrestrial mining, the scientist explains that Poland lacks the resources and institutions that could deal with this issues. He adds that extraterrestrial mining - as a field of science, industry - is treated very seriously in Western Europe, USA, Japan, China and Australia. These countries have centres dealing with planetary science, or planetology - extraterrestrial geology. (PAP)

author: Beata Kołodziej

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