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Asteroid mining, space tourism and the new space race

For Equal Times

(AFP/Bruce Weaver).

A source of poetic musings for some and an area of geostrategic competition for others, space is also starting to become a new niche market for the shrewdest of public and private entrepreneurs. For decades, the conquest of space was essentially just one more area of strategic competition between the great powers but now, the most intrepid economic players are beginning to see it as an opportunity to make handsome profits from everything that happens above an altitude of 100 kilometres – the frontier that marks the start of outer space. Rapid technological progress and human need (but also the urge to push boundaries and the pull of exhibitionism and fame) have brought us to a point where space mining and space tourism have already moved beyond the realms of science fiction and into the realms of the possible, becoming real options in the here and now.

With regard to space mining, there is the recent news that NASA’s Osiris-Rex probe has begun its journey home with material collected from the surface of asteroid Bennu (with the aim of studying the early solar system). It is not the first, as the Japanese probe Hayabusa reached the vicinity of asteroid Itokawa in September 2005 but, if it does make it back to Earth (in September 2023), it will be the most important mission in this field, demonstrating the technical possibility of landing on an asteroid, despite the lack of gravity, and bringing home resources.

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