Trillions of dollars worth of commodities exist in the vastness of space just waiting for someone with the technical know-how, technology and logistics capabilities to extract them from asteroids and get them back to Earth.
“It’s out of this world, literally,” remarked Tom James, a commodities and finance expert who edited “Deep Space Commodities: Exploration, Production and Trading.” The book offers a practical guide for navigating the future of commodities outside the confines of Earth – including negotiating with aliens.
James delved into his book and the future prospects of harnessing resources from space during an interview with FreightWaves Executive Publisher Kevin Hill during the SpaceWaves virtual conference on Thursday.
“There are some asteroids out there that contain more platinum than has ever been mined on Earth in the history of mining,” James said.
Apart from the practical barriers to mining and transporting all that platinum, James noted, “It’d be a one-off trade because you’d collapse the market.”
Still, the future of extracting resources is slowly becoming a reality. In October, OSIRIS-REx successfully extracted 60 grams of material from the near-Earth asteroid 101955 Bennu.
Beyond the breathtaking prospect of that golden ticket asteroid, James sees a more practical but still exciting future for rare commodities that are needed from supercomputers to medical devices like MRI machines.
“There are a lot of things that will help us create a better world on Earth,” James said.
The moon represents an important stepping stone to harnessing the resources of the farther reaches of space, particularly of minerals and water that can be harnessed, James said. The return of manned missions to the moon will pave the way for having a permanent base, which will make it easier to launch missions that can handle larger payloads.
While there are many unknowns about when it will be possible to harness commodities from beyond Earth, important legal frameworks already exist, including the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. The result is that some things are off-limits.
“We can’t enslave alien species,” James said.