Asteroid extraction thousands of kilometers away



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The work of a team of scientists from the University of Adelaide to perfect processes for extracting metals and minerals brings the possibility of exploiting the wealth of asteroids closer to reality. But science fiction will only become reality when the exploitation of asteroids will become economically and technically viable.

"Asteroids such as Bennu are closer to us than Adelaide in Alice Springs, about 1,000 kilometers away near the Earth," says Professor Volker Hessel, deputy research dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematical Sciences of the University of Adelaide (CHMS). ) and professor at the School of Chemical Engineering.

"Thanks to advances in space exploration, these bodies containing nickel, cobalt and platinum, as well as water and organic matter, are now within our reach."

Professor Hessel is currently developing an intensive solvent extraction process with a continuous flow metal, which is faster and more selective than existing processes, and adapted to the specific raw materials found in asteroids.

"Continuous flow chemistry is a proven technology, the process extracts the metal by mixing and separating the solvents, and the successive passes of the chemicals through the process result in the complete extraction of the metals," he says. he.

"The asteroid-origin metals coexist in different combinations and concentrations from those found in the Earth's rock.One of the team's challenges is therefore to understand how to extract them successfully. Breaking technology is needed because traditional technology does not provide the solution. "

Continuous flow technology is scalable and can operate in zero gravity and vacuum, making the extraction of space minerals a reality. Space Tango, an American partner of Professor Hessel, is developing extensive in-orbit flow chemistry capabilities. On May 4th, they launched a mission including the first onboard liquids separation treatment laboratory. A range of space-based companies is studying the vast potential benefits offered by the billions of asteroids worth each millions of dollars in raw materials.

"In the same way that colonizers and explorers exploited the resources of the New World about 400 years ago, today 's pioneer asteroids are trying to exploit wealth. of space ", explains Professor Hessel.

"There are currently 17 missions running space assets." NASA's OSIRIS-Rex mission on Bennu's asteroid will return with samples in 2023.

"Streaming chemistry technology needs to be perfected to use as little water as possible." Launch costs are expected to fall in the medium term, but they will remain a serious topic to consider, instead of requiring hundreds tons of water to extract a ton of metal, the development of the technology may require less than 10 tons.

"Many alternative approaches are under study, such as realigning orbits of asteroids to make them more accessible, treatments on the moon, on Mars or on Earth's orbit less than 1". 39, help available water, and on the asteroids themselves or in the near-Earth orbit.

"Under the Theme Space of the University's ECMS faculty and our In-Place Resource Utilization Laboratory (ISRU), our goal is to perfect metal mining technology at the University of Ottawa. 39, using continuous flow chemistry.This is only one element of our holistic approach to in situ resources.

"The exploitation of wealth trapped in asteroids will only become a reality when other disruptive elements combine and it will be economically and technically viable," says Professor Hessel.


According to industry expert, asteroid extraction could start in 10 to 20 years


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University of Adelaide


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Asteroid extraction thousands of kilometers away (June 11, 2019)
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