The USGS Begins Mapping Space To Mine Extraterrestrial Resources

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Daybreak at Gale CraterNASA

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) are experts in mapping natural resources here on Earth. Recently, however, the agency began large-scale mapping of space resources for mining.

The USGS has been fundamental in determining resources across the United States, from mapping oil fields offshore the Gulf of Mexico to understanding aquifer extents and their ability to support human water consumption, to mapping gold deposits in California. In addition to monitoring and predicting geologic hazards, resource determination and management is a primary objective of the agency.

Experts employed by the USGS, however, have always focused primarily on the United States to better understand its resources. Now, the USGS has begun to seriously map space resources to support both populations here on Earth as well as populations on other planets. This includes understanding the locations and extent of extraterrestrial minerals, metals, and water.

As reported by Space.com, experts at the USGS met in Golden, Colorado at the Colorado School of Mines a few months ago to take part in a Space Resources Roundtable. Topics during this presentation included:

  • What Can We Learn from Centuries of Exploration, Mining, and Assessment on Earth to Better Utilize the Rest of the Solar System?
  • Five Phases of Technical and Financial Lunar Development
  • Economic Feasibility of Space Solar Power in Remote Mining Operations

The primary focus of the meeting was to practically lay out the current state of space resource exploration, with feasibility as a primary focus. Key objectives of the USGS are to understand and characterize economically available ice distribution within the solar system as well as other minerals and metals. Due to logistical constraints, the Moon, Mars, and nearby asteroids tend to be focus areas.

The recent focus on space resource exploration is no surprise given the new director of the USGS, Jim Reilly. Reilly is both a geologist and a former NASA astronaut, having flown on three space shuttle missions. Reilly’s background as both a geologist and a former NASA astronaut makes him a perfect candidate to be at the forefront of space resource mining.

The new director of the USGS, Jim Reilly.Wikipedia

There is increasing interest commercially and governmentally to understand and begin space resource mining. This dovetails with the planned presence of colonies on Mars, increasing space travel, and increasingly limited resources here on Earth.

The USGS anticipates they will be implicitly directed and funded to conduct thorough assessments of space resources. While extraterrestrial resources remain unmined they are also unclaimed, leading to what could be a modern day space race to both claim and mine extraterrestrial resources.

Recent assessments estimated that nearby asteroids could fully support humanity with water and metal. However, at this point, there remains a significant amount of research, sampling, and testing before space resource mining becomes a reality. While in its infancy, it is increasingly clear that humans will likely not be limited by Earth’s resources in future generations.

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