Astrophysics student Nina Hooper wants space travel to be more accessible. How does she thinks that will happen? Asteroid mining. “Asteroids are like floating mountains in space full of valuable resources that we can extract,” Hooper says in a talk at TEDxHavardCollege. “Through these resources, we can incentivize the development of infrastructure and transportation in the nearby solar system, and with this infrastructure in place, human space travel becomes easier and cheaper, too.”
Hooper works on ways to make asteroid tracking and analysis easier and more efficient. Right now, it takes a lot of work to determine the composition of asteroids, but Hooper believes that research can change that. Using meteorite classification as a model, Hooper is developing equations to help scientists infer how much of an asteroid is made of a precious metal, like platinum, without having to travel and take samples of the asteroid itself.
Using this system to pinpoint asteroids with the most platinum is the first step, Hooper says, but there’s just as much to gain from the next and the next: “After we’ve extracted platinum [from an asteroid], we’ve had to shave down millions of tons of iron and nickel. And what is that? Stainless steel,” she says, “…[steel] we could use to create buildings and structures in space or to create a huge network of solar panels that could allow us to better harness energy from the sun and hopefully wean us off fossil fuels.”
And beyond steel and platinum, asteroids contain a wealth of compounds that do not exist on Earth, and something very crucial to human life: water. Water mined from asteroids is a potential source of hydration for both humans and food sources, and a way to gather hydrogen for rocket fuel. “You may like to think of asteroids as fuel stations for our rockets,” Hooper says.
“Asteroid mining is not just about making investors rich,” Hooper says. “With just one profitable resource in space, we don’t just start a business, we start a whole industry that will pave the way towards making space accessible for us.”
To learn more, watch Hooper’s whole talk below: