Asteroid-mining may be possible with Scar-e robot
Image credit: Foto 66307479 © Rastan | Dreamstime.com
Advancements in robotics technology might enable scientists to drill asteroids for precious metals such as iron, nickel and platinum.
The Space Capable Asteroid Robotic Explorer known as Scar-e is a six-legged robot capable of mining precious metals from asteroids.
Designed by the Asteroid Mining Corporation (AMC) in partnership with Tohoku University in Japan, Scar-e could be the key to opening up the exploration of the solar system, in line with current trends in the launch services market, with a low-cost, highly functional, walking and climbing robot.
Currently, the world is facing a shortage of precious metals, particularly those vital for the making of consumer electronics such as phones, laptops and cars, as well as battery and hydrogen technology, causing chaos in supply chains. With only a finite supply of them on Earth, people are increasingly looking to space to meet this increased demand.
Enter Scar-e, a robot capable of gripping onto an asteroid in space to stop it from floating away and drilling it to obtain iron, nickel and platinum.
Asteroids are often rich in precious minerals that we go to great lengths (and depths) to mine here on Earth. Therefore, finding large deposits of platinum on an asteroid "would allow humanity to start innovating in a way we haven't done in quite a while”, AMC’s Mitch Hunter-Scullion, CEO and founder of AMC, told the BBC.
"They essentially hold on to the side of the asteroid for dear life as it screams through the solar system,” he said.
In addition to asteroid mining, Scar-e might also be capable of facilitating planetary and lunar exploration and mining operations, as well as in-orbit asset maintenance. Down on Earth, the robot will also be used for critical infrastructure inspection, nuclear decommissioning, remote sensing, disaster relief and search and rescue, reducing human exposure to hostile environments.
The materials that Scar-e would be able to mine from asteroids could be the key to achieving net zero, as it would ensure the supply of platinum group metals, vital ingredients in the development of a new infrastructure based around hydrogen fuel cells.
“A new era is dawning in our relationship with our cosmic backyard, one which offers the opportunity to radically shift our global economy into a more environmentally friendly and socially just world,” Hunter-Scullion said.
Founded in 2016, AMC is the UK's first space mining enterprise. To drive its mission of exploiting the potential of an off-Earth commercial market, AMC has recently closed a pre-seed round with Spanish company E2IN2 S.A.
However, despite the excitement that comes with this technology, Hunter-Scullion admits that asteroid mining is still a long way off. In addition to ensuring that robots are capable of landing on rocks, scientists still need to overcome the challenge of remotely building mining infrastructure, and devising a way of sending the materials back to Earth.
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