A successful space mission could alter the destiny of Rustenburg, a dusty mining district in South Africa. On Sept. 8, NASA launched the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-Rex.
OSIRIS-Rex’s mission is to travel to the asteroid Bennu and return with a sample of “scientific treasure.” Among that treasure could be the potential to unlock thousands of tons of platinum, the main source of income for Rustenburg, and a significant revenue source for South Africa’s mining industry, the world’s number one platinum producer.
Thanks to studies of meteorites, we know that asteroids contain vast mineral wealth. OSIRIS-Rex is set to reach its destination in 2018 and will return a sample of between 60 grams to 2,000 grams (between 2 and 70 ounces) to earth. If the seven-year mission is a success, aspirant asteroid miners will be closer to dragging a platinum-rich asteroid closer to Earth, or mining it right there in zero-gravity. That could see Luxembourg could compete with South Africa, Russia and Zimbabwe, the world’s top platinum producers.
The small European nation announced earlier this year that it has partnered with asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries. By 2017, Deep Space Industries plans to launch it’s own small spacecraft on an experimental mission. Planetary Resources, another asteroid mining company that boasts the backing of Google co-founder Larry Page, has begun to test its probes in space.
A third mining company, Kepler Energy and Space Engineering, is keeping its strategy under wraps for now. Despite the exorbitant costs, asteroid prospectors are already popping up. In the meantime, NASA is also planning a robotic Asteroid Redirect Mission to drag asteroids closer to the earth, which could give companies and governments closer access, according to one forecaster.
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