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Chinese company to send asteroid-mining robot into space in November

A Chinese company has planned to launch its first asteroid-mining robot into orbit in two months as China aims to take the lead in the potentially lucrative space industry.

Origin Space, a Beijing-based private space resources company, is set to send Neo-1, a 30-kilo (66-pound) small satellite carried by a Chinese Long-March series rocket, into space in November.

Despite dubbing the spacecraft ‘space-mining robot’, the upcoming mission is to test its capabilities of identifying and extracting valuable resources rather than actually mining an asteroid, the firm says.

A Chinese company has planned to launch its first asteroid-mining robot into orbit in two months as China aims to take the lead in the potentially lucrative space industry

A Chinese company has planned to launch its first asteroid-mining robot into orbit in two months as China aims to take the lead in the potentially lucrative space industry 

The picture released by Origin Space shows the different stages of development of building an X-ray exploration satellite. The Beijing-based private space resources company is set to send Neo-1, carried by a Chinese Long-March series rocket, into space in November

The picture released by Origin Space shows the different stages of development of building an X-ray exploration satellite. The Beijing-based private space resources company is set to send Neo-1, carried by a Chinese Long-March series rocket, into space in November

‘The goal is to verify and demonstrate multiple functions such as spacecraft orbital manoeuvre, simulated small celestial body capture, intelligent spacecraft identification and control,’ Yu Tianhong, an Origin Space co-founder, told US science magazine IEEE Specturm.

The firm claims its spacecraft will be the first space-mining robot produced by a commercial company in the world, and the mission will be a milestone for the space resources industry.

The mining of space resources has become increasingly popular in recent years, with several ventures aiming to profit from the potentially trillion-dollar industry.

The Beijing company also has another mission, Yuanwang-1 (‘Look up-1’), nicknamed ‘Little Hubble’, which is slated to launch in 2021.

It will develop the ‘Little Hubble’ satellite together with DFH Satellite Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of China’s main state-owned space contractor CASC.

Our solar system needs to be protected from an impeding 'gold rush' of space mining efforts hat could leave us in a resource catastrophe in centuries, experts say. Pictured: Artist's impression of an asteroid being mined for resources

Our solar system needs to be protected from an impeding ‘gold rush’ of space mining efforts hat could leave us in a resource catastrophe in centuries, experts say. Pictured: Artist’s impression of an asteroid being mined for resources

It will carry an optical telescope designed to observe and monitor Near Earth Asteroids, according to the US magazine, citing the Chinese firm, which notes that identifying suitable targets is the first step toward space resources utilisation.

Origin Space also aims to take its satellite to the Moon, with a possible launch date of late 2021 or early 2022.

But experts have warned that our solar system needs to be protected from an impeding ‘gold rush’ of space mining efforts that could leave us in a resource catastrophe in centuries.

Researchers from the US Smithsonian Institution and King’s College London argue for preserving seven-eighths of the solar system as official ‘space wildernesses.’

Astrophysicist Martin Elvis of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts teamed up with King’s College London philosopher Tony Milligan to explore how quickly space mining might exhaust the solar system’s viable resources.

The duo found that humankind would use up an eighth of the solar system’s realistically-accessible resources within 400 years, assuming an annual growth rate for the space mining industry of 3.5 per cent.








This growth rate would be comparable to that found in the use of iron from the start of the Industrial Revolution until the present day.

After four centuries, we would have only 60 years to rein in the growth of the space economy before the solar system’s usable resources would be completely gone.

Based on these findings, researchers are proposing that industrial exploitation of the solar system’s resources be capped at one-eighth — leaving the rest as protected, wilderness-status areas.

WHY DO SCIENTISTS WANT TO MINE ASTEROIDS?

Several start-ups have begun to explore the idea of mining near-Earth asteroids for precious resources.

The celestial objects are made of carbon, silicon or metal, but it is metallic asteroids that mining companies are most interested in.

These rogue blocks of minerals are teeming with precious metals, including pricey platinum, which could be worth quadrillions on Earth.

Nickel, iron and gold are also found in abundance within metallic asteroids.

Nasa estimates the total value of resources locked in space rocks is £522 quintillion – equivalent to £75 billion ($100 billion) for each person on Earth. 

A company could send a small space probe to intersect with asteroids as they pass near Earth, and mine them for these resources.

Experts have warned that doing so may destroy commodity prices and cause the world’s economy to collapse.  

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