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Study: Profitable Asteroid Mining Likely More Difficult Than Estimates

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(Photo Courtesy of NASA/Newsmakers)

(Photo Courtesy of NASA/Newsmakers)

Cambridge, Mass. (CBS CONNECTICUT) – The possibility of a trillion-dollar industry in harvesting space rocks from near-Earth asteroids has taken a step back in response to a new study which located only a handful of suitable asteroids.

The Harvard study published in the journal Planetary and Space Science estimates the number of asteroids which may contain ore and other “commercially profitable” material that can be harvested as a resource. The data suggests that only 10 near-Earth asteroids may be fit for profitable commercial mining operations.

The research conducted by Martin Elvis, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, estimated that mineral wealth could range from $800 million to $8.8 billion in harvesting the limited near-Earth asteroids.

The study’s results have drawn criticism from Planetary Resources, which is supported by large investors such as film director James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Spectrum reports. A prospective trillion-dollar industry of harvesting minerals such as platinum, palladium and iridium from asteroids is staked on the hopes of launching such space programs.

Some prospective space-mining projects include plans to go beyond near-Earth asteroids and to begin projects in the Main Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter. An area that space-mining firms hope will contain possibly trillions in mineral wealth.

Although the results of the Harvard study have a wide-range of possibilities, much of the prospective value of space-mining projects will be clearer if NASA is able to get its asteroid mission to capture and place an asteroid in stable orbit around the Earth.

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