Quantcast
Latest Stories

Space likely for rare earths search, scientists say



SYDNEY— The quest for rare earths vital to some of modern life’s most indispensable technologies may see mining robots jet to the stars within decades, a world-first conference in Australia was told Wednesday.

Yttrium, Lanthanum and the other 15 minerals which make up the group of elements known as rare earths are crucial to everything from wind turbines and hybrid cars to cruise missiles and the ubiquitous smartphone.

As technology advances so too does demand for the elements which, although relatively abundant, require laborious and waste-intensive processing to be freed from surrounding rock.

They are a precious commodity—so precious scientists are now looking beyond Earth’s reaches for new supplies, with moon and asteroid mining becoming a lucrative prospect, according to researchers and tech firms gathered in Sydney for the world’s first formal “Off-Earth Mining Forum”.

“It’s about joining the dots,” explained conference convenor Andrew Dempster from the Australian Centre for Space Engineering.

“I think we’ve got to the point where people are saying ‘yeah, I think we can do this’.”

A cross-section of the space and mining industry’s top minds have gathered to swap ideas about the latest advances in space and mining technology, from Rio Tinto and Sandvik to NASA and Japan’s space agency JAXA.

Rene Fradet, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory— the organization behind the current Mars Curiosity Rover mission— believes space mining will be possible and economical within 20-30 years.

But Dempster thinks it could be quicker than that.

“Most of the technology already exists, but there needs to be a business case. It depends on making that business case.”

Like the challenges, the costs are substantial: to transport one kilogram to the moon is $100,000, and none of the cutting-edge completely automated technology comes cheap.

One delegate, NASA affiliate Berok Khoshnevis from the University of Southern California, has developed technology to make waterless sulphur-based cement from the loose rubble on Mars and Earth’s moon.

Matthew Dunbabin, from the Australia’s government’s science agency CSIRO, has done a large-scale simulation of using mining machinery in space and told delegates the main issue was electrical power.

Few space missions had attempted significant excavations—the sum total of all NASA’s Apollo missions had been 382 kilograms and the Mars programme had netted in the order of “grams”, Dunbabin said.

Gravity, temperatures, atmospheric pressure, radiation and the consistency of surfaces themselves all present unique problems, complicated by the fact that operations in space would have to be largely automated and remote-controlled.

Space drilling also throws up the question: who owns the moon’s resources?

SingTel Optus lawyer Donna Lawler likened it to the law of the high seas, where energy firms can mine in international waters without claiming territorial ownership.

More than 100 countries including the US have ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which holds signatory nations responsible for activities in space but it is as yet untested.

It may be soon if space mining joins the moon landings in the annals of science fiction-turned-reality.

“There’s nothing really science fiction about any of this. In many ways a lot of the technology already exists, I don’t think we really have to invent much science,” said Dempster.


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter




Recent Stories:

Anti-Obama protesters clash with police in Manila 7 mins elapsed Lacson: Number of pork-tainted senators could form quorum 8 mins elapsed Anti-Obama protesters clash with police in Manila 14 mins elapsed Filipina, 51, shot dead by 24-year-old American boyfriend 38 mins elapsed Napoles’ surgery successful—doctor 38 mins elapsed Santiago wants Senate to recall Napoles 52 mins elapsed Visa-free US trip? Do not believe it, says consulate 1 hour elapsed Sherpas leave Everest; some expeditions nix climbs 2 hours elapsed
Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Aeronautics , Mining Robots , Rare Earth , Robots , Science & Technology , Space exploration



Copyright © 2014,
.
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement Advertisement

News

  • Anti-Obama protesters clash with police in Manila
  • Lacson: Number of pork-tainted senators could form quorum
  • Anti-Obama protesters clash with police in Manila
  • Napoles’ surgery successful—doctor
  • Santiago wants Senate to recall Napoles
  • Sports

  • Pacers rally past Hawks 101-85 to even series
  • David Moyes out as Manchester United manager
  • Nadal to face fellow Spaniard at Barcelona Open
  • Defensive Chelsea holds Atletico in scoreless draw
  • Popovich wins NBA coach of the year
  • Lifestyle

  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Sweet party for Andi Manzano
  • Safety in online buying and selling
  • Entertainment

  • Ex-Fox exec denies allegations in sex abuse suit
  • Kris Aquino backtracks, says Herbert Bautista and her are ‘best friends’
  • Summer preview: Chris Pratt enters a new ‘Galaxy’
  • Bon Jovi helps open low-income housing in US
  • Summer movie preview: Bay reboots ‘Transformers’
  • Business

  • McDonald’s 1Q profit slips as US sales decline
  • SEC approves SM’s P15B retail bond offer
  • $103M Vista Land bonds tendered for redemption
  • Oil slips to $102 as US crude supplies seen rising
  • SC stops Meralco power rate hike anew
  • Technology

  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Brazil passes trailblazing Internet privacy law
  • New York police Twitter campaign backfires badly
  • Opinion

  • One-dimensional diplomacy: A cost-benefit analysis of Manila’s security deal with Washington
  • No ordinary illness
  • Reforest mountains with fire trees and their kind
  • Day of the Earth
  • When will Chinese firm deliver new coaches?
  • Global Nation

  • Filipina, 51, shot dead by 24-year-old American boyfriend
  • China, rivals sign pact to ease maritime tensions
  • Visa-free US trip? Do not believe it, says consulate
  • Obama visit to Asia seen as counterweight to China
  • Violence mars militant protest at US Embassy
  • Advertisement
    Marketplace