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:

Senator’s kickback from pork bigger than those of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – Lacson 4 mins elapsed 43 out of 414 Etihad passengers yet to be found, tested for MERS-CoV – Palace 10 mins elapsed Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH 19 mins elapsed ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe 43 mins elapsed Maid confesses in killing of 2 and stabbing of employer in Laguna 1 hour elapsed SM to rebuild Tacloban hospital 1 hour elapsed N. Korea finally offers condolences over ferry tragedy 1 hour elapsed PSEi slips after 4-day rally 1 hour 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
  1. Nokia to be named Microsoft Mobile
  2. Senator wants to probe PH slow Internet connection
  3. PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  4. Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  5. Facebook page launched to help people on Pag-asa Island kill boredom
  6. SC junks motions vs cybercrime law
  7. Did Deniece Cornejo lambast Vhong Navarro on social media?
  8. Judge in Apple v. Samsung patent trial fed up with smart phones in court
  9. Apple offering free recycling of all used products
  10. CFOs slowly getting tech-savvy
  1. Did Deniece Cornejo lambast Vhong Navarro on social media?
  2. PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  3. Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  4. Mommy Dionisia sings ‘Riking Bull,’sends netizens ablaze
  5. Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  6. Tech company: Change passwords or suffer ‘Heartbleed’
  7. Judge in Apple v. Samsung patent trial fed up with smart phones in court
  8. Philippines may watch ‘blood moon’ online
  9. Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  10. Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  1. #RejectedBbPilipinas2014Questions flood Twitter
  2. Did Deniece Cornejo lambast Vhong Navarro on social media?
  3. Netizens fall in love with Crimea prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya
  4. Mommy Dionisia Pacquiao scores, takes over social media
  5. Nude and so dangerous
  6. Mommy Dionisia sings ‘Riking Bull,’sends netizens ablaze
  7. Russia tries to curb Crimean prosecutor’s Internet fame
  8. Memes flourish after Pacquiao victory
  9. PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  10. Netizens thank Capa for Lee arrest

News

  • Senator’s kickback from pork bigger than those of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – Lacson
  • 43 out of 414 Etihad passengers yet to be found, tested for MERS-CoV – Palace
  • Maid confesses in killing of 2 and stabbing of employer in Laguna
  • N. Korea finally offers condolences over ferry tragedy
  • 16 CADPI sugar refinery workers now out of danger after toxic shower in Batangas
  • Sports

  • UP nips St. Benilde; Adamson blasts RTU in Filoil women’s caging
  • Kevin Garnett responds to Raptors’ GM F word
  • Albert Pujols hits 500th HR of major league career
  • UST posts twin kill in Filoil pre-season cup opening day
  • Wizards beat Bulls in OT to take 2-0 series lead
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • 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
  • Entertainment

  • Bollywood Oscars, film stars come to Florida
  • 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
  • Business

  • SM to rebuild Tacloban hospital
  • PSEi slips after 4-day rally
  • Toyota sells 2.58 million vehicles, outselling GM
  • McDonald’s 1Q profit slips as US sales decline
  • SEC approves SM’s P15B retail bond offer
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • 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

  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  • China won’t budge, wants PH gov’t to apologize to HK
  • Advertisement
    Marketplace