How asteroid Bennu introduced me to space economies
The year 2013 was momentous. Around this time in February, Chelyabinsk meteor entered the earth’s atmosphere in Russia. It was spectacular, to say the least, albeit my condolences to those wrongly affected. The visual treat of a burning meteor caused by an asteroid in space is a harsh reminder of how unpredictable and dramatic, the universe can be. Studies say that earth was the result of giant collisions and moon was the by-product. So another collision, if at all, is a calling for another planet-in-the waiting? A successor to earth maybe? Let’s take a break from the end of world’s discussion.
Universe and its complexities intrigue a few in our world who wish to become multi world citizens. Space technology, thanks to Elon and his SpaceX, has garnered interests from all streams of societies – private enterprises, thought leaders, common man alike. If all goes as planned, Insight – NASA’s unmanned spacecraft will softly land on Mars- ISRO to follow in 2021, SpaceX will send tourists to moon, and Google will soon announce its USD $30 million Lunar X prize. A lot’s happening in space exploration and if private enterprises are involved, the world takes note.
While some companies are interested in setting up ancillary services such as supporting government space missions, developing space tourism, conducting experimental advertising and branding, in the scheme of events, I think the interest in space is beyond fanfare.
I have seen comical futuristic movies in India that sells land on the Moon. Funny now, but why not. Today, there is a huge market for the yellow metal, glorified carbon crystals, white metals and other precious stones – I wear a gold ring with an embedded yellow sapphire stone, planning a second ring with another precious stone; the craze either exists or imposed, but the demand exists. The theory of demand and supply in economics drive the market price of goods and services in the market. Since consumers perceive these minerals as scare, hence precious, the market is huge and only growing. Enterprises are more than happy to cater to this demand. But imagine, generally, if scarce and precious, there is a possibility of a market for that product, isn’t it? How about a rock from Mars, or moon dust? Or a billion year old dust sold at Christies? I think that will make a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift – to gift a platinum ring with an embedded exclusive piece of mars rock with a certificate from the ‘International Mars Stone Council’ (IMSC - non existent as of today) endorsing its genuineness. Imagine the business opportunities. Try to search the internet, and you will find companies already figuring out this market.
Coming back to the theory of demand and supply, remember our general assumption on precious and scarce resources as valuable? What if humans had the capability to mine asteroids? What’s in it? Well, asteroids as the scientists say carried water molecules such as sugar, amino acids. I particularly like the way Alun Anderson puts it –
“The only way to test the remarkable idea that Earth can be seen as a giant egg, fertilized by material from outer space, is to look at pristine material from an asteroid and see what it contains”.
Collisions of asteroids formed planets that bore minerals and metals. Expanding our geographies beyond earth will create new mining opportunities, inter planetary transportation facilities and in the process, we might end up meeting our alien friends/foes. The demand and supply equation might see an upside down inversion, with easy availability of the precious-and-scarce-on-earth minerals and metals. But there’s always new precious items up for discovery and sale.
I know mining in the space is not easy. But hey, where there is opportunity, there is business. With this, I’d like to come to the last figment of my imagination, and for this, I need to talk a little about the asteroid Bennu. This asteroid is of particular interest due to its origins and the general chatter around it. Bennu, which is about 510 meters tall, pole to pole, is a B-type asteroid that completes an orbit around the sun every 1.2 years, and comes close to earth every 6 years. Scientists predict Bennu’s collision with Earth in the 22nd Century (read more here). It is a carbon rich asteroid and has origins that dates back to ten million years. So if one has serious plans to make it big for their great grandchildren, then embrace the space, and the nearly 500,000 asteroids that surround the earth. I am confident that with such enthusiasm in private enterprises for innovation and research in space, we will have a thriving business, and a whole bunch of Stark Enterprises (reference from the movie Iron Man) who create equipment to blast asteroids and mine them. This opens up more opportunities in inter planetary or inter galactic defense, with private outposts’ setup in Moon, Mars and where-not. Imagine governments engaging private enterprises to divert an asteroid that is going to hit earth.
The possibilities and opportunities are limitless and scary. Imagine how the human race establishes itself as the most advanced race in the universe, but at the cost of creating more space debris. In this unknown territory, the implications and repercussions are unknown to general observers.
While Internet of things form the beginning of Industry 4.0, somewhere in the next sequence of the industrial revolutions, lies the Internet of Worlds.