The first mention of asteroid mining was in the science fiction story by Garrett P. Serviss called Edison’s Conquest of Mars published in the New York Evening Journal in 1898. Now, there is a new space mining program at the Colorado School of Mines. The Center for Space Resources will offer the first ever Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in space mining beginning this month. Space mining has long been of interest for the School of Mines. The first mining probes won’t blast off into space for another five-eight years, but the School of Mines is hoping to ready students for those jobs ahead of time. The goal of the program is to prepare students for jobs in the space resources industry. They will focus on the exploration, extraction, and use of space resources. With the resources space has to offer, it’s only a matter of time before humans try to extract them.

The Colorado School of Mines’ space resources program could be the first of many like it that would ensure the pioneers of this new industry are well-equipped to meet its challenges. Right now, we really only worry about asteroids if they are heading toward the Earth or threaten spacecraft. Our relationship with asteroids is set to change dramatically in the coming years. Asteroids are laced with valuable raw materials including gold, silver, cobalt, and titanium. A single asteroid that was discovered in 1852 contains an estimated $10,000 quadrillion worth of iron; if we extracted all the materials from the asteroids in the asteroid belt, NASA believes we could give every human on Earth $100 billion.

There are currently three options for mining including bringing raw asteroidal material to Earth for use, processing it on-site to bring back only processed materials, and transporting the asteroid to a safe orbit around the Moon, Earth or to the ISS. Mining operations require special equipment to handle extraction and processing of ore in space. Due to the distance from Earth to an asteroid selected for mining, the round-trip time for communications will be several minutes or more, except during close approaches to Earth by near-Earth asteroids. Technology being developed by Planetary Resources to locate and harvest these asteroids has resulted in the plans for three different types of satellites which include Arkyd Series 100 (the Leo Space telescope) is a less expensive instrument that will be used to find, analyze, and see what resources are available on nearby asteroids, Arkyd Series 200 (the Interceptor) Satellite that would actually land on the asteroid to get a closer analysis of the available resources, and Arkyd Series 300 (Rendezvous Prospector) Satellite developed for research and finding resources deeper in space.

Technology being developed by Deep Space Industries to examine, sample, and harvest asteroids is divided into three families of spacecraft including FireFlies are triplets of nearly identical spacecraft in CubeSat form launched to different asteroids to rendezvous and examine them, DragonFlies also are launched in waves of three nearly identical spacecraft to gather small samples (5–10 kg) and return them to Earth for analysis, Harvestors voyage out to asteroids to gather hundreds of tons of material for return to high Earth orbit for processing.

In February 2016, the Government of Luxembourg announced that it will be creating an industrial sector to mine asteroid resources in space by, among other things, creating a “legal framework” and regulatory incentives for companies involved in the industry. By June 2016, it announced that it would “invest more than $200 million in research, technology demonstration, and in the direct purchase of equity in companies relocating to Luxembourg.” In 2017, it became the first European country to pass a law conferring to companies the ownership of any resources they extract from space. Asteroid mining could potentially revolutionize space exploration.