As the global population grows and our natural sources continue to deplete, where will we mine next?
Over the course of the last century, global population has surged from around one billion to more than seven billion. Authorities who first noticed this potentially troubling trend might say today’s widely publicized strain on our planet’s natural resources was a foregone conclusion.
Many of the world’s greatest minds are currently engaged in efforts to resolve the growing gap in supply versus demand. While they’ve all presented a number of lofty solutions, some are, quite literally, out of this world.
Putting the Problem into Perspective
By some calculations, Earth’s current mine efforts should generate enough resources to sustain about two billion people if demand remains steady. This obviously falls a bit short of our collective expectations. Since the commodities being mined aren’t renewable, many are predicting imminent doom for humanity.
Expanding the Horizons of the Mining Industry
Certain researchers and experts across a range of industries argue the current depletion of natural resources refers to only easily reachable mining venues. These are said to account for less than one percent of the total land available. American cross-industry giant Lockheed Martin has stepped in with a hybrid airship presently in a class all its own that could reach the remote mining locations.
The global company’s LMH-1 hybrid has already piqued the interest of United Kingdom’s Straightline Aviation to the tune of an estimated $480 million in pre-production purchases. Though initial development of this technology began on a somewhat darker top-secret note, its potential for more practical use was the driving force behind Lockheed Martin’s marketed design. Company officials took extensive measures to tailor the LMH-1 more specifically to the mining industry’s needs.
This distinctive airship is surrounded by a helium-filled membrane generating 80 percent of the craft’s lift, while an aerodynamic tri-lobe hull and four side-mounted engines combine to launch it into the air and keep it steadily afloat.
The LMH-1 is fully capable of hovering when the need arises and is equipped with a signature Air Cushion Landing System designed to essentially act as suction cups for lighting on, and holding fast to, any type of terrain.
Purposes of the LMH-1 will center on fuel and cargo deliveries, facilitating global efforts to venture further into areas where a mine could be rich in vital resources, but is difficult to get to.
This industry innovation will reduce the need for complex transport infrastructures. The hybrid airship’s applications could eventually branch off into other areas of the mining industry as well as search and rescue, disaster relief efforts and commercial transportation.
At this point, the LMH-1’s purposes are being carried out by helicopters for mine sites. While they’ve served the industry well, their payload capabilities amount to less than half those of their pending replacements. Fuel consumption lingers at five times more than Lockheed Martin’s upcoming airship.
The LMH-1 has been proven more efficient and is said to offer a number of environmental benefits over helicopters.
“Not only will the LMH-1 lower construction costs by reducing the need to build transport infrastructure, the low environmental impact would also lower clean-up costs at remote sites,” said Program manager for hybrid airships at Lockheed Martin Bob Boyd.
Though more readily available resources can be tapped into via the LMH-1, some are expressing concern over whether the industry should expand and mine currently untapped terrain. Many argue all that extra space should be reserved for agricultural purposes to support the swelling population.
Although thoughts have turned to both industries sharing the land, the potential impact of mining could render it unviable for farming. Regardless, the LMH-1 is set to begin fostering mining efforts within three years’ time.
Gazing Beyond Present-Day Parameters
While Lockheed Martin is developing a more down-to-earth approach to accessing much-needed natural resources, others are hoping to take the mining industry to unprecedented new levels.
The idea of a mine on an asteroid has been tossed around among various groups for some time; however, Luxembourg’s Deep Space Industries, in partnership with the Société Nationale de Crédit et d’Investissement, have already set the wheels in motion.
With the launch of the Luxembourg Space Sources project, the multifaceted conundrum of space-based resource extraction is now underway. First, DSI is developing a scout ship of sorts deemed Prospector-X whose mission will be to seek out near-Earth objects appropriate for mining.
Successful mineral extraction efforts require extensive access to water. Since we’re already running a bit low on this most precious of resources here on Earth, authorities are telling everyone involved they can’t take it with them.
Studies have shown three general categories of asteroids lie within reach. C-Type asteroids hold greater water content than their counterparts, so these will be high on Prospector-X’s list of priorities.
From there, those classified as X-type offer the highest metal concentration, making these the targets of mining operations. S-Type asteroids are potentially less valuable. Though they appear to be more plentiful, their mineral content isn’t as readily accessible as that of X-Type asteroids.
If the industry does become space-bound, each type of asteroid could play an important role in maintaining mining efforts as well as sustaining humanity.
Although DSI has made considerable strides in the field of asteroid mining, the technology involved is still light years away from practicality.
“It’s almost as if we were drilling for the first oil and we were developing the internal combustion engine,” Chairman of the Board Rick Tumlinson noted.
Much more in-depth research and development will be needed before Prospector-X and its fellow mining spacecraft will take to the skies. With this comes the issue of extensive funding, which could be considered the program’s next biggest hurdle.
In theory, both proposed solutions to Earth’s natural resource shortage are viable. Lockheed Martin’s contribution to the industry is much closer to completion, yet devoting more land to mining could thwart vital future agricultural applications.
DSI’s far-reaching goals take mining beyond the confines of the planet, but their project remains decades from actual implementation.
The question here might be this: Will their plans be carried out in time to save the planet from desolation? Perhaps the LMH-1 will be an immediate resolution, and Prospector-X and its cohorts will step in before Earth is completely stripped of its reserves.