The 2020s promise to be rich in discoveries for NASA. And among the most awaited missions, that concerning the asteroid “Psyche 16”, promises to capture the attention of enthusiasts of space exploration as of the general public.
And for good reason, since the asteroid would house a huge amount of gold and precious metals. All for an estimated value of 700 quintillion dollars, or 700 billion trillion billion. Or 93,000 billion dollars per inhabitant of the Earth (if one does not take into account the consequent devaluation of gold if such a redistribution were carried out).
The mission was named by NASA “Psyche: journey to a world of metal”. It is in 2022 that the “Psyche” probe must be launched from the Kennedy space center, in Florida. It must arrive in orbit around the asteroid in 2026, after three and a half years of travel, powered by solar energy. It will fly over the planet Mars in 2023.
Psyche will then spend 21 months observing the asteroid, discovered in 1852 by astronomer Annibale de Gasparis, mapping it and studying its properties.
A world of metal
Scientists will thus be able to study for the first time “iron nuclei”, one of the essential elements for the formation of a planet. It will also be the first time that a world made up entirely of metal, not rock and ice, will be studied. These observations will provide a better understanding of what is happening inside a planet like Earth, whose nucleus has properties comparable to the asteroid.
On this occasion, NASA will use a new type of laser encoding photon data for the first time to send it to Earth, whereas until now it has been radio signals. This should make it possible to send a much larger amount of data than was possible before.
The mining in question
If the presence of an immense quantity of precious metals was confirmed, then the question of the mining of the asteroid would arise. This, while the right of space remains unclear.
Under the 1967 Washington space treaty, no private or public entity has the right to appropriate the Moon or celestial bodies. But another treaty signed in 1979, the Treaty on the Moon, lays down the principle that the Moon and its resources are part of the common heritage of humanity. Two conceptions are thus opposed, between celestial bodies which do not belong to anyone or which belong to everyone.
The United States could however base itself on the “Space Act”, passed in 2015 and which “promotes the right of American citizens to undertake the exploration and commercial exploitation of space resources”, excluding life forms aliens.
Several private American companies are already on the lookout, such as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.
But it will take at least 50 years before any possible exploitation of the asteroid begins. And by then, other countries could join the ranks, and the laws still evolve.