CANBERRA, June 12 (Xinhua) -- Mining asteroids for the resources contained within is a prospect that is "within reach," according to Australian scientists.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide have published their research on perfecting resource and mineral extraction from asteroids.
According to Volker Hessel, deputy dean from the university's faculty of engineering, computer and mathematical science (ECMS), mining asteroids such as Bennu could be a reality but only when doing so is economically and technically viable.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) currently has a spacecraft orbiting Bennu to map the asteroid and calculate its mass before it attempts to obtain a sample from the asteroid and return to Earth in 2023.
"Advances in space exploration mean that these bodies which contain nickel, cobalt, and platinum as well as water and organic matter, are now within reach," Hessel said in a media release on the university's official website on Tuesday.
Hessel is currently developing a continuous-flow metal solvent extraction process which is faster than existing processes and can be fine-tuned to materials found in asteroids.
"Continuous-flow chemistry is proven technology. The process extracts metal by mixing and separating solvents. Successive passes of the chemicals through the process results in complete extraction of the metals," he said.
"Asteroid-born metals co-exist in different combinations and concentrations from those found in terrestrial rock, so one of the challenges that the team has is understanding how these may be successfully extracted.
"In the same way that colonialists and explorers exploited the resources of the New World about 400 years ago, today’s pioneering asteroid miners are reaching out to exploit riches in space."