Asteroids passing by Earth contain vast mineral resources. The Czechs, therefore, want to send exploration satellites as early as 2025. The SLAVIA project is one of the most important Czech space missions.
Together, they plan to build two 20-kilogram satellites that use a simple yet effective physical method to discover what minerals and other resources may be hidden in the hundreds of thousands of asteroids passing close to Earth.
This would give humanity an essentially inexhaustible supply. And for the Czech Republic, it is the most considerable space effort since the 1970s to 1990s and the Magion satellite project. Uncovering what lies inside asteroids is not as difficult as it might seem. The key is a relatively simple method called spectroscopy.
“It involves looking at asteroid fragments. When a fragment passes through the atmosphere at an enormous speed, it heats up and vaporizes by rubbing against the air-it’s similar to combustion. The satellite records the burning and sifts through it, ” explains Václav Havlíček of SAB Aerospace.
The satellite will also carry a second analytical device that will examine the dust released from the surface of asteroids – this too can be used to see if there are minerals suitable for mining on giant asteroids. Humanity is currently mapping about half a million asteroids, the most common orbiting the Sun, coming close to Earth. “They mostly come from collisions of various bodies and can be of varying ages,” Havlíček explains.
The SLAVIA mission is revolutionary in that it uses analytical methods that are both well known in terrestrial laboratories but have not yet been systematically tested in orbit. This is what the Czechs want to exploit.
In addition to asteroids, “space miners” are also targeting planets and comets. In 2014, for example, the Rosetta research satellite landed on a comet. Could a comet be mined with it? “Absolutely. A Rosetta-like mission could, if the right technology is found, also mine a comet,” Havlíček points out.
The closest such a dream could come is mining on the Moon. “At the moment, several missions are being prepared for this. In a few years, robots will land there to carry out a test run. Again, it will primarily be water, from which hydrogen and oxygen will be extracted,” he explains.