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A quarry with plenty of space

How about a quarry and mining project that could net $US20 trillion?

Got your attention?

This is the amount of dosh Planetary Resources, a joint venture between Microsoft, Google and Hollywood director James Cameron (who also owns a small slice of Aotearoa), say Amun 3554 is worth in rare mineable metals.

Before you get the products and services staff stirred up, there?s going to be a problem with distance of supply.

Amun 3554 is an M?class, metal-bearing asteroid, a little more than a mile wide, bobbing around out there in our solar system.

Yes, it may sound far-fetched, but Planetary Resources has announced it would like to mine this lump of space rock, for platinum mainly, although it does contain other materials such as gold, iron and nickel.

The notion of mining in outer space raises a plethora of questions.

What is the market demand for platinum? Platinum albums, of course, but it is also used in catalytic converters, laboratory equipment, electrical contacts and electrodes, platinum resistance thermometers, dentistry, fuel cells and jewellery.

Is extraction in zero gravity going to be a problem?

Well, it brings an entirely new definition to mobile crushing and screening, for a start. Will the first order of business for quarrymen and miners on Amun 3554 be to carve themselves a pair of boots so they don?t float off into the cosmos?

Once their processing equipment is bolted down, staff are kitted out (including boot anchors) and Red Bull Blasting is in place to blow some shit up, how will they stop the precious resources floating off? Chinese mass-produced giant butterfly nets to capture it, perhaps?

Does the Resource Management Act 1991 (NZ) or any environmental legislation extend to outer space? Will neighbouring asteroids and planets need to be consulted? Upon completion of extraction, will the creation of park-like surroundings be a consent obligation? What of dust suppression, noise control, traffic movements? And quarry open days will be very interesting.

Then there?s the task of finding a quarry manager.

Possibilities include Bruce Willis who in the film Armageddon blasted an asteroid (heading towards us) in half and saved the world. Sigourney Weaver captained a mining ship in Alien, although she did encounter severe contamination issues. Then there were those NBA-sized blue dudes in Avatar.

Obviously, Amun 3554 sits slightly outside the 30km distance to market that we use as a standard, but at $US1600 to $US2000 an ounce, with an estimated 100,000 tonnes of platinum available, maybe it is economically feasible.

Then there are market forces to think about. Planetary Resources could simply say it ?intends? mining the asteroid. Platinum?s rarity determines its price, so just the prospect of 100,000 tonnes of it suddenly appearing on the market from outer space could sink its value and place earthly platinum miners in an uneconomical position.

So, what if Planetary Resources then buys them up and announces it is no longer economical to mine Amun 3554 because a manager with the right qualifications (or boots) couldn?t be found? Platinum goes through the roof again.

Could be a good investment either way then!

Anyone know of a pair of gravity-solution, steel toed, work boots?

Netta Burnside is the sales manager for BRAND X in Taranaki, New Zealand. Email:

This story originally appeared in the June-July 2012 issue of New Zealand Quarrying & Mining and is reprinted with kind permission.

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