ASTEROID MINING VEHICLE FOR YEAR 2040

TEAM
Anders Sandström

COLLABORATION
EPIROC

MFA THESIS
20 WEEKS

With all of the challenges facing the mining industry today, what would it be like if we look to the stars for our future mining prospects?

Regardless of new mining technologies and environmental regulations, the minerals we extract from the earth’s crust will eventually run out. Likewise, our society demands a constant increase of technology to improve our quality of life. 
Mining in Zero Gravity is a speculative design project that offers a vision of our first attempt at mining platinum group metals from asteroids by the year 2040. Kolibri is designed within the boundaries of the future challenges facing the mining industry and the development of our space industry.

Findings from my research in to the state of our mining industry, compared to our demand for resources. As well which effects access to more resources could have on our society.

  • With most of the easily-accessible high grade ores almost tapped out, we are running out of resources. Especially platinum group metals.
    Simultaneously our demand for these metals keeps increasing to supply our need for a constantly evolving level of technology.

  • Access to more platinum means that we can become less dependent on fossil fuels. Clean energy solutions require large amounts of platinum group metals, which are simply to expensive today.
    The Internet of Things will require 45 trillion sensors within 20 years. Where will these resources come from?
    Further more not all of us can enjoy the fruits of modern day technology, simply because we do not have enough resources.

Why should we mine the sky and what could we expect to find? Furthermore, how do we even get there?

  • Comparison between the resources of the asteroid Amun and Earth’s current output.
    An asteroid a third of Amun’s size could supply all of our mineral needs for decades


  • We have mapped over 600.000 asteroids in the solar system. Most of them are in the asteroid belt beyond Mars. But around 10.000 are so called Near Earth Asteroids.
    Their orbits takes them closer to earth than then moon, which makes them much easier for us to reach.


  • A simplified explanation of the most likely steps needed to be taken to mine asteroids.


  • Through my research and interview with experts I decided to set the project in the year 2040. By that time we are expected to be able to refuel spacecraft in orbit and developed the legal framework for mineral rights in space.
    Increased demand and the decline of available resources have reached a tipping point where mining on earth is no longer profitable. We have the know how for clean energy but not enough resources to produce it.
    The lack of resources leads to high tech becoming available only to the most wealthy.

Establishing the concept


  • The concept is a mining vessel equipped with drones for maintenance/repairs and capability to use in situ material to 3D print spare parts and structures. To ensure self sufficiency and minimise the amount of parts needed to be launched in to space. I established the concept through evaluations with Epiroc, a leading company in the space mining industry and an ESA astronaut. 


  • I established which parts of the mining vessel that I could already establish with the insights from my research and which parts I need to develop further to fit my goals & wishes


  • Furthermore I needed to establish the different parts of the mining vessel that should be taken in to account. As well as establish a simplified layout of the vessel, from launch to arrival at asteroid.

Final concept


  • The Epiroc Kolibri 260 AM


  • The Kolibri is designed to fit in to the fairing of NASA’s Space Launch System Block 2, planned to be running in 2030.
    During launch the Kolibri’s fuel tanks are empty to lower launch costs.


  • After launch the mining vessel is refueled in low earth orbit. Many believe that by the year 2040 we will have a well developed infrastructure in space for refueling spacecraft and sattelites.


  • When the engines have been fueled the mining vessel departs for the asteroid.


  • The Kolibri rendezvous with the asteroid and matches its orbit to hover just above it.


  • The extraction unit decouples from the main vessel.


  • The extraction unit lands on the asteroid to extract the rock. The mined material is transfered through the hose to the main ship where it is sorted out to be kept, used for 3D printing or discarded.
    At the same time the drones are also released to collect frozen water, which is often also found on asteroids. The water is used to create propellent to refuel the engines.


  • The Kolibri uses the base metals and regolith found on site to print its containers which holds the platinum. This way there is no need to bring empty containers in to orbit, which would only add to launch costs.
    Within a year, when the asteroid is closest to earth again, the engine along with the containers breaks of from the main vessel. The engine now functions a tug, bringing the mined materials back to earths orbit and then returning to the asteroid for another cycle.

The concept model & Exhibition