The solution to all of Earth’s metal problems, or the space rock that would completely obliterate the world economy, will likely be staying well out of reach of astronauts due to the cancellation of the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
This comes as the target of the Psyche Mission – Asteroid 16 Psyche – has been found to contain about $10 Quintilion worth of iron, not to mention a significant amount of nickel and probably trillions of dollars’ worth of other precious metals.
While there were those in the scientific community who potentially wanted to put it into orbit around the Earth or the Moon, many others were worried about the absolute collapse in commodity prices that would have occurred if it were suddenly easy to get all the iron and nickel we’d need for centuries. That would have been at least a few decades away, but it appears as though it just got a couple of extra decades added on to that timeline.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission would have basically picked up a small chunk of an existing asteroid, flew it back towards the Moon, and placed it in a Lunar orbit. At some point in the future, a manned mission would have probably been launched to prove the feasibility of visiting a small body in space.
One of the big benefits of asteroid mining with bodies nudged into an astronaut-friendly orbit is the fact that we could use that material in space to 3-D construct habitats, spaceships, etc. in a zero-g environment. Even the most basic rockets that can achieve orbit cost millions of dollars and those generally only have room for a few scientific instruments.
Much of the cost of a space mission comes from getting everything off the planet. When you’re building the vessel for a mission (which usually makes up more than 97% of the mass with the fuel) already off of Earth, you’ve eliminated a huge expense and you can make spaceships much bigger than anything we’ve seen so far in history.