How Much is an Asteroid Worth?

The ever-entertaining New York Post published a piece on the feasibility of mining asteroids.

The global investment bank Goldman Sachs has claimed mining asteroids for precious metals is a “realistic” goal.

It has released a report exploring the possibility of using an “asteroid-grabbing spacecraft” to extract platinum from space rocks.

“While the psychological barrier to mining asteroids is high, the actual financial and technological barriers are far lower,” the report said, according to Business Insider.

“Prospecting probes can likely be built for tens of millions of dollars each and Caltech has suggested an asteroid-grabbing spacecraft could cost $2.6 billion.”

The bank added: “Space mining could be more realistic than perceived.”

It is believed an asteroid the size of a football field could be worth up to $50 billion.

I’m not qualified to comment on the technical and economic specifics of the Goldman-Sachs report, but some of the economic assertions made by the Post are patently absurd.

Earlier this year, NASA said it was planning a mission to an asteroid so valuable it could cause the world’s economy to collapse.

It is called 16 Psyche and is a massive hunk of the precious metals iron and nickel.

The mysterious “metal world” was formed during the turbulent birth of our solar system.

It is valued at $10,000 quadrillion, according to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the lead scientist on the NASA mission.

Bringing back large quantities of metals could definitely depress prices in metals markets. That would be bad for Earth-based mining industries and other people invested in metals, but these costs would be more than offset by lower costs for industrial users of the metals. Overall, the increased supply of metal would be beneficial to humanity. Economically, ‘plenty’ is better than ‘scarcity.’

Moreover, I can’t think of any valid economic reason why asteroid metal, no matter how plentiful, would “collapse” the “world’s economy.” I notice the article did not quote an actual economist on this assertion. The only way an asteroid crashes the global economy is by literally crashing into it, like a replay of the dinosaur extinction.

Furthermore, the “$10,000 quadrillion” figure cannot literally be true. This number is about 90,000 times as large as the entire world’s GDP.

Best case scenario is that the asteroid enabled humanity to effectively abolish scarcity in metals so that metals literally became as free as the air. How much would this be worth? Global mining revenue equals about $400 billion per year, but this includes coal and many other minerals not present in the 16 Psyche asteroid. Adding in lower-valued uses of metals perhaps brings the value to $600 billion per year. If we discount this figure at a modest 2 percent rate, the perpetuity value comes to $30 trillion, or about one-quarter of world GDP. If so, then the Post’s figure overvalues the asteroid by a factor of 330,000. Close enough, I guess, for clickbait journalism, except that the article quotes a scientist at NASA. Is this what passes for economic analysis at NASA?

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