US Geological Survey Increasing Its Focus on Space Resources

NASA

NASA

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is a United States government scientific agency which has long been tasked with studying the landscape of the United States, including mapping its natural resources. Recently, however, the USGS has signaled intentions of documenting and mapping certain space resources. This is a good sign for the maturation of the field, as the USGS has long been tasked with performing reliable assessment of natural resources since its inception in 1879.

“The USGS realized that our congressional mandate to assess natural resources extends to space.” - Laszlo Kestay, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center

While there is not yet a funded program at the USGS to perform the type of assessments of space resources that are needed, the USGS is currently “taking a number of steps to be prepared for that possibility,” Kestay said.

There are many direct and indirect ways in which these steps can be seen. This includes the USGS’ first steps toward creating a trustworthy assessment of what resources are near Earth’s orbit, as seen in their completion of an initial study on asteroid mineral resources in 2017. The report titled, “Feasibility Study for the Quantitative Assessment of Mineral Resources in Asteroids”, focused on identifying the future studies needed to reduce uncertainties in an actual resource assessment of water and iron resources. They determined that “the water and metal resources in near-Earth asteroids are sufficient to support humanity should it become a fully space-faring species.”

Though the USGS has yet to complete a resource assessment, USGS scientists have recently given presentations, such as a June 2018 talk at the 2018 Space Resources Roundtable at the Colorado School of Mines, where they outlined what a future one would contain. Based on that talk, a future USGS assessment would be unbiased, quantitative, and easy to understand. It’d have five parts covering the studied area, including:

  • Descriptive resource deposit model

  • Spacial model

  • Deposit-density model of deposits

  • Grade-tonnage model of deposit population

  • Economic model

An additional step that the USGS has recently taken to prepare for the work necessary in a future space resources assessment is to expand their relationship with the Colorado School of Mines, a university which recently launched the world’s first graduate program in Space Resources, through its Center for Space Resources.

“The expanded USGS presence at Mines [...] will create an incredibly unique educational environment that will produce the leaders we need to tackle future challenges related to exploration and development of resources here on Earth and in space, subsurface infrastructure and sustainable stewardship of the Earth.” - Paul C. Johnson, Colorado School of Mines President

While not for the sole purpose of space resources, this recently announced long-term partnership will bring over 150 USGS scientists and mineral research labs to the university’s campus, where students, government scientists, and university faculty will share a new state-of-the-art facility. All of this bodes well for a future focus on space resources at the USGS, which will certainly increase with appropriate funding.

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Disclaimer

Adam Hugo is a current student in the Space Resources program at the Colorado School of Mines, yet receives no funding from either the Colorado School of Mines nor the USGS. The Space Resource is an independent news site and receives no funding from the Colorado School of Mines nor the USGS.