We commonly think of asteroids simply as left over debris from when the planets were formed, but researchers believe that we will be able to harness resources from them within the next 10 years. The most common type of asteroid, C-type, contains up to 20% water as well as various metals. The presence of water has a potentially useful application, that is to be converted into rocket fuel. If this practice is perfected, rockets will have a far less restricted distance that they can travel, allowing for exploration farther away than has ever been done before by humans. In addition to water, platinum group metals, which are valuable and have other useful applications, are also found in many asteroids. Planetary Resources, an asteroid-mining company based in Washington, believes that they will be one of the first to contribute to the just started asteroid-mining market. Planetary Resources has already launched their first probe into space and believes that they might be the first to use resources from asteroids, in as little as 5 years. These new developments do have the potential to create problems, and there will need to be some sort of organizational system in place before the market for asteroid-mining grows too large. While harnessing resources from asteroids complies with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, Congress is looking into legislation regarding asteroid-miners’ property rights.
An interesting video about the basic elements of asteroid-mining can be found here.