What’s a lump of rock worth?

In a previous article, I explained that the commercialization of space is underway — whole new futures are available. Many readers contacted me to say they cannot see the economics of space travel — yet. Rockets and technology development are expensive. What the heck are investors thinking? Big risk, little apparent gains to make.

Okay, Falcon 5 flew and delivered a satellite into Clark Orbit (23,500 miles above the equator, geo-stationary). What’s the big deal, we’ve been doing that for 30-plus years. The big deal? Ten percent of cost by the same sized rocket, in real $ terms just 10 years ago. Falcon rockets’ first stages land upright, ready to reuse. That is a big deal. But still, is that enough of a return for the billions invested?

Here’s the secret. Already identified among the 10,500 larger lumps of rock in the asteroid belt are several chunks that are about 130 miles wide (209 Km wide). 

The composition? Seems that when that planet broke up, the elements in the core, solid pure elements, were exposed. One such rock is all nickel and iron. Estimated value?  $10,000,000,000,000,000,000 according to Arizona State University geochemist Lindy Elkins-Tanton. 

Seen another way, that’s 10 billion billion. Or 100,000 times the 2017 Gross World Product value. One rock, 100,000 times the value of every single dollar made and gained across the whole globe. Now do you see why people are investing? Get that rock back here and, wow, the financial return could be amazing.


Of course, it’s not all nickel and iron up there. There’s copper, cobalt, iridium, platinum, gold, and rhenium in all those “pure” rocks they’ve identified.

And there’s another twist. 

Those rocks may not be the product of a broken-up planet. They may be bodies of elements that were free-floating at the beginning of our solar system and just simply bonded together. 

“That is chemically possible,” Elkins-Tanton said in 2017. “My secret hope that it turns out that’s what it is, and not a core, because that would be just mind-blowing.”

The new space race has only just begun.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.