Star Wars: The Question of Extraterrestrial Mining

Recent technological advancements have made private companies reassess their lack of expansion from the Earth to the stars. Many of these groups started with the objective of making scientific discoveries, but now they have a new motivation: to make a profit. The primary mission is to get to the Moon, or nearby asteroids, to harvest various materials. According to Faulconbridge (2023), the Moon is the most accessible object to us, at 384,400 kilometers away, and has large supplies of water ice, helium-3, and rare earth metals (REM) like “scandium, yttrium, and…lanthanides.” He describes this new thought process as the “lunar gold rush,” as tech groups put more emphasis on getting to the moon and other nearby celestial bodies. Asteroids are a valuable target as well because they may also contain various REMs, which are used in the production of computers and other important technologies (Yarlagadda 2022). 

Illustration of an excavator sitting on top of the moon in space
(fig. 1) Illustration of an oil rig on the moon (Image credit: Hart 2023)

David (2023b) notes how recently, private companies have made ventures into the development of space mining, trying to beat the government’s “competition” in the field. At the Space Resources Roundtable, 250 entrepreneurial groups showed up to pitch different “lunar economic models.” These models combined lab testing, economic policy, and legal arguments to form plans to capitalize on extraterrestrial resources. One such company, Intuitive Machines, plans to have an expansive catalog of probes, from drones that survey the land to rovers that mine deposits (David 2023a). Private companies could experience faster growth in this industry because they aren’t burdened by  concerns with diplomacy and bureaucratic red tape, like the government.

(fig. 2) Ben Bussey, chief scientist at Intuitive Machines. (Image credit: David 2023b)

Despite the opportunity for rapid growth in the industry, the overall cost of extraterrestrial mining projects could outweigh many of the benefits. The economic factor for many wealthy countries is how expensive it would be to get to the moon, maintain permanent sites, and get resources back, all to ultimately make a profit. Hart (2023) explains that building and launching a rocket can cost up to 26 billion USD. It’s a big risk to invest in lunar missions, further, there is little information on the returns from these investments. While making a profit is challenging, the industry could also ultimately harm countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as they export some of these same minerals for a great part of their GDP (Yarlagadda 2022).

In expanding industry to the Moon and other celestial bodies, it is important to remember the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979, which say that outer space cannot be appropriated by one country and space belongs to all of humanity. The way that the operation of mines would be decided and regulated implies breaking these agreements, and new policies would have to be put in place to create regulations. The argument can be made that we have not been good stewards of our own planet and industry’s expansion to another celestial body could result in the same substantial issues.


David, Leonard. 2023a. “Space Mining Startups See a Rich Future on Asteroids and the Moon.” Space. January 7, 2023.  

David, Leonard. 2023b. “Moon Mining Gains Momentum as Private Companies Plan for a Lunar Economy.” Space. July 30, 2023.  

Faulconbridge, Guy. 2023. “Explainer: Moon Mining – Why Major Powers Are Eyeing a Lunar Gold Rush?” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. August 11, 2023.  

Hart, Amalyah. 2023. “Mining the Moon: Do We Have the Right?” Cosmos. February 9, 2023.  

Yarlagadda, Shriya. 2022. “Economics of the Stars: The Future of Asteroid Mining and the Global Economy.” Harvard International Review. April 8, 2022.   

Image References

(Fig. 1): Hart, Amalyah. 2023. “Mining the Moon: Do We Have the Right?” Cosmos. February 9, 2023.  

(Fig. 2): David, Leonard. 2023b. “Moon Mining Gains Momentum as Private Companies Plan for a Lunar Economy.” Space. July 30, 2023.  

Further Reading

2 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Question of Extraterrestrial Mining

    • Extraterrestrial mining is associated with archaeology because it creates evidence of human activity, such as: waste, pollution, artifacts, and other general material culture. Like moon landing or crash sites, mining sites would both alter the landscape of the celestial body and have human made artifacts present. Mining in space could teach tactics for future archaeologists to access deep parts of the earth that are currently unreachable, or gain access to REMs.

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