There are no known commodity resources in space that could be sold profitably on Earth

Saturday, November 26th, 2022

There are no known commodity resources in space that could be sold profitably on Earth, Casey Handmer explains:

On Earth, bulk cargo costs are something like $0.10/kg to move raw materials or shipping containers almost anywhere with infrastructure. Launch costs are more like $2000/kg to LEO, and $10,000/kg from LEO back to Earth.


Let’s consider a representative list of the most expensive materials in the world. In descending order, they are:

  • Antimatter, currently $62.5t/g.
  • Californium, $25m/g.
  • Diamond, $55k/g.
  • Tritium, $30k/g.
  • Taaffite, $20k/g.
  • Helium 3, $15k/g.
  • Painite, $6k/g.
  • Plutonium, $4k/g.
  • LSD, $3k/g.
  • Cocaine, $236/g.
  • Heroin, $130/g.
  • Rhino horn, $110/g.
  • Crystal meth, $100/g.
  • Platinum, $60/g.
  • Rhodium, $58/g.
  • Gold, $56/g.
  • Saffron, $11/g.

The previous ballpark estimate for transport costs was $100,000/kg, or $100/g. Since I want to be inclusive, I’ll include everything down to saffron in the list above, whose cost is roughly equal to the current LEO-surface transport cost.


None of the products represent large markets, due to their prohibitive price or relative scarcity. As a result, they are subject to substantial price elasticity depending on supply. For example, the global annual market for Helium-3 is about $10m. Double the supply, halve the price, and the net revenue is still about the same. No-one seriously thinks that Lunar mining infrastructure can be built for less than many billions of dollars, so even at a price of $100,000/kg, annual demand needs to exceed hundreds of tons to ensure adequate revenue and price stability.

Tritium, helium-3, platinum and antimatter represent speculative future markets, particularly where increased supply could help develop an industry based on, say, fusion, exotic batteries, or a bunch of gamma rays. If fusion-induced demand for helium-3 reaches a point where annual demand has climbed by three orders of magnitude, then I am willing to revisit this point. But current construction rates of cryogenically cooled bolometers are not adequate to fund Lunar mine development, and solar PV electricity production has every indication of destroying competing generation methods, including fusion.

Some relatively expensive minerals are only expensive because low levels of industrial demand have failed to develop efficient supply chains. If demand increases, new refining mechanisms are invariably developed which substantially lower the price. A salient example here is rare platinum group metals.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The average distance between asteroids in the Belt is about 100,000 miles. Exploratory space ships/satellites have passed through the Belt without contacting anything other than dust.

    Then there is the gravitational potential between Earth and the Belt.

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