Date of Award

January 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Space Studies

First Advisor

James G. Casler


Private space exploration is beginning to receive a lot of attention, primarily driven by commercial efforts to mine asteroids. Such endeavors ultimately will require substantial amounts of investment. Yet, potential investors have no way of gauging the risk associated with space mining. The problem statement that drives this study is relatively simple: current estimates of space mining viability do not adequately factor risk into their analysis. Rather than attempting to build a business case for space mining, this research adopts a well-documented business plan and then attempts to assess the risk implicit in that plan. This research is not concerned so much with the rigor of the business case, though, as it is with proposing a way to assess risk within such a plan. Consequently, a space mining business case, developed at the University of Washington, is utilized to construct a Delphi survey of subject matter experts to gauge the reasonableness of the estimates used in the plan. Once ranges for the important variables are ascertained, a decision model is constructed and a Monte Carlo simulation is run to predict a range of reasonable outcomes. This approach, combining decision modeling with Monte Carlo simulation, indicates that the business case is very risky and depends on the cost to deliver various spacecraft technology, the volume of platinum group metals returned to Earth, and price of those platinum group metals. Rather than a net present value of more than $14 billion over twenty years, as estimated by the University of Washington study, this analysis indicates a loss of nearly $2 billion over the same period.