Asteroid Enterprises Pty Ltd was set up by me (Mark Sonter in 1986, following my attendance at the 37th IAF Congress in Innsbruck

I had been following the theme of ‘space industrialization’ for some years, collecting reprints, and beginning to assemble my ideas on asteroid mining. I had given my first paper on asteroid resource sat a Space Engineering Conference in Sydney in March 1985.

However, the first Asteroid Enterprises ‘enterprise’ was the construction of the first rental accommodation in the then-under-construction new town of Roxby Downs. Roxby was being constructed by the Olympic Dam Project Joint Venturers (BP and WMC) together with the SA state government, to support the development of the massive Olympic Dam copper-uranium project.


This project required rapid development of a large underground mine and associated very large metallurgical plant, itself comprising a concentrator (producing a copper sulphide froth flotation concentrate), followed by a uranium extraction leaching plant using sulphuric acid with sodium chlorate oxidizer, with solvent extraction then ammonia precipitation to produce yellowcake, and a separate flow sheet taking the copper concentrate, drying, then feeding to an oxygen-enriched flashs melter to produce blister copper, then an onsite electrolytic refinery to produce from the blister, ‘five nines’ electrolytic copper final product. Ancillary was a precious metals plant to recover silver and gold from the tank house slimes, an acid plant to recover sulphuric acid from smelter off gas SO2,for use in the uranium leach circuit, a liquid oxygen plant for blowing the smelter, and a tailings wash circuit for production of tails sands for mixing with crushed waste rock and cement for mine back fill. OD’s cement usage represents the biggest use of cement in Australia.


I was the industrial safety and workers compensation, occupational hygiene, and radiation safety super intendent, and a Most Interesting Job it was..

Anyway, AE made the first purchase of a residential allotment, and built the first non-company, non-government accommodation, and ran the units as landlord, till selling because we all were going else where..

After leaving WMC to set up as an independent safety consultant, I restarted my asteroid studies and enrolled to do a Masters-by-research at University of Wollongong (little knowing that I could just as easily have scored a PhD). I inserted into these studies a 4 month break at U of Arizona, Tucson, with Prof John S Lewis, where I made acquaintance with many in the space resources studies field.