While Elon Musk and other billionaire entrepreneurs grow increasingly closer to the finish line of a heated race to determine who will be the first to send humans to Mars, another type of space exploration company has emerged with a very different goal: not simply to bring people to space, but to bring space resources to people.

Companies such as Moon Express, Deep Space Industries, and Planetary Resources hope to soon harness, and in some cases bring to Earth, the virtually infinite untapped resources that space has to offer. And, as 2017 nears, some plan to launch their first exploratory and experimental missions within the next year, marking the beginning of what could be the next phase of space exploration.

Supporters of space mining – and the companies themselves – speculate that, if successful, their missions could solve conflicts over the limited resources on Earth, potentially reducing the number of wars fought over such matters. But some critics are skeptical that bringing more resources to Earth will actually decrease conflict, and express concern that harvesting the limitless, valuable resources at a time when there are few rules regulating the industry may prove dangerous in the long run.

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