Discussion Board

Topic: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Aaron
Location: Tasmania
Date: 06/15/2010

Is this going to be one of the reasons for commercially expanding into Space Travel... finally - Asteroid Mining?

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/15/2010

It's certainly been a part of space planning for decades, and even fostered a few movies. The recent return of asteroid samples by the Japanese (a terrific achievement) is likely to spark more research.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: mko
Location: kl ont
Date: 06/16/2010

If that planet-hunter Kepler finds a wet world anywhere nearby,
I think we might see a whole new space race in our lifetime.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: CAllenDoudna
Location: Grand Island, Nebraska
Date: 06/16/2010

Once we get beyond the grip of Earth's gravity (we'll never be beyond its pull, but it trails off rapidly with a little distance), any part of the solar system is easy enough to reach cheaply and asteroids and comets are among the easiest and cheapest and most rewarding places to mine--once we've learned how to mine in Space. Greg I have not seen the Japanese results, but about thirty years ago a couple of guys included a table of minerals found in typical asteroids in a book they published. This was based on meteorite samples which were presumed to be from the asteroids, a reasonably logical deduction.

The average asteroid 10 km (6 miles) in diameter has enough gold to supply the entire world demand for the next 30,000 years.

Obviously we will need something a bit more advanced than a wash pan and a burro--but maybe not a whole lot more advanced than that in a relative sense. After all, the burro probably cost the miner about as much as a pick-up truck costs us today (Henry Ford could never have sold his Model T if it had cost more than a horse!), had about as many starter problems, and needed fuel that could, in its own way, be pretty expenssive out in the desert.

The middle of this century will see wagon trains heading out from Earth and in many respects they will not be so very different from the ones of the mid-1800s.

Imagine a parabolic mirror focusing sunlight on a pile of sand from the Moon, Mercury, or and asteroid. When the sand becomes molten it is blown by a tank of air into a lightbulb a little over 30 miles in diameter. At about that size in order to get Earth-normal gravity it would turn once every 24 hours. Dirt would be placed over half of it on the inside to form a bowl-shaped valley. The sun would rise over the eastern edge of the valley, travel across a blue, normal-looking sky, and set 14 hours later over the western edge of the valley. As the back of the valley rotated to face the sun the window portion of the bulb would rotate out to face the stars for a normal-looking 10 hour night. Total land area with near Earth-normal gravity available for homesteading: about the same as a typical American or British county or a typical Greek city-state of old. Comets, asteroids, and the ice moons of Jupiter and Saturn would be the source of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: kurt9
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: 06/17/2010

Asteroid mining is one of the few economic drivers for commercial space. The problem is the long travel times (3-5 years) and, consequently, the long payback period. This is in addition to the currently high space transportation costs.
If asteroid mining takes place, it will be to obtain the Platinum group metals only, as these are the only metals whose values could justify the high cost of retrieving an asteroid.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/19/2010

"Nearby" is still unlikely to be closer than twenty four trillion miles... So we've got a lot of thinking and hard work to do to get there! Inertialess drive, anyone?

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/19/2010

Sounds remarkably old-fashioned! My guess is the economics of mining won't be quite so simple, as getting the ore back to Earth economically probably means dropping it in the ocean at roughly twenty thousand miles per hour. And as Mr. Heinlein pointed out long ago, those in charge of drop-shipping pallets of ore are likely, on *rare* occasion, to imagine themselves capable of a little blackmail!

So maybe the miners keep it all for themselves. Which means they also need an icy/volatiles supply, which comets and some asteroids and even a moon or to might provide.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/19/2010

Rare earths, anyone?

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: kurt9
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: 06/20/2010

Naw, Rare Earths are actually not that rare and China, which is the largest consumer of them (because they are now the world's leading manufacturer) also happens to have the largest actively mined reserves of them. However, there are other known reserves of these that are not mined at the present time because the price is too low.

The mining economics of Rare earths are such that if the prices of them double, and remain sustainably high, new mines open up all over the place that are not commercially viable. The radical increase in "known reserves" of mineral (and oil) associated with modest price increases is well-known in mining industry.

Indium is a material that could be mined from asteroids. However, it is likely that a replacement for ITO (used in displays and solar cells) is likely to be developed long before the space industry gets it act together to fetch an asteroid.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Al Brady
Location: st neots
Date: 06/21/2010

"If asteroid mining takes place, it will be to obtain the Platinum group metals only, as these are the only metals whose values could justify the high cost of retrieving an asteroid"

Id mine asteroids because theyre already up in space, not to bring back stuff to Earth. Stuff costs tens of thousands of dollars per kilo to lift to orbit from Earth (or the moon etc). A quadrillon tonnes of steel or water already in space would make building interplanetary ships and orbital cities lot easier.
I thought Stephen Baxter's explanation of robot mining an asteroid and driving the refined products along chaotic orbits back to where theyre needed was good.

Inertialess drive, anyone?

From: mko
Location: kl ont
Date: 06/24/2010

>twenty four trillion miles...

Well, that's only 24 years at ~114 million mph. Of course there's all that interstellar crud that might be out there once you get past our sun-swept
little backyard. We may need a General Products Hull Zero Three for that.
Anyway, I thought Charles Franklin had this all figured out years ago.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Aaron
Location: Tasmania
Date: 06/29/2010

So I guess it could be a while before I can order a drink at the space asteroid bar...

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Olaf
Location: The Netherlands
Date: 07/06/2010

IMHO survey and exploration are bigger issues to get around to make it interesting.

The succesrate of finding big enough processible quantities and distance to processing facilities or "users" of these materials determine feasability and profitability.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: qiiiss
Location:
Date: 07/15/2010

From: CAllenDoudna

"The average asteroid 10 km (6 miles) in diameter has enough gold to supply the entire world demand for the next 30,000 years."

While industrially this might be great, economically for those who 'own', it would be bad. Nope.


From: Greg Bear

" 'Nearby' is still unlikely to be closer than twenty four trillion miles... So we've got a lot of thinking and hard work to do to get there! Inertialess drive, anyone?"


Yeah, no shit. When does the lock on Tesla's work open??


From: Greg Bear

"Sounds remarkably old-fashioned! My guess is the economics of mining won't be quite so simple, as getting the ore back to Earth economically probably means dropping it in the ocean at roughly twenty thousand miles per hour. And as Mr. Heinlein pointed out long ago, those in charge of drop-shipping pallets of ore are likely, on *rare* occasion, to imagine themselves capable of a little blackmail!"

Um, Wind from a Burning Woman, anyone?

Inertialess drive, anyone?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/19/2010

Have to take both fuel and reaction mass with you, of course. TAU ZERO is one of my favorite novels, but apparently there's not that muchstray gas in our local region...

I'm directly addressing that problem in HULL ZERO THREE.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/20/2010

On the rocks, no doubt!

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/20/2010

Of course the more people live in space, the more demand for raw materials in space! And avoiding all those gravity wells sure cuts shipping costs.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/20/2010

Don't try to pick Tesla's lock, is all I can say...

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Kelly Marsh
Location: Everett, WA
Date: 07/23/2010

"Sounds remarkably old-fashioned! My guess is the economics of mining won't be quite so simple, as getting the ore back to Earth economically probably means dropping it in the ocean at roughly twenty thousand miles per hour. And as Mr. Heinlein pointed out long ago, those in charge of drop-shipping pallets of ore are likely, on *rare* occasion, to imagine themselves capable of a little blackmail!"

Um, why drop the ore back into the gravity well at all? For one, it would take a long time to get it there, which would be a huge waste of time for the people who were delivering it, enough so to make it unprofitable, unless, say, iron ore were worth way more than refined gold. Of course, I suppose they could just do the math and fire it at Earth so it would drop harmlessly into the ocean months later. I don't think this likely, however. A very slight miscalculation could be as bad, or much worse than a nuke. I don't think this would ever be allowed. So, if the goal were to send ore back home to process, I don't think it would ever be deemed practical or profitable. Spend months going out, collect a few tons from the mining ships, turn around and come back, deliver it over a week or so in safe amounts to drop, spend months going back out... It's not, after all, as if there are a plethora of asteroids just beyond the moon, lined up and ready for harvest. The asteroid belt is a long way out.

However, it seems to me that by the time we are able to mine asteroids, our focus will be outward. There would be no sense at all in dropping things back to Earth, refining them here, and then shooting them back into space, even if by that time we DO have mag-lev launchers, or something even better, capable of shooting a payload into space easily and cheaply. Worst case, we could initially refine the ores on the Moon, although this would also cost more than what it is worth. In the grand scheme of things, the asteroid belt is every bit as far from the Moon as it is from Earth. There's just not Earth's pesky gravity well and atmosphere to deal with.

It is my feeling that most of the metals we refine from harvesting ore from asteroids would be best spent founding and supplying colonies, and the ships used to create and sustain them.

"Of course the more people live in space, the more demand for raw materials in space! And avoiding all those gravity wells sure cuts shipping costs"

Yup. :) Build ships in space, so they don't need to be sturdy enough to escape a gravity well. At the same time, build landers that are able to survive entry and escape from gravity wells. Colonize the moon, and use that as an initial starting point, as the gravity well is not nearly as "deep." Sure, the asteroid belt is way out there, but there is no reason space-faring refineries could not eventually be built. We could thereby leapfrog our way out of the galaxy, and by then, who knows, FTL may become possible, not through real space, but via some of the things theoretical physics is even now causing to seem not so theoretical.

The major problem I see regarding mining, once the technical aspect is overcome, is simple human nature. It is containing the tailings, and having the foresight to do so. I think the obvious thing to use for mining would be explosives. Drill into a rock, sink an explosive device, blow the rock apart, and presto, its interior is available for plunder. However, this would eject many a small rock into the surrounding space. Some would then be travelling slower, on average, than the bodies in the asteroid belt are currently travelling, relatively speaking. Some, however, would be travelling much faster. It would depend upon the direction in which they were ejected. Large asteroids, by the time we are able to mine them, should be relatively easy to avoid, but the smaller, faster ones created by mining operations, if simply left to drift, could ruin your whole day, were they to impact your ship, even were they merely the size of a pebble. It all comes down to relative velocity. Yes, mass is a factor, but we're talking HUGE discrepancies in velocity, here.

Sadly, I don't have much faith in human foresight. What will probably happen is that we will use the fastest way to get to the interior of the large asteroids, and let later generations worry about it when their ships start getting holed by shotgun blasts of pebbles that have been orbiting the sun for years.

Oh well, enough doom and gloom. In any event, I think asteroid mining will not be only plausible and profitable. I think it is inevitable, at least assuming the human race survives long enough to get there.

Picking Tesla's Lock!!

From: Aaron
Location: Tasmania
Date: 07/26/2010

I'll bet you Greg or one of your friends could pick Tesla's lock. Magnetic/Electric/Electromagnetic are interchangeable forces from one to the other (according to Wikipedia and relativity theory or is that maxwell) I'm sure its crackable - alas I am not a mathematician or a physicist however you can make a small amount of electricity tested on a rudimentary device with an old hard drive magnet (removed from hard drive) attatched on one side of a large/medium size coffee tin lid - two coffee tin lids with a few sheets of paper sandwiched in between and the magnet attatched to one coffee tin lid (so it sticks together with the paper and other lid). A multimeter shows a small voltage being produced as difference between the two plates!. One plate is negatively charged the other is positively charged!! Or two metal sheets with something sandwiched in between and a magnet. This produces a small amount of electricity and is an experimental proof in principle. More advanced materials and techniques etc will get a bigger zap! Or arraying a series of these primitive ones them with germanium diodes etc.

Have fun... and I have a series of more devices if this gathers interest. Tesla just waiting for his lock to be picked...

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Aaron
Location: Tasmania
Date: 08/01/2010

So anyway, I've started mining asteroids in the space game "Eve online", now about that drink - it may not be real but its better than nothing - I'll sell asteroid ore to anyone at the right price(virtually)

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Robin
Location: San Francisco
Date: 08/02/2010

I suspect that the majority of the materials harvested from asteroids will go toward building human civilization across the solar system. Very little of those materials will make there way back to Earth's surface. What material does find its way back to the Earth/Moon system will be used to construct large structures in Earth and Lunar orbit and at the Lagrange points.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Alex
Location: st neots
Date: 08/12/2010

Itd be good to send metals and volatiles back to Earth orbit rather than land them on the ground I think.
Itd make building cities up there a lot easier which would speed generally moving people and economies off planet.
I think its crucial we do this and get a few hundred million people in space just as insurance against a climate change forced spasm nuclear war.

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Tim
Location: Saint George, UT
Date: 03/16/2011

Yes, it is feasible, and might just be going on today! We have nuclear powered ion engines for unmanned satellites that go out and collect good sized chunks of rock, return them to earth where the satellite releases its cargo on a planed re-entry path; the cargo then falls to earth and is recovered. It is Simple, cheep, and safe. Keep looking up!

Re: Is Space Asteroid mining truly profitable/plausible ?

From: Greg Bear
Date: 04/10/2011

Of course, there might be a few protests as space mining corporations make a few re-entry miscalculations!

The main problem with space mining is still cost, but Elon Musk and others are already working very hard to bring those costs down.

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