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back to article Billionaire astro mining venture long on hype and timescale

The much-hyped launch of Planetary Resources has been held in the august surroundings of the Museum of Flight in Seattle; so now we've got some details how feasible are the plans? According to the roadmap laid out the first phase of the project will kick off with the launch of the Arkyd Series 100 spacecraft, which is basically …

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Is it really true?

"Platinum .....one asteroid could generate more of the stuff than has ever been mined in Earth's history. This is true, ..."

Maybe, if there was an asteroid out there, in easy reach, that had a very high concentration of platinum in it. If asteroids are remnants of the proto-planetary cloud that formed the earth (among others), why should they have a significantly greater concentration of platinum than the earth's crust?

Even if they did have, how does the mass of an 'average' asteroid compare with the mass of all platinum bearing ores mined throughout earth's history? How do we find these 'lucky' asteroids?

On a separate note: to return large ingots of purified metals down the earth's gravity well, you could use them as counterweights in a pulley based space-elevator arrangement, with buckets at regular intervals it coud form a cheap launch and return system.

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Boffin

Re: Is it really true?

It depends on the asteroids. On the earth, the heavy elements sunk in the core, while in the crust there are only light elements (and stuff bring up by volcanoes). Some asteroids were formed from the protoplanetary nebula, so they will have the mean composition of all earth. But others were formed from collisions of small planets and therefore there are asteroids with the same composition of the mantel and the core (basically iron, nickel and other heavy elements)

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Re: Is it really true?

'If asteroids are remnants of the proto-planetary cloud that formed the earth (among others), why should they have a significantly greater concentration of platinum than the earth's crust?'

Asteroids have much higher concentrations of platinum than the Earth's crust as can be shown from the abundance of platinum metals in meteorites and meteoritic dust. The Earth's platinum metals followed the majority of the planet's iron and nickel and sank towards the Core as the planet heated up during formation.

But I'd like to see a cost comparison between getting platinum from an asteroid and extracting it from the tiny quantities dissolved in seawater.

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Anonymous Coward

Silly

Asteroid mining is silly if you are planning on bringing the material to Earth. Even if you find a rock that's 10% platinum, 10% uranium, 10% thorium, 10% Helium 3, and the rest is "only" stuff like iron and titanium, the cost to get it, drag it to Earth's atmosphere, and de-orbit in in a controlled fashion greatly exceeds the sale price. And as noted in the article, while platinum is expensive now, bring in that much and the price plummets.

The only way asteroid mining makes sense is if you are using it in situ, to make space based "stuff" cheaper than making it on Earth and launching it. But the demand for space based stuff is pretty small right now.

The only way I could see this making sense in my projected lifespan would be to make solar sats beaming power down - but since the first thing you'd have to do would be to get all the BANANAs (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) out in the middle of a desert and have an "accident" with the power beam, I don't see this happening.

More's the pity.

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Re: Silly

Not really.

An example out of Sci-Fi, specifically Night's Down, Part two - The Neutronium Alchemist comes to mind. It describes in reasonable detail exactly what does it take to set up such a facility which is likely to be economical even for good old iron in the absence of a space elevator:

1. Foam up the metal to be brought down. A very little gas of your choice which you can extract from a "wet asteroid" as well goes a very long way in vacuum.

2. Splash 'em down on water in a controlled fashion. Shape the chunk of foam to be splashed down appropriately and give it some minimal control surfaces to direct it initially. This is the rather optimistic part so I would actually give the leading edge some extra thermal protection as well. If you have started mining asteroids you have most of the materials to create ceramics handy. In fact, in zero G you may be able to create much bigger "tiles" than on Earth.

3. Build the final stage of the refinery on earth - tow the foam into a cut-n-smelter yard. Being foam its density is lower than water so it will float.

By the way, Lewis missed that one the biggest reasons for Pt to be expensive now is that the Spanish sank most of the platinum they pillaged from the Inkas somewhere in the Atlantic so it does not drop the price of Silver.

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Re: Silly

"The only way I could see this making sense "

This is predicated on the operation needing to make money - at least one source who has talked to members of the group seems to indicate that they're not really that fussed about that and may more interested in kick-starting something bigger and taking part in a Big Adventure.

All the hype aside - good luck to them.

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Angel

Optimistic

If this makes a scenario possible as shown in the movie Outland I am all for it!

I want to be a space miner mummy!

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Re: Optimistic

I.. I haven't seen this film?

Well I always wanted to be a space mining cowboy, possibly even a space mining robot cowboy. With a guitar.

Pity about the long time span, I was hoping they'd be done by Friday as I'm a bit stuck for things to do this weekend.

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Re: Optimistic

Is that the one with Harvey Keitel and his cargo of square pigs? Or the one with Sean Connery and the spiders? My sci-fi total recall is failing me!

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Re: Optimistic

Sean Connery. It's basically High Noon in space.

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This entire concept is such horseshit ...

... that I'm surprised I can't actually smell the stuff every time ElReg reports on it. Anyone why buys into it is the fool who is being separated from their money ... There's this thing called "gravity" and "Hohmann transfer orbit energy requirements" that say "not profitable any time this century ... and probably not the next, either".

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Unhappy

Re: This entire concept is such horseshit ...

But...... spaceships?

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@Dave 62 (was: Re: This entire concept is such horseshit ...)

What about spaceships? Physics is real. Fiction is not.

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Re: @Dave 62 (was: This entire concept is such horseshit ...)

Kick the puppy Jake! Didn't you see his Sad Face? He already knows spaceships aren't real, that's why he's disheartened!

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FAIL

Re: This entire concept is such horseshit ...

Horseshit on your horseshit. What you are pointing out is an energy problem only. It's obviously not an impossible obstacle.

I will listen to a group of people with a proven track record of innovation who hire a group of people with a proven track record in the industry first. I imagine they are aware of transfer orbit issues... what do you think? Besides it's not costing me any cash - they are putting up thier own dough.

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@jake

"This entire concept is such horseshit ..."

What concept are you on about - making money out of it or doing it ? Sounds like they're not particularly fussed about the former, and much of the latter is not out of reach technically (even today) - so what's your beef ?

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Yag
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Trollface

Re: This entire concept is such horseshit ...

"What, sir? You would make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her decks? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense."

- Napoleon Bonaparte to Robert Fulton, upon hearing of the latter's plans for a steam-powered engine.

(quoted from http://laserstars.org/bio/skepticism.html - And I know it is a dubious quote...)

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Re: @jake

Down-voting a question ? Way to go, must have asked the right question I guess....

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Alien

All about the water

The rocks you need are already dangerously close to where they need to be. The correction is just tiny.

As I said, the metals are a thing for down the road. It's all about the water. As for the money, well, these guys ain't hurting and ain't gonna be. The operation is already generating positive cash flow.

Part of the reason for the fuel is to boost loads out of LEO, so that's a nice time to drop your platinum waste products.

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@Mikel (was: Re: All about the water)

No. You seem to be confused. It's all about hype.

They are NOT generating positive cash-flow. They haven't turned a profit. Nor will they. They are separating fools from their money.

I hesitate to call it fraud ... but it's fucking close.

Your "tiny correction" is only "tiny" for galactic values. We're kinda stuck here in the Earth-Moon system when it comes to this kinda thing.

Water isn't exactly as common ... or as usable ... in the inner solar system as you seem to think it is.

Gotta get out of LEO, find your treasure, get back to LEO, and finally drop it ... which makes platinum the product, not the waste, no?

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Re: @Mikel (was: All about the water)

"They are NOT generating positive cash-flow."

You're wrong - the company is already generating revenue that is covering their costs.

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@Rocket888 (was: Re: @Mikel (was: All about the water))

Uh ... no, They are separating fools from their money, but they are not generating positive cash flow. There is a big difference between "revenue" and "positive cash flow".

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Re: @Rocket888 (was: @Mikel (was: All about the water))

Why are you obsessed with money? Look at it as a scientific and engineering endeavour. If they manage to come up with ways of producing satellites cheaply, or reducing the cost of getting out of the atmosphere, or systems for landing and launching from remote rocks without there being a massive chance of the ship just crashing, what's the problem?

Sure, the idea is fanciful, but so was the idea of getting on a ship and sailing around the world to find new lands and bring things back. So was the idea of powered flight.

Its only sticklers in the mud like yourself who are so angry with the world that try to hold this sort of thing back, obsessing over money and details which you as an individual see as important, whilst ignoring the bigger picture.

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Trollface

Re: @Rocket888 (was: @Mikel (was: All about the water))

Jeese Jake, how about we forget about the whole thing and go back to plundering the world's resources until we have none left and then complain to God that he didn't give us infinite resources right at hand? How dare anyone have to try to DO something to get off this vulnerable rock ball floating in space and spread out to the stars?

My god, nobody should EVER try to explore or do anything innovative because you'll always find some fault in it!

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Don't look at all the gold!

Remember that the actual words spoken by these guys talk about WATER as the first thing to get. Water gets you the fuel you need for LOTS of stuff going out of Earth-zone.

Remember, they're talking about bringing metallic asteroids back to... lunar orbit, not Earth's.

The first smelter/refinery to go up to orbit (whenever that is) may well have a lot of stuff to work on...

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Alien

Re: Don't look at all the gold!

That's one possible solution, build a smelter/refinery to go up to orbit and use some sort of space-tug boat to bring the smelter/refinery to the astroid to extract the ore.

They can call the space-tug the Nostromo

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Anonymous Coward

The future

Wouldnt it be more prudent to have this stuff stock piled up in space and used for space based ventures

I mean, the idea that in even the conceivable future we could build feck of great big space craft on earth and have them take off is laughable, it would never happen, gravity alone would make construction impossible as it collapses under its own weight let alone taking off

Take all that in to space and suddenly you don't need to worry about its weight any more, only its mass and a propulsion system to move it. in terms of space travel a major issue is being cooked by our sun or passing radiation from outside the solar system, when construction isn't limited by weight it becomes a very real possibility to install shielding, the same can be said for a proper energy source such as nuclear reactor.

Perhaps some of it could be used on earth, if anyone as seen the film Moon then theres a good idea on there that could be used. But in my mind creating prefab materials which could be used to build ships or sent off to automated construction sites on other planets would make much more sense. I mean imagine, you mine stuff, refine it in to materials or even prefabed blocks, blast it off to Mars where either a manned or automated construction could set it up basic services. It sounds far fetched but I don't think it is, whats holding us back is more likely to do with Money and lack of forward thinking.

But as Stephen Hawking said (paraphrased) we're all fucked if we stay on this planet, we need to get off this rock and spread humanity around a bit to ensure our survival. In an astrological scale it would take but a grain of sand to wipe out our existence.

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Joke

Correction

... on an astrological scale it would take but a bad alignment of the planets and a grim Tarot deal to wipe us out.

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Stop

Re: The future

"I mean, the idea that in even the conceivable future we could build feck of great big space craft on earth and have them take off is laughable, it would never happen, gravity alone would make construction impossible as it collapses under its own weight let alone taking off"

I dunno, the original Project Orion spacecraft design was pretty feck-off big, practical (if a little damaging to the local environment) and could even be launched from Earth. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)#Sizes_of_Orion_vehicles

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Re: The future

Alas, it was calculated that each launch would result in roughly 100 deaths from fall-out related cancer. Still, the BBC documentary 'To Mars by A bomb' is fascinating - search for it on Google, and use the 20 minutes + filter.

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Re: The future

Yup. The future is living in space..not on the surface of planets. Planets are dangerous things and living the good life on them often means putting them at risk. Building our own space habitats means we are in control. If we need a nuclear reactor we stick it on the outside and if it melts down we just push it away and forget about it.

On Earth we are limited by resources and environmental concerns. In space we are limited only by our imaginations.

Hey - that's a good slogan :)

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Re: The future

"Wouldnt it be more prudent to have this stuff stock piled up in space and used for space based ventures"

That's part of their plan

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Re: The future

Bearing in mind that ~ 1/3 of the human population dies form cancer eventually anyway, that number is actually pretty low...

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if gold bars were stcked on the moon

they still wouldn't be able to get them down economically (ignoring crashing gold prices)... (a comment by some lunar investor)

though the moon fanasists claim there is loads of duterium on the moon - and that would make it economic. supposedly.

personally i think its a shit idea. processing seawater, somwhow, is much more straightforward, and less inefficient.

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DJO
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Facepalm

Re: if gold bars were stcked on the moon

Not duterium (sic) but Helium3 which cannot be found in the sea in any useful quantities and is the easiest fuel to fuse. The amount of He3 that could be easily extracted from strip mined regolith could power the Earth with safe fusion plants for millennia.

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Re: if gold bars were stcked on the moon

This is dependant on continuing development of fusion but the He3 will still be there in a few generations, shame I won't be around to see it.

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Re: if gold bars were stcked on the moon

problem is you have a catch-22 situation the branch of fusion research that relies on He3 is restricted by the shear lack of the stuff (its only really produced from decommissioned nuke warheads) and the lack of research means no point in grabbing the He3.

mind you it is used in some medical gizmo's, all we need is the US department of defense to need some for some new doodad and we will have moon colony's in no time (staffed by blackwater)

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Re: if gold bars were stcked on the moon

I stand correvted about the exact stuff supposedly on the moon, -which doesn't mean its in asteroids though, cos theyre not bathed insolar wind

if only fusion was working, we could get bavk to complaining about the weather.

typos cos I'm using a smart phone ..

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Re: if gold bars were stcked on the moon

Other than our sun we have no fusion reactors. So He3 remains a fantasy commodity.

The Planetary Resources folks correctly say water is the most valuable space commodity. Propellant high on the slopes of earth's gravity well breaks the exponent in Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation. And the rocket equation is what keeps space transportation expensive.

And there seems to be abundant water in the cold traps at the lunar poles.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/Mini-RF/multimedia/feature_ice_like_deposits.html

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Boffin

Re: if gold bars were stcked on the moon

"I stand correvted about the exact stuff supposedly on the moon, -which doesn't mean its in asteroids though, cos theyre not bathed insolar wind"

Umm, asteroids, which are floating around the solar system inside of the heliopause? I think you'll find that anything inside the heliopause* that isn't protected by its own magnetic bubble, like Earth IS bathed in solar wind.

* Which is somewhere >200 AU from the sun, a lot further than any asteroids we'll be able to get hold of any time soon.

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Pint

The south sea bubble

of 1720 all over again... IN SPAAACE!!!

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FAIL

Fantasy

For some reason I am reminded of this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diamond_as_Big_as_the_Ritz

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Two thoughts on the subject of platinum

1. Who cares if the price plummets? We get loads of (arguably) the worlds most useful catalyst. Perhaps this will kick start the hydrogen economy? (perhaps a little optimistic but hey we can dream)

2. Lets say they only exstract a few kilos of the stuff, selling it as raw platinum wouldnt recoup their losses. Sell it in the form of jewelry, how much would people pay for a limited edition space platinum ring or necklace? You could probally flog off the raw rock as souveneers whats the going rate for asteroid these days?

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jai
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space elevators damnit

Surely the best way to bring the goods back down to ground level is for these guys to finally get around to working out how to build a space elevator. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Cheap and easy way to move items out of the Earth's atmosphere and into orbit (space craft for mining or exploration or colonisation, huge sacks of garbage for shooting into the sun for disposal so we no longer need landfill sites) and at that same time, equally cheap and safe means of bringing in bits of asteroids in a controlled way that isn't going to create tidal waves or huge holes in the ground, or scary atmospheric effects like in ID4.

In fact, you build two together, surely, so the one bringing asteroids down to earth is pulled by gravity, and in turn provides power to the other one to lift items up into orbit.

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Re: space elevators damnit

I'm still trying to source some really, really strong string. Will keep you posted.

Meantime, ponder this: http://xkcd.com/697/

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Headmaster

Re: space elevators damnit

Nice bit of perpetual motion going on there - using gravity to lift something has never worked, and never will...

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Yag
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Paris Hilton

Re: space elevators damnit

The use of counterweight was incredibly common in primitive elevators and most modern elevator still have a counterweight...

Indeed, in the case of most primitive and all modern elevators, the aim was not to lift stuff "for free", but merely reducing the power needed to lift something.

However, if...

- Your cabin is at the bottom, with X kg of materials to lift

- Your counterweight "basket" is empty at the top of the "shaft" (let's assume it's the same weight as the empty cabin on the bottom)

- You put more than X kg of counterweight material - for example processed mineral - in your counterweight basket on top...

Then, unless the friction of your system is ludicrous, the gravity will do the work of raising the cabin for you.

However, you will need to expand a bit of energy to slow down the movement...

I really can't figure where is the trouble you're speaking of, and there's no relation with a perpetual movement... Perhaps I'm a dumb blonde after all...

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Coat

Re: space elevators damnit

So, all we need is some superstring. In theory.

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