Now all they need to invent...
... is the Cobra Mark III and a Mining Laser.
Right on, Commander!
A powerful cabal of tech, media and aeronautics uber executives are set to reveal how their freshly launched company Planetary Resources, will scope for natural resources outside of planet earth. The new entity, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Google board member K.Ram Shriram, filmmaker …
It's the year 2112, the space-liner 'Overused Metaphor' sets off on her maiden voyage to New New York and the rings of Saturn. No expense has been spared, apart from providing life-saving equipment, and the ship is declared "unbreachable" by an overconfident media.
A star-crossed couple looking a lot like Kate and Leonardo attempt to reenact the infamous 'flying from the bows of the ship' scene. Lacking space suits, they rapidly decompress...
More general fun with an uncharted asteroid, made of icy water, follows later on.
It can't be mining asteroids, there is no evidence of any minerals in the asteroid belt that:
a) are of any use.
b) can't already be mined on earth for a miniscule fraction of the cost of mining from an asteroid.
c) couldn't be synthesised already on earth for a fraction of the cost of mining from an asteroid
Maybe its orbital solar power stations? given the current state of spaceflight tech thats got to be more practical than mining asteroids that are millions of kilometers away.
It's true that everything in space can be found on Earth far more cheaply, but that is to overlook the one main difference between them. Stuff in space is IN SPACE. It would costs $$$ to put stuff in space, why not use stuff that is already there.
NASA wants to go to Mars but it takes lots of propellant to get there, it would be very handy if you could refuel in space rather than dragging it all up from Earth.
Well most of the investors are American, and coal still accounts for over 40% of their energy supply so they probably looked at all those C type Astros and wet themselves.
"it says they're 3 times further out than Earth, how far is that James?"
"it's not very far"
"What about these silica ones, are they any good"
"well silicon is used in computers, and everyone wants computers right?"
"let's do it, anything we find that isn't coal or sand is just gravy"
And that's how James Cameron, the first man to solo dive to the bottom of the Ocean also became the first man to stand on an Asteroid.
"What about these silica ones, are they any good"
"well silicon is used in computers, and everyone wants computers right?"
"let's do it, anything we find that isn't coal or sand is just gravy"
So what you're telling me is that someone has finally discovered one of the rare gravy asteroids. All we need now is the yorkshire pudding asteroid and the beeferoid - and space exploration is more or less solved.
Oi! NASA! Get Hubble turned around to survey asteroids, rather than wasting its time on 13bn year old galaxies. Then get your arse to Mars!
"So what you're telling me is that someone has finally discovered one of the rare gravy asteroids. All we need now is the yorkshire pudding asteroid and the beeferoid - and space exploration is more or less solved..."
And, let's not forget the Mashed Potato asteroid, and the Chicken-Fried Steak asteroid (for those of us in the Southern USA).
By far the most readily available workable asteroid mineral is plain old ordinary water, and the designated target asteroids are 40% water by mass. Properly (and easily) refined in space this water becomes an equal mass of LH2/LO2 (liquid hydrogen and oxygen), also known as "rocket fuel", in a near-zero g environment. Kilotons of the stuff. It makes nice drinking water and breathable air too, and it might be possible in the longer term to actually grow produce in space to provide food and provisions to humans, though this is a minor impact over the fuel issue. The ready availability of kilotons of LH2/LO2 at LEO will make Man's leap from Earth possible. I've been wondering for a while when this would be figured out. I would imagine that LH2/LO2 at LEO would be very valuable. The initial missions require Xenon propellant because on-orbit LH2/LO2 is prohibitively expensive, but if they succeed this will change.
One of the limiting factors of space exploitation is the obscene cost of getting rocket fuel into space in the first place. Every kilo on orbit costs hundreds of kilos of rocket fuel to put it there, and you still have to spend almost all of that kilo to get it and your mission out of cislunar space before you even start heading somewhere interesting. If robotic operations can refine LH2/LO2 they can dip down to LEO to pick up passengers and equipment and move them quickly to where they need to be. A relatively tiny robotic factory can work every moment (night & day seems out of place here, because there is no night) continuously accumulating product.
If you have a robotic rocket fuel factory in high lunar orbit you can sell its output to people who want to do things in space at a considerable profit. You can then fuel robotic lunar landing craft to collect more water to refine from the lunar poles until you have unlimited fuel. You don't even have to claim you own this space produce (a political sticky point): you can charge for delivery and processing only. You can fuel, for example, manned trips to Mars the quick way rather than the slow way, and ensure that it's a round trip rather than a one-way trip. You can even send robotic fuel ships in advance to await the human mission in orbit around Mars, or anywhere else in the solar system.
Yes, asteroids contain other minerals too like iron, nickel, gold, platinum, iridium, that might someday be used to make space stations and whatnot or be returned to Earth for industrial uses. One day we'll do this, but the tooling to do it in zero g is currently not available. I imagine some sort of purified iron 3d printer is currently in design. Water to rocket fuel though is easily done and readily available. Most likely the waste minerals will be dumped on the lunar surface for the foreseeable future.
There are many now who would propose some different plan as if this was a NASA endeavor and they got to vote on it. Others would say this is a bad plan. This is one of the prime problems with publicly funded missions and one of the other chief impediments to exploitation of space: people can't agree on what to do, can't take a long view. They can't get committed to one course long enough to achieve it across different administrations, because one of the first things a new administration does is retask NASA and prevent completion of the space vision of the previous administration. Some want to mine the moon first, or build a space elevator, or do manned exploration, or sciency things. Every administration that comes into office immediately scraps the plans of the previous to make their own mark, proposing ironically a grand new vision that extends beyond their tenure. And so nothing gets done because the US political system lacks consistent purpose by design and these things take a long time window. But this isn't a publicly funded NASA mission. This is a commercial endeavor. Commercial endeavors don't have these problems. They don't need the public's active encouragement, nor absent persistence of vision.
To those who propose something else I would say "You want to do that? Fine. Gather up some money and do that. These guys, they want to fetch some asteroids and they're done with the "gather up money" part. It's their money, they actually do have the money, and they don't tell you what to do with your money. They're not asking you to pay for it. They're some of the most successful businessmen on Earth, so there's a good chance they have a plan to turn a profit." If you want to mine the moon, for example, you may find that mission more easily achieved by buying some fuel at LEO from these guys.
These guys mean to do this, and they know how to do it, and they have the money to do it. It's a real thing. They're some of the smartest people on the planet. Complaining that you have a better idea is just dumb. They have enough money to do this 50 times over at least, it doesn't require the invention of anything new or impossible, so it's going to happen and there's no risk it's going to fail. They don't have to ask you. They might, if they feel generous, let people invest and if they do I'm all in.
Space is big. Really, really big. It has more stuff in it than all the world by 12 orders of magnitude at least. What's at stake here is so much money that "all the money in the world" dwindles to a gnat's whisker. I, for one, am glad that there are humans with enough money, vision and will to pull it off. For a while there I was thinking I would die before Men turned this corner.
Basically, Mikel is right, I say. You need to lower the cost of access to orbit and, more crucially, the cost of orbit-to-the-ground by a huge margin before mining the asteroids becomes profitable.
You need very high (unrealisticaly high) levels of purity (above 4% at the very minimum) in sufficient quantities before bringing rocks, or bits of rocks, back to Earth AND MAKING A PROFIT.
But once you've got your first refinery/smelter/factory going, then building/fueling the (rapid) expansion of humanity across the Solar System becomes eminently possible.
We'll have to wait until tomorrow before we see if they are talking about propellent depots or whether they're going to try and send a miner off to a rock somewhere...
They're not going to reveal the whole plan Tuesday. They're going to give only what they think they need to garner popular support. It's a commercial endeavor and they have significant interest in keeping most of the facts proprietary. Frankly, if they gave the game away they'd have considerable competition from India and China because the ROI is something like infinity. And no, that's not an exaggeration or a math error - I do know what infinity is. Approaching infinity is quite literally the potential ROI for this investment, because they could become in control of all the universe outside cislunar space, which drives the investment to an almost infinitesimal fraction of All That Is. And that's close enough to satisfy my linguistic conditionals for relative to infinity. I could say orders of magnitude (12+) but some "savant" would show up with a proof that it was more or less.
These guys think big and long term. I have to admire that. I have had talks with my youngest few about being on the boat. I will redouble those efforts now.
Whether you or I see a profit in it is, however, irrelevant. The guys involved have enough confetti between them to buy an entire sovereign nation on the equator part and parcel, root and branch, to launch their missions from, to do their business without let. They don't need our approval, they don't need any government's permission they don't already own or can get, any more than they need some scientific discovery: because if they needed such things they'd work it out before the announcement. Because other governments know this, I'm betting the launch will be from Bygongyr.
For a single billion dollars you can buy the entire US government over an election season: the presidency and every single congressman and senator - and his opponent too, ensuring that whoever wins, you've got their ear. These guys have _hundreds_ of billions of dollars. If they wanted to they could make us pay for this - but they don't, because they want to own it and they don't swing that way.
"Maybe its orbital solar power stations? given the current state of spaceflight tech thats got to be more practical than mining asteroids that are millions of kilometers away."
Space solar power stations? I seem to recall, back during the "energy crisis" days of the mid '70s, this being one of those ideas that was hyped relentlessly until it was discovered that it'd be impractical and more trouble than it was worth.
There is no resource in an asteroid that can't be mined on Earth for far less. But if you want that resource to be in space, then you need to add to the Earth-mining cost the cost of getting it out of the gravity well. I don't know for sure of course, but that could get it into the ballpark of, or even higher than, the cost of asteroid mining. The only problem is that it requires a massive initial investment which won't start having returns for quite a while, but these guys do have a lot of money. And yeah, what Mikel said - water is a big one.
1) Bring ice asteroid into LEO.
2) Build giant solar panels in space.
3) Melt ice, crack water into H2 and O2.
4) Set up orbital refuel station.
It's a nice business plan. After that, you can get a mineral asteroid and start building orbital stations, factories, building ships in orbit, and so on. That'd make getting to the Moon or Mars or wherever enormously cheaper, as the actual spaceship could be designed to never have to take off or land, and be built and powered with mass and fuel that never has to traverse a gravity well. Just fit with a small lander. Seriously, asteroid mining is pretty much a requirement for any space exploration that makes economical sense.
If you look at it in a certain way, they are, in effect, paying tax. That's an aweful lot of money to pump into the US economy (and possibly others) with the potential to create a lot more wealth. They choose to spend their "tax" on something of their choice rather than at the choice of Govt.
Yeah, it's kind of a warped view but, well....
To exploit asteroid resources wouldn't one have to bring the asteroid into Earth orbit and/or mount the mining gear etc. on the asteroid and fire the products back at Earth?
Either of those would be technically (and energetically) challenging..... I can't see the economics squaring up on this in any practical timeframe.
No, you can exploit asteroid resources *in space*. Low orbit satellites need fuel so they don't fall down due to atmospheric drag, and high orbit satellites need fuel to get to high orbit in the first place. So the first mining product will likely be fuel for satellites. Anything else will come later and be gravy. If nothing else, the slag after extracting fuel can become radiation shielding, which you need for anywhere above low orbit.
Even in low orbit, you need some shielding to use modern electronics, because they are sensitive to particles from the radiation belts.
Look up Sudbury Basin, and you'll find that Canada has been mining a meteor/asteroid for a long time.
Assuming that metal can be refined in space, mining asteroids is more environmentally friendly. I hope it succeeds. If the private sector doesn't kick start it in the next 10 years, I think manned space-flight is dead in the water.
There are loads of commentards who don't like this for assorted reasons - most of them are probably better qualified than I to comment. However I love the chutzpah of the people doing this.
Between this lot and Elon Musk we might escape from the stagnation / glacial progress rate we are stuck in at the moment.
The consortium have set up to mine one of the worlds greatest resources: Idiotically enthusiastic venture capitalists! Next week I predict a press release containing the words "Nano-tech", "Green Energy", "Sustainable" "Counter-terrorism", "Unlimited growth potential" and "Untapped market".
Plenty of near-earth asteroids to chose from, the main problem is they tend to have eccentric orbits - who do you apply to for a license to modify the path of a space rock ?
Or (in a few years) we could send up a group of self-replicating robotic miners controlled by an AI such that they mine the rock while it is far from the earth and then use small rockets to send the (possibly refined) products into a more convenient geocentric orbit as the asteroid gets closer to the earth. What could possibly go wrong ?
Chutzpah is the right word. Wish every billionaire used their fortune like this.
I wonder if they'll take the Island 3 concepts from the 70s and update them. Gerard O'Neil and his team had interesting ideas.
I have a question for the more scientifically inclined...what is the feasibility of mining hard to find ores like coltan. I have a simplified grasp of the stellar nucleosynthesis process by which light elements are created in supernovae but I don't know if that applies to heavier elements.
Heck, even if it doesn't, mining iron and water would be valuable enough. There is enough iron out there to dwarf the entirety of human extraction through all history. Enough water to solve short term water shortage.
Assuming they're going to try and make money at this, then their first step is to get some ice and set a fuel manufacturing system. Electricity (from solar energy) plus melted ice (don't forget the impurities) and you've got H2 & Oxygen.
You'd need special arrangements for that and you'd probably have to go get a nice ice asteroid (say that three times!) that wasn't too big and bring it back to LEO/GEO.
And after that, they'd need an OTV and then the rest of the solar system is, in technical terms, very easy to get to, as long as you're not in a hurry to get there.
Actually the first steps are more telescopes for finding asteroids, since we only know about 8% of the ones larger than 100 meters. Then prospector missions to visit and get samples back from the candidate ones you find. Looking at these asteroids from millions of km away, like we do from the ground, just does not tell you enough to determine which ones to mine and what you can get out of them. That pretty much follows Earth mining practice, first survey and take mineral samples back to the lab, then decide if you want to mine there.
Cameron and the Chocolate Factory honchos are simply taking advantage of Obama's new and torturously-acronymed JOBS legislation, which basically legitimizes the kind of sketchiness and flat-out fraud that helped inflate the dot-com bubble.
Cameron, Schmidt, Page, et. al. likely don't give a shit one way or the other if their crazy-assed Star Trek business idea pans out or not; they'll take the loss, figure out a way to write it off on their taxes and keep on truckin'.
This is what happens when people have too much money and have had their minds inhibited by science fiction...
Are these gentlemen planning on importing the stuff to Earth? If so, how much?
1. If it is profitable it will continue for many many years.
2. If it is profitable it will expand until it reaches economic saturation.
Then we will have a lots of stuff being brought onto the planet, which will affect, very minutely, the gravity of the planet. Which, in turn will affect (a) the Earth's orbit (there goes all that Climate Modelling), and (b) the orbit of other bodies close to Earth.
I know that this comment will be met with derision and I will be called an idiot and scientific illiterate, but consider the long term prospects. Our ancestors 10,000 years ago started to burn wood to keep warm, and then in the 19th century industrial scale coal burning started our path to Global Warming...
Will this then require that we dump stuff in orbit? Or beyond? Solved the 3 body problem lately?
Well I heard they've got lean WMD's. Actually it might have been 'green cheese' but let's take no chances! Fire up Dick Cheney & Karl Rove! Let's take the fight to...
who are we fighing again?
Oh, right the roo people - BLUE people, I mean.
Get them over there before...
Oh, who am I kidding? There's no need to fire Americans up, it's a war, they love that kind of stuff. At least the important (Yearly income >1 million) people do...
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