back to article Asteroid mining and a post-scarcity economy

In the last year, we've seen two commercial ventures announce different plans to harvest the material bounty of the solar system by mining asteroids. So are we at the foothills of a post-scarcity economy or are people blowing a lot of hot air on the latest fad du jour? In April, Planetary Resources announced a scheme to fire …

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  1. asdf Silver badge
    Trollface

    hmm

    Good to dream the impossible dream as every now and then, somebody makes it happen but I don't think I will be investing any of my retirement money thank you. Let the rich guys' vanity fund the dream.

    1. Thorne

      Re: hmm

      Actually, long term, asteroid mining will be worth a fortune. Material in space costs $20K per kilo to get it there. Whatever you can make up there will be siginificantly cheaper and easier than getting from the Earth.

      The survival of the human race depends on getting off this rock. Already too many people living here so the more you can ship out the better. The key to this is facilities in space and whomever can build and control these will make a fortune.

      1. LarsG
        Meh

        Re: hmm @Thorne

        "The survival of the human race depends on getting off this rock."

        Lol that made me laugh.

      2. hplasm Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: hmm

        I agree with Thorne, although it might make sense to start smaller by mining the dead satellites and other space junk first, for practice, and to clear up the junk; they are easier to get to and their positions are well known.

        Space Salvage- nearly Yarr! so

        <++

      3. Grave

        Re: hmm

        "The survival of the human race depends on getting off this rock. Already too many people living here so the more you can ship out the better."

        problem is not really with population size, there are too many STUPID people living here. so many resources wasted because of complete stupidity (greed is just one of the facets of STUPID)

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: hmm

          nothing a good doomsday virus wouldnt sort out. Bit of house cleaning and all.

          1. d3rrial
            Unhappy

            Re: hmm

            Sadly such a virus is rarely very selective...

        2. et tu, brute?
          Facepalm

          Re: hmm @Grave

          "problem is not really with population size, there are too many STUPID people living here. so many resources wasted because of complete stupidity (greed is just one of the facets of STUPID)"

          Problem actually IS the population size, as STUPID people tend to be the most active breeders... so it's a spiralling problem: population too big -> more stupid people -> breed more so population bigger -> stupid contingent bigger -> etc. etc.

          1. Grave

            Re: hmm @Grave

            "Problem actually IS the population size, as STUPID people tend to be the most active breeders... so it's a spiralling problem: population too big -> more stupid people -> breed more so population bigger -> stupid contingent bigger -> etc. etc."

            while it might seem like a catch22, the problem of stupid people can be solved by education, but its slow multigenerational process, if there are no incentives general population tends to be lazy and not interested in education and gaining knowledge. one possibility of incentive would be to shift from materialistic/capitalist/profit democracy towards knowledge/wisdom/intelligence based geniocracy.

            1. Thorne

              Re: hmm @Grave

              "while it might seem like a catch22, the problem of stupid people can be solved by education"

              Some of the dumbest people I know are also the most educated...

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: hmm @Grave

                the problem of stupid people can be solved by education

                Nah. Remove all the warning labels and Darwin will sort it out.

      4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: hmm

        The survival of the human race depends on getting off this rock.

        "Survival" in what sense? Yes, eventually the sun will expand far enough to make Earth uninhabitable (before swallowing it entirely), so it's not like we could persist here forever. But the universe itself is unlikely to stick around for unbounded time (steady-state cosmology looks improbable), and even if it did, the probability of humanity going extinct will always be non-zero.

        And, frankly, I don't see any rational reason to care. In the long run, as JMK so famously remarked, we are all dead. What, aside from idle sentiment, could possibly justify any significant effort to increase the probability that there will be homo sapiens around a few million years from now?

        Already too many people living here so the more you can ship out the better.

        "Shipping" any significant number of people out of the gravity well is likely a non-starter. Extraterrestrial colonization might happen, but mass migration will not. And overpopulation is probably the worst reason for extraterrestrial colonization anyway, until we've exhausted the far easier possibilities at home, like rehabilitating the big deserts and other less-desirable spaces on Earth.

  2. Mike Flugennock
    Meh

    nice sizzle reel, anyway...

    ...even considering how much of other peoples' concept footage they stole for it, including that one bit that looks like the famous "ringworld" space colony proposed by a blue-sky futurist whose name escapes me now -- or, something out of Rendezvous With Rama.

    That's quite a load of hype, too, about how DSI "will be there" at the scene of every highly-improbable blue-sky future space event. Why am I reminded of that commercial that plays on the side of a robot dirigible drifting over the city in Blade Runner: "Visit the Off-World Colonies!"

    1. Paul_Murphy

      Re: nice sizzle reel, anyway...

      Ringworld - Larry Niven

      you also have Barnard Spheres, Stamford Torus and a bunch of others.

      1. Graham Marsden

        Re: nice sizzle reel, anyway...

        @Paul_Murphy: Erm, I think you mean Dyson Spheres.

        Of course there's also Plates and Orbitals and other such fun things from Iain M Banks' Culture stories.

        1. Andrew Newstead

          Re: nice sizzle reel, anyway...

          Actually, Bernal Sphere is the colony design (conceived by J D Bernal in 1929!). The cylindrical design of colony comes from Gerard K O'Neill in 1976, in his book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. His Island 1 concept used the Bernal Sphere as it's starting point.

          A Dyson sphere is a structure that totally encloses a star as a means to fully exploit the energy given off by the star and to provide living space. Larry Niven used this as the jumping off point for his Ringworld concept as he felt this was more practical!

          Sources (if you are interested in following up);

          Bernal Sphere; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernal_sphere

          O'Neill Cylinder; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O'Neill_cylinder

          Dyson Sphere; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere

          Larry Niven's Ringworld ( and a good description of Dyson sphere); His essay "Bigger Than Worlds", published in many places but in my collection in "Playgrounds of the Mind", 1991, Tor Books.

  3. Hud Dunlap
    Paris Hilton

    Takes care of the asteroids that might hit the earth.

    Forget Atomic bombs doomsday Scenarios. We will just mine it and bring it to Earth in pieces.

  4. Mayday Silver badge
    Mushroom

    When...

    Digging holes in the ground runs out of resources, recycling old things (ship breaking has been around for centuries for example) and all else becomes less viable, then going to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, Antarctica (conservation and military treaties will be ignored) and going into space to find stuff becomes more viable.

    1. Filippo

      Re: When...

      That's true. It will be a very, *very* long time before space-mined materials are cheaper than just recycling something or mining inhospitable places that are still not as inhospitable as space.

      However, that's true if you want your material *on Earth*. If you want it *in orbit*, for example because you want to build a satellite, or a space station, or a moon base, or just refuel a rocket, it could very well be that mining an asteroid quickly becomes cheaper compared to lifting cheap stuff from Earth to orbit. Overcoming the gravity well is just that insanely expensive. This is especially true for the stuff that's really cheap but of which you need many tons, like water or common metals.

      Of course, at some point someone might build a space elevator, which would upturn the costs all over again...

      1. DragonLord

        Re: When...

        Ironically they'd probably use materials mined in space to build said space elevator due to the costs involved.

        1. et tu, brute?
          Boffin

          Re: When...

          Not "probably use materials mined in space", but it's the only way it will work... An elevator cable will have to be lowered, as there is no way you could manufacture a coil of the stuff on earth and then tow it into orbit... (the rockets we have aren't tugboats!) so the only option is to have a coil of the stuff up there to start with, so manufacturing it in space is the only sensible solution.

      2. YetAnotherBob

        Re: When...

        Like most commentators, you mix up two entirely different costs associated with off earth travel.

        The first is Launch Cost, which has been in the neighborhood of $1000.00 per Kg, but which has recently fallen to approximately $100.00 per Kg. The second is return cost, which is in contrast less than $1 per Kg.

        To make orbital mining or other Solar System resources Recovery work, you have to send the people to operate it along with the machinery needed ONCE. They then in turn have to send the products back Many Times. It would take many years (probably 4 to 7) to make enough to pay for the boost up.

        With that time frame, the effort is actually a COLONY.

        There is also the little matter of trip time. The trip time for rendezvous with most asteroids is on the order of weeks to months, but, the return time is then on the order of years. You have to wait for the orbits to intersect or for a transit window to open. It's not like you can just send stuff back any old time. It can take years for the product to arrive back at the Earth, or wherever.

  5. Gary Bickford

    Funny you should mention Lloyd's ...

    ... because that's what a company I'm involved in, the Space Finance Group (http://spacefinancegroup.com) is looking at - assisting in finance and management for emerging space development - related companies. I dearly hope we become as successful as Lloyd's! :)

    Actually our first project is a Kickstarter project for the National Space Society (http://nss.org/), to produce a series of videos promoting the importance and opportunity that space development presents - space based technologies may change the world economy and the standard of living as much as the 'discovery' of the Americas. The Kickstarter project, called "Our future in Space" is at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/351762534/our-future-in-space-a-national-space-society-video .

  6. Fazal Majid

    Phosphorous

    The most valuable element to bring back would be phosphorous. There are already some indications we have reached peak phosphorous and it is the ultimate gating factor to how big the biosphere can get on Earth.

    1. Steve 151

      Re: Phosphorous

      World reserves of phospate rock are more than 300 billion tons.

      At the 190 million tonne per year usage, a 1,500 years supply

  7. Great Bu
    Devil

    When the first rift into the demon dimensions is opened......

    .....we'll be there.

    (The video was exactly like a cutscene from Doom 3 or something at the start of the game before the demons came......)

  8. MrXavia
    Mushroom

    I'm sure its possible, but their timescale is way too optimistic...

    if they had all the technology working now on earth, then maybe... just maybe they could hit the launch deadline they set themselves...

    But with the mining and printing not working? then they are in serious trouble...

    I would want at least 6 months continual operation of the technology here on earth before I trusted it to run un-attended for years in space...

    Now who here has an interest in robotics and would like to start up an asteroid mining company?

    (nuke for the size of impact caused when they 'miss' their orbital insertion trajectory)

  9. relpy
    Stop

    Oh Joy

    Now the machines have an army of self replicating mining bots that can strip the homeworld down to nothing when they finally turn on their fleshy erstwhile masters.

    We're all Doomed I say! Doomed!!

    1. Ian Yates
      Coat

      Re: Oh Joy

      I'm more concerned that who ever is in charge is called Mantrid and has plans to consume the whole Universe...

  10. squigbobble
    Trollface

    Sounds like the perfect way

    to manufacture Orbital Lances aka Rods from God

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Sounds like the perfect way

      or crowbars with seeker heads.

  11. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Mushroom

    It was fine until

    They mentioned pretoleum products.

    Eh?

    There may be some organic compounds but petroleum related??!!!

    1. Robert Ramsay
      Joke

      Re: It was fine until

      PLAAAAANTS IN SPAAAAAAAAACE!

    2. DragonLord

      Re: It was fine until

      If you have water, carbon and electricity you can synthesise as much of them as you want.

  12. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    post scarcity

    I hadn't noticed that balderdash was scarce.

  13. Janko Hrasko
    Mushroom

    another apocalypse in making

    I wonder what happens when we start pushing around these huge rocks (snooker balls) around the asteroid belt (snooker table) with our Earth being in the firing line!

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: another apocalypse in making

      The Earth's orpit is 940.000.000 Kilometers long, the Earth fits into that over 73.000 times so hitting the Earth with anything is astronomically!! difficult!

    2. starbaby

      Re: another apocalypse in making

      I've been to a parallel universe, I've seen time running backwards, I've played pool with planets, and I've given birth to twins, but I never thought in my entire life I'd taste an edible Pot Noodle.

      1. John 62
        Thumb Up

        Re: another apocalypse in making

        The Spicy Curry is delicious. Add a couple of slices of buttered toast or a bagel and you have a goodly main meal.

        The only problem is they are horribly expensive compared to packet noodles or pasta'n'sauce, even at B&M bargains (unless they are on offer), unless you don't have saucepans or bowls/plates.

  14. Craig 28

    Re:Another apocalypse in making

    Then the solar system will become the opening credits to Third Rock from the Sun, complete with Saturn and Jupiter's rings gyrating like a massive hula hoop, and the occasional minor planet potted down a black hole.

  15. Katie Saucey
    Meh

    All good but..

    When one of these ventures eventually pans out, and our version of the United Mining Corp* (and UMC Police) rules the world governments, I hope they have more ethics than the fictional equivalents (though I doubt it).

    *from the 'Gap' series by Stephan Donaldson

  16. Danny 14 Silver badge
    Pint

    self building robots? What could possibly go wrong?

    The Machines Will Rise

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