back to article MINING in SPAAAACE! Asteroid-scoopers? Nah - consumers will be the real winners

Given the venal nature of what passes for a heart beating in this chest of mine, what really interests me is who is going to make all the moolah from this rushing off into space and mining 'n' stuff. But this isn't a question that appears to have a simple answer, for there are five groups here and each will have a problem with …

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  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The Wild-West days are here again

    > the UN decided ...

    Once habitats in space become self-sufficient, the decisions of a planetary based talking shop will be completely irrelevant. Note the proviso: self-sufficient.

    Laws, rules and regulations only work when they can be backed up (ultimately) by force. If a mining operation, in orbit or beyond , decided to cede, there's not a lot - short of sending up a "police" action to point out the error of their ways - that a ground based legal system can do. As readers of Lucifer's Hammer will recall: being at the top of the gravity well trumps being at the top of the food chain. And throwing rocks can be terribly effective.

    So, just like settlement in other colonies, there will be a period of lawlessness, probably a revolutionary war (or war of independence, depending on who's history you subscribe to) and almost certainly a civil war or two. After that the occupants take it upon themselves to formulate their own laws, for their own domains over which they have the ability to enforce them. Given the size of spaaaaaace, it's more than likely that several empires (striking back, or not) and hegemonies will arise - whether the UN or any earthly government approves or disapproves.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      I'd blag my short story, but will refrain as it's my first and that would be unfair use of this thread, but that's exactly how I set it up.

      Mining planet for fuel (as what else is the main cost up there), is kept in "control" by not being made self sufficient. Plus some other secret control measures. ;)

      If I get to write another, it would also cover that possible lawless/breakaway effect of colonies. Though it'll cover the time after the "independence" wars.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: The Wild-West days are here again

        Wouldn't be hard. Raw materials can be had in space, but manufacturing capability is lacking. What do you do when the last spare microcontroller for your oxygen concentration monitoring unit dies? Unless you've got a whole silicon foundry to hand, you can't replace something like that. Skilled enough engineers could bodge things up with electromechanical systems for a while, but eventually you're going to need spare parts for something.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The Wild-West days are here again

          Manufacturing will most likely occur on the moon (or a moon), if a lunar space elevator is ever built. NASA estimated the cost at around $10B (with today's materials and launch costs) at some point if memory serves (don't really remember where, I'm sure others have estimates as well just too lazy to look), so allowing for cost over runs call it an even $20B, still doable when amortized over several years. The moon is a large heat sink with water, raw materials of its own to act as a radiation shield, low gravity well with cheap heavy lift capability (given a lunar elevator), but high enough g as to not require expensive major redesign to various manufacturing apparatus. Until the cost of such mega scale projects drops to within the realm of comfortable private expertise and investment risk, governments would continue to be the sole provider of cheap heavy lift out of these manufacturing centers (barring redesign of entire manufacturing lines and engineering efficient heat transport and dissipation systems). I think that barring any warhawks getting in the way for the next decade or so*, a lunar elevator could really kickstart the great space resource rush of 2023.

          *Do we really need another costly war, why couldn't we just do what Clinton did and just send a couple cruise missiles over until everyone loses interest. Do we really need another $9B aircraft carrier? Given that other nations don't even have a total fleet of carriers the equal tonnage of one of these super carriers, ten (planned) seems a might bit much. I would really rather get to the next "oil fields" and avoid the petty squabbling between two extremist religious groups that comes with the current ones.

          1. James Micallef Silver badge

            Re: The Wild-West days are here again

            " if a lunar space elevator is ever built. NASA estimated the cost at around $10B (with today's materials and launch costs) "

            erm... with today's materials a LEO space elevator is impossible let alone a lunar one, so that $10B pricetag is someone's made-up bollocks

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The Wild-West days are here again

              Errr... if NASA estimated the cost of sending a handful of astronauts to the moon (and back) in 2018 as $100bn, where does this $10bn estimate come from??

              1. Michael 28

                Re: The Wild-West days are here again

                Never mind the 10 billion price tag... try applying for planning permission for the anchor.

            2. Suricou Raven

              Re: The Wild-West days are here again

              A lunar elevator would actually be comparatively easy. Lower gravity means lower cable weight and thus lower tension. Lunarstationary orbit is also lower, so shorter elevator. No atmosphere to worry about allows for much less durable materials. The only problem is getting everything up there - but that doesn't need any technological revolution, just a gargantuan pile of money.

          2. JLV Silver badge
            Flame

            >NASA estimated the cost at around $10B

            and that doesn't sound low to you, considering the ISS has cost about $150B to date?

            Just wondering.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      See also "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" which detailed throwing rocks from top of gravity well way before your reference.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: The Wild-West days are here again

        "See also "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" which detailed throwing rocks from top of gravity well way before your reference."

        You might include CJ Cyrn's "Downbelow Station" novels and the company that controls what the miners get, and what they pay for it.

        The just love working for the company.

    3. noem

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      I think that because they seem to be the subject of much pulpy space adventure from the golden age of scifi, that a lot of people discount lasers or DEWs. A DEW would only have to heat a target spacecraft to a temperature that causes component failure, given a spacecraft's relatively small mass and poor heat dissipation this task seems workable. Of course building a single death ray would be less than optimal and probably quite hard to do, so instead the weapon would most likely be composed of the most efficient single power output for a single DEW module times number of modules required to form an array of DEWs to arrive at a desired total weapon output power. While throwing rocks is effective, a weapon that has near unlimited range (compared to conventional weaponry), is highly scaleable, has near unlimited ammunition and travels at c would be terrifying indeed to spacecraft, especially considering it would take months to get that rock to arrive at the target destination.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Wild-West days are here again

        Better hope they don't move out the way because even at lightspeed, it might be a while before you know your target has moved and in which direction.

      2. cynic 2

        Re: The Wild-West days are here again

        Interesting point. There's only two problems: (1) by the time a government decides it wants these it will be too late, and (2) their usual contractors would take 20 years to build the array, and fail anyway.

      3. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: The Wild-West days are here again

        What the hell is a DEW? As Stanley Kubrick might have said when shooting 2001, "throw us a bone here."

    4. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      A mining operation can't cede if it wants to keep selling stuff on the home planet. Especially not a space mining operation which relies on critical supplies for life support. (Every attempt to create a closed self-sustaining ecology to date has ended in disaster. Sitting on a big pile of platinum is unlikely to fix that.)

      And if said mining operation threatens Earth with a few big rocks, a lot of nukes could be sent in their general direction. (Not to mention the fact that killing your own customers is kind of stupid.)

      You're repeating the 'governments don't matter' fantasy beloved by USian glibertarian fundamentalists.

      In realpolitik, governments continue to matter a lot.

      Remember John Perry Barlow's declaration of cyberspace independence? Remember 'The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it?'

      How's that working out for everyone in - say - China? Or (coming soon...) East Molesey?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Wild-West days are here again

        "A mining operation can't cede if it wants to keep selling stuff on the home planet. "

        Of course it can. In the most unlikely event that Scotland ceded from the rest of Britain next year, both parties would still trade, even though (for some bizarre reason) the Westminster government is vehemently opposed to the Scots controlling their own destiny. When the European colonies were given independence, they continued to trade with the former colonial power. Looking at the leaky and ineffective sanctions on renegade nations, I very much doubt that all Earth countries would refuse to trade with space settlers who have something worth buying. If the Yanks didn't like it, the Russians or Chinese wouldn't give a shit, and vice versa.

    5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      "Once habitats in space become self-sufficient, the decisions of a planetary based talking shop will be completely irrelevant. Note the proviso: self-sufficient."

      And those 2 little words are a biggie.

      Closed cycle life support is very tough.

    6. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      "being at the top of the gravity well trumps being at the top of the food chain. And throwing rocks can be terribly effective."

      Robert Heinlein got that in about 10 years earlier than Niven in "The moon is a harsh mistress". But trivia aside, spot on about the gist of the argument. Of course "self-sufficient" is a huge (huge, huge, huge, huge) ask anywhere in space, but it's achievable (probably not this century, maybe in the 2 after that, almost certainly after that as long as humanity hasn't consumed all planetary resources like greedy little locusts)

      *Yes I know technically it's the other way around, humans adapted to Earth environment

    7. Rick Giles
      Pirate

      Re: The Wild-West days are here again

      There used to be a really good web comic about just that sort of thing...

      Escape From Terra (www.bigheadpress.com/eft)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UN can declare that space can't be owned all it wants, but I'd like to see them try and stop it.

  3. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    "Nice Earth you have there. It would be a shame if an asteroid fell on it..."

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      That's ok, we have an atmosphere. Once another gets the tech and resources to send an asteroid, defending from such is a similar level of expertise. When the size of an asteroid makes a big difference in both effectiveness and time required to move it, things will hopefully balance out.

      Bigger rocks are easier to see and take longer to reach us, giving time to respond, smaller ones might just burn up.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Kerrrr splat!

        > That's ok, we have an atmosphere

        Ahhh, but you don't have to toss big chunks at the planet. Just squirt a bag o' sand into the Clarke Orbit - or sun-synchronous - or GPS paths, and watch all the fragile little (but vital) satellites fail.

        Or [ FX: stroking of fluffy white cat ] erect a sun shield somewhere around L1 and "solve" the planet's global warming crisis for them.

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Kerrrr splat!

          @Pete 2

          Ah I see you saw the film Gravity as well

          1. Pete 2 Silver badge

            Re: Kerrrr splat!

            > Ah I see you saw the film Gravity as well

            Errrm, nope. Though I'm disappointed you'd think so. As all I've heard about the film is how shaky the science is.

            1. Ian 55

              Re: Kerrrr splat!

              And most of the acting is done by the gymnasts etc. Clooney and Bullock should get credit as 'voice actors' for most of it.

      2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        @TechnicalBen

        I was being "Ha ha only serious". However you can have an upvote for valid points.

        But the chance of a meteor burning up depends on its trajectory and its composition. And *cough* it's hard to detect objects coming at us from the sun. *cough* All it needs is one to get through and reach a populate area.

        I also think the economics favour the attacker: it's hard to be certain whether an orbit will threaten the Earth so an attacker can kick lots of trans-Earth objects Earthwards, at very little cost, and the defender is left with lots of "maybes" to cover. And the defenders have to pay the cost of getting stuff into orbit, whereas the attackers don't.

    2. S4qFBxkFFg

      More like:

      You want taxes? Hmm, can they be paid as a percentage of the minerals we're extracting?

      Cool.

      OK, we've put together the payment, it's in tungsten, 1m diameter, 100m length rods, we're not sure where exactly you wanted it, so we've just put it on a trajectory that should be right outside your tax office.

      x

  4. Chris Hawkins
    Linux

    Extra-Terrestrial Porcine Press Headlines??

    "PIG IRON IN SPAAAAACE!!!"

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    consumers... real winners

    this would be the first one, ever. So I reserve the right to remain skeptical.

    1. Ian 55

      Re: consumers... real winners

      You might not be as rich as the founders of Intel or Microsoft or.. but we are all certainly more than a bit richer because of them and there are a lot more of us than there are of them.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No property rights

    > "You've worked out how to get helium 3 from the lunar regolith? Excellent: but with no private property then anyone else able to get to the Moon can do exactly the same."

    So can anyone explain why this would be a bad thing?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Facepalm

      Re: No property rights

      I don't think it would make a difference to you.

    2. mike2R

      Re: No property rights

      "So can anyone explain why this would be a bad thing?"

      No one would invest in working it out in the first place.

      1. Rol Silver badge

        Re: No property rights

        You will no doubt own the equipment that is sent out to mine the resource, but having a requirement that you own the resource before it is extracted is nonsense.

        Let it be like the days of the tea clipper, first one back with the goods, gets the bonus.

        Economics will become the new property law of space, if you can't get it back as cheaply as the next guy, you look somewhere else for a profit.

        Imagine granting Mr Gold exclusive rights to an astral body, is he going to spend billions on bringing back hundreds of tons of gold back to Earth? Hell no! He's going to make sure nobody brings any gold back and so protect the price of his current stock.

        I see the future of space mining to be not unlike our current energy market, miners mining, transporters transporting and cellars doing their utmost to keep it dark, dank and full of secrets.

        1. mike2R

          Re: No property rights

          There will need to be an incentive to be the first mover. If its cheaper to wait for someone else to make the initial move and then do what they have proved to work, then thats what everyone will do.

          Some sort of property-type rights are the obvious solution, same as it is with intellectual property. Random example pulled from my arse: say you want to encourage people to prospect asteroids. You grant a 30 year period of exclusivity for mining prooved and published mineral deposits on asteroids, which can then be sold to mining companies or used by the organisation itself. Perhaps with the stipulation that non-exploited deposits can be licenced by anyone on some kind of RAND terms.

          The details will obviously be different, but something that looks a lot like property rights is the obvious solution. Though maybe it is a good thing that no rights exist at present, since that means a new system can be drafted from scratch and tailored to this new situation.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No property rights

          "I see the future of space mining to be not unlike our current energy market, miners mining, transporters transporting and cellars doing their utmost to keep it dark, dank and full of secrets."

          The current example isn't energy, its defence research where you pay astronomical sums for incredibly advanced research, and then the department/ministry of defence decides that the best use of that new technology is to keep it secret and apply it only to killing brown people, rather than making life better for everybody. The ultimate owner of all energy resources is always the government of the land under which it sits, and they, not energy companies) decide if they want it coming to market. Generally the answer is "Yes, yes, YEEESSS!". Except if you're say France, sitting on the largest shale gas deposits in Europe, where the answer is the usual surly "non".

    3. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: No property rights

      "You've worked out how to get helium 3 from the lunar regolith? Excellent: but with no private property then anyone else able to get to the Moon can do exactly the same."

      Actually, since the moon is fairly big, no one company would ever conceivably be given property rights over more than a tiny fraction of it. So even WITH very strong property rights, "anyone else able to get to the Moon can do exactly the same", just on a different patch of moon.

  7. Ian 55

    Space marines

    Well, Games Workshop will attempt to make money by enforcing their trademarks on what everyone else sees as a generic term.

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    " As one of those capitalists, you're not going to skimp on $100k or $200k on wages"

    get real - the crew will be paid space peanuts but their management will get asteroid sized gold nuggets for shouting contradictory instructions into the space telephone.

    1. MrXavia

      Re: " As one of those capitalists, you're not going to skimp on $100k or $200k on wages"

      More likely a percentage I suspect, with a decent base salary... but to me $200k seems a bit on the low side for such a risky job...

      Although I bet you could probably offer room & board and STILL get enough applicants to take the job at the start....

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: " As one of those capitalists, you're not going to skimp on $100k or $200k on wages"

        "Although I bet you could probably offer room & board and STILL get enough applicants to take the job at the start..."

        If they can get this off the ground in the next twenty years, I'd take that offer!

  9. MacroRodent Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Arms race

    "If there cannot be a legal right to a certain place, deposit or asteroid, then as soon as something does become profitable anyone and everyone can just move in. "

    This suggests yet another group that will profit: Makers of arms usable in space.

  10. gquipster

    What no picture from Elite showing asteroid mining and using cargo scoops to collect minerals??? For shame!!!

  11. lawndart

    says

    "you're not going to skimp on $100k or $200k a year in wages for someone driving your $2bn spaceship."

    No, you don't need to.

    All your orbital and transfer orbit activity will be done by computers.

    Putting humanity in the loop just adds inaccuracies in burn durations and vectors.

    All your pilot needs to do is tell the computer that e.g. they want to be in Mars orbit at a specific altitude on a certain date and press enter.

    The computer will tell them they will commence orientation manoeuvres for the initial burn on the 7th August at 04:26:26 and will be running the engine for 684.2 seconds at 1G.

    Note the pilot doesn't even need to be aboard.

    We have advanced long past the era of "The Right Stuff" and HAL was way over-specified for the job it needed to do.

    This is how it will really be, and even then some fun activites have been added to give the human a sense of involvement: http://orbit.medphys.ucl.ac.uk/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: says

      While I am sure it could be done mainly with computers, and much of the work will be automated...

      human interaction is always needed for anything complex, otherwise why would they need large crews on earth for mining and tunneling?

      I suspect the transfer of goods will be automated (with room on the transfer vessel for passengers, i.e. replacement crew) but the main job of mining will be robotics overseen by a few meat bags to fix the problems when they occur...

      1. lawndart

        Re: says @AC

        You're not wrong about the complex stuff with mining and tunnelling, but that is not exactly the pilot's role.

        The jobs you are describing appear to be more of the mining expert and engineering types.

        In aviation it is handy if the pilot knows which bits should be firmly attached to a plane and which ones are supposed to wiggle, but it isn't usually necessary for them to be capable of stripping down and rebuilding a turbofan or co-ordinating flight operations at a busy terminal.

        In Apollo 13 none of the crew had to be a pilot to assemble the CO2 scrubber from the bits available.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: In Apollo 13

          True, but they DID have to be pilots to put the whole thing back on a proper return trajectory to Earth when everything had gone wrong.

          So your example seems to be contrary to your initial theory. A pilot knowing the workings of the vessel, where the kinks are and what to do in case of failure of the machines is going to be a precious commodity to avoid a $2 billion vessel (not counting the cargo) from missing the proper burn duration and orientation and ending up on a solar-centric orbit outside of Jupiter.

          And I'm thinking that employers will pay a pretty penny to an experienced and reliable pilot/on-site repairman as a proviso against needing to call on the insurance policy.

          1. lawndart

            Re: In Apollo 13 @Pascal Monett

            Yes, the Apollo 13 astronauts had to do manual Command Module stabilization and correct their flight path, however, as I mentioned in my first comment we are way beyond that now. In the same situation a group of modern on-board computers with redundancy and constant error checking of each other would be able to agree on and implement a fuel efficient and fast method of stabilization whilst the disoriented human pilot was still trying to work which way was Christmas.

            Someone who knows what to do in case of failure of the machines may have the title of pilot, but the role is still one of engineer or mechanic who may occasionally thumb the EXEC button on a computer once the new destination is programmed in.

            Think of a fly-by-wire plane. No matter how good the pilot is, in normal flight he simply requests the computers send the aircraft in a particular direction at a particular attitude. If the computers don't like it they don't do it. If all the computers fail then he better hope the preferred method of egress works because he certainly isn't going to fly it home.

            The problem is we were all brought up on Star Wars/Buck Rogers/Battlestar Galactica (well I was). Real spaceflight just isn't like that.

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: says

      No doubt automation will be heavily involved, but when you're operating a huge mining operation the machines are going to break down. I imagine moon or astroid mining operations may consist of a small 'foreman's cabin' station with a small crew in, and a large number of robots doing the actual mining. Whenever a robot breaks down another robot shall collect and bring it to the cabin, where the humans shall make the required repairs and send it out again.

      Basically, Space Garage.

  12. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Consumers? You forgot the lawyers

    On current trends the obvious solution to the property rights isssue will be to patent the asteroid, and let the lawyers fight over the profits from any material thus obtained. The consumers will get screwed over as always.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Consumers? You forgot the lawyers

      Better yet, lets send up all the lawyers and let them fight it out ON the Asteroid. We can probably sell the TV rights which would pay for the cost of getting them up there in the first place. Not sure we need to worry about replacement oxygen tanks though.

      What do you think?

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Coat

        Awesome idea !

        Let's start training for this by building an arena on the Moon.

  13. MrXavia
    Alien

    No Private property in space?

    I thought that it was just the governments that didn't have the right to claim things in space, not individuals...

    I bet no damned international law would stop people defending their asteroids! And how can Earth laws apply to space, since they can't even police it...

    Also, what do the Aliens on the far side of the moon have to say about this?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Also, what do the Aliens on the far side of the moon have to say about this?

      Oi, you, get your spaceship off our driveway?

    2. Don Jefe

      Individuals have no property if that ownership isn't recognized and backed up by your government. That's been the justification for everything from invading foreign countries filled with 'savages' to Privateers. Without the government to support your claim you are powerless to stop someone with more resources from taking your stuff.

  14. Tom 13

    Re: private property doesn't exist up there in space.

    You need to re-read Burke.

    Private property is a natural right. Governments might protect or infringe on it, but they don't get to change that basic fact.

    1. Schultz

      "Private property is a natural right"

      Just like your natural right on the air you breathe. In space.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: private property doesn't exist up there in space.

      Private Property is a natural right? I think you will find that in almost every country, the government/crown/party or whatever owns the land. They might lease it out on long term contracts, so long that you can buy and sell it on happily without worrying about the end of the lease, but if the government wants your land back, they are more then entitled to take it back off you. Here in the west, we believe that when that happens the people getting kicked off their land should get some fair and reasonable compensation. Other countries, you're lucky if you get to keep the shirt on your back.

      Private Property a natural right? Not bleedin likely...

      1. Tom 13

        Re: private property doesn't exist up there in space.

        That most governments infringe on that natural right does not make it any less a natural right. It only indicates the extent of corruption within the government.

        If the people likewise do not recognize it as a natural right, that only indicates the extent of their corruption. Time to start some self-assessment and work to correct your mistakes before you tread further down the path of darkness.

    3. Suricou Raven

      Re: private property doesn't exist up there in space.

      There is no such thing as a natural right. If such a thing existed, it would be impossible to infringe - and none are. Rights, as much as any other aspect of law, are a purely artificial construct - and Burke's insistance otherwise was no more than wishful thinking.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: private property doesn't exist up there in space.

        "There is no such thing as a natural right."

        Going on strike in France. That's a natural right, apparently

      2. Tom 13

        Re: There is no such thing as a natural right.

        Thank-you sir for exposing your total abandonment of the rights Englishmen once fought to establish and revealing your complete conversion to the Marxist corruption.

    4. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: private property doesn't exist up there in space.

      Burke, like all philosophers, was simply stating what he thought the world should be. There is no requirement that reality should match, and in this case it most certainly doesn't.

      Equally, economists do the same thing, claiming that their ideas are natural laws - they aren't, though they have modelled reality a bit more accurately for the last couple of centuries.

  15. Thomas Allen

    Property rights in space

    UN doesn't matter. The situation is the same as taking a fish from the open ocean (the commons). You do own your labor, and when you fish, you inextricably mix your labor with the natural object, and it becomes yours. See John Locke on the natural right to property, and how ownership of a natural object from the commons is established by mixing your labor with the object.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Property rights in space

      John Locke, like Burke above, was just a bloke trying to say how he thought the world should work. He doesn't have any more actual validity than I do.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Property rights in space

        Potsherd's right. Political theorists talk about how they think things should work and why (or retrofit a contrived why into a predetermined what) but in any case its all theory. Governments (even the more modern / progressive / whatever) can and do take people's stuff all the time, and use force if necessary.

        In the US racketeering and drug-related charges are frequently used for asset seizures especially in states where local law enforcement gets to keep all or part of the spoils. Turns out you were innocent? Sorry, money's gone. You think it's not possible to just round up people into camps nazi-style in the US? Ask the Japanese-ancestry US citizens who were rounded up in WW2 or ask Mr Jose Padilla what he thinks of due process rights.

        The 'right' to property means you have legal recourse to ask the government to use force on your behalf to protect your stuff. But when its the government (or someone who can convince the government to step aside) doing the taking, it all boils down to might is right.

  16. Mikel

    - "And I'll close with one prediction: once there are enough people up there to be self-sustaining they're going to tell the rest of us to bugger off. Oh, they'll still trade, but governments and possibly even the capitalists will be told where to stick it. As the Americans did us Brits."

    Of course. And that's as it should be. But us dirthuggers will still see benefits of trade with this new world. If we should decide to pester them we will quickly find the process expensive and fruitless, and find more addressable worries closer to home.

  17. LordHighFixer

    simple really

    You setup mining operations on some atoll somewhere and start dropping rocks in the ocean nearby. Shallow enough that you can still get to what remains, but deep enough as to absorb some of the delta-v without causing a localized ELE. Property rights and ownership solved. Bonus is that if anyone were to challenge you you could have an accident that dropped something on their HQ.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: simple really

      Except that any such capability is an effective WMD. If you can drop on the ocean, it needs only a tiny adjustment in timing to drop onto any vaguely equatorial city*. Governments will no more allow that than they would allow nuclear weapons in private hands. There'd be some sort of treaty to outlaw space operations that involve placing engines upon an any object in space over a certain mass.

      * Assuming you're dropping from an equatorial parking orbit. If you're bringing it in direct from the distant belt, polar cities are no harder a target than anywhere else.

  18. Don Jefe

    Carts and Horses

    Assuming that mining 'space stuff' proves worthwhile, none of the issues around ownership will be settled in space. That's just piss poor planning.

    The property issues will be resolved right here on Earth, the old fashioned way. Until there's at least one other place for Humans to go there's no point in zooming around defending asteroids. All you have to do is control what goes up in the first place.

    If it is shown that resources from space really do offer vast new sources of resources then what you've got is the stage for huge Earth based conflicts. The results of those conflicts will decide for many generations who owns those resources.

    Nobody is going to screw around in space when the issues can be settled here, on the ground. All the defensive and policy moves made will reflect that.

    The upshot is that none of this will likely happen in our lifetimes. The realities are that we're a very long way away from bringing materials out of space in quantities useful at the industrial scale. There no such thing as a 'standard' space launch, even the ISS missions are quite nearly one off events that require massive resources to plan and implement. It isn't like sending things by FedEx.

    Unless something drastic changes here on Earth, then it will be cheaper to access the known, but presently economically unviable, resources that are right here. There aren't any materials used in manufacturing that are truly rare, they just aren't worth accessing right now. Unless something truly exotic is found I don't see space rocks becoming economically viable for a long time and only then after mass conflict. Keep your investments in defense, they'll skyrocket in value before inflatable mining stations are a reality.

  19. DougS Silver badge

    I have some problems with this article

    First of all, whole the He3 mining thing seems to be written by someone who failed economics. What difference does ownership of the ground make when the entire lunar surface is effectively a He3 mine? It isn't like mining materials on Earth where there are limited areas/seams where the good stuff is found, surrounded by a lot of crap.

    The incentive to develop technology to exploit it would come from patents that protect you from others using the same method as you, ownership of the ground you're mining would be pointless and unnecessary, because if someone else develops a competing process and they have no reason to want to mine the same ground as you. Though I suspect given the time required to ramp up commercial operations, rather than patenting He3 mining technologies they'd be kept as trade secrets. It isn't as though people could sneak up on your operation from the next crater over and figure out how your machines work.

    Maybe ownership of "land" starts to matter if there's a lunar settlement, since ground nearer the settlement would be more convenient to mine that ground hundreds of kilometers away. By the time there is a full time settlement on the moon, housing people engaged in purely commercial, as opposed to research, activities, the moon will need to have a functioning government of some sort that will regulate this sort of thing.

    Second, I'm curious exactly what we'd be hoping to mine on asteroids. Mining gold would be clearly stupid, because if you find a way to get many tons of gold from asteroids, the price of gold would fall through the floor, just as it has in the past when major additions of supply came online - except in this case, the potential available supply would be almost limitless, so the price would drop and never recover. Gold's problem is that has little use, mostly we dig it up so we can bury it in the ground again in a safe. Maybe platinum or palladium would be useful to mine, since they have real uses, but if the supply increases greatly the uses would need to as well or they'd suffer the same fate.

    I hadn't ever really thought about it before, but I guess the author has a good point that there would be an incentive for miners to sabotage each other, as the less the guy on the next asteroid over brings home, the more what I bring home is worth. That would tend to increase the risk and therefore cost of mining and this needs to be taken into account by anyone hoping to make a commercial profit from mining.

    I am skeptical of the whole idea of mining asteroids to bring stuff home, at least not stuff we already can get here like gold or palladium. I suspect most/all asteroid mining will be for things that are built in space, or on the moon, rather than returned to Earth where we already have plenty of materials to build stuff. The cost of lifting materials to orbit, or to the moon or Mars makes those materials worth 100x more in orbit than they are once you drop them down to Earth, especially if others are doing the same. You may not need a whole lot of gold to build a lunar settlement, but even the cheapest metals like zinc would almost certainly be far more valuable delivered to the lunar surface than gold or platinum would be delivered to Earth's surface.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have some problems with this article

      "Gold's problem is that has little use, mostly we dig it up so we can bury it in the ground again in a safe"

      That's not a use, that's simply utilising it as a store of value, money, if you like. But if we had more of it, it could and would be used for other applications, eg in the etreme situation, replacing copper as a common conductor and reducing losses. If platinum, palladium etc were hugely cheaper they would have alternative uses in creating new alloys to improve the performance of everyday products, instead of being used where there's no alternative (eg catalysts) or where money is no object (eg aerospace).

      It's true of most rare elements, that there's little industrial or commercial use because there's no supply, and what uses there are reflect the high price.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: I have some problems with this article

        Patents don't stop bullets or armies. Ownership of land is always established through bloodshed, after which the winner can distribute and recognize patents or other forms access to the land and its resources.

        While the article is a bit too Econ 101, none of it matters a jot until the shooting is over. If you're busy dicking around with patents you damn well better have the means to enforce what you're claiming ownership and distribution privelages of.

  20. Al Black

    The United Nations of Earth

    "The UN decided that no one should be allowed to own anything up in space." Too bad they don't have jurisdiction there: Perhaps one day there will be a United Planets, a United Systems or a United Galaxies, although I hope not: I predict we will leave bureaucracies behind on the planet's surface, but will take our Capitalism with us wherever we go.

  21. JLV Silver badge

    It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future

    I wish we wouldn't get the obligatory Heinlein guff, but I guess it can't be helped on this forum. Is it likely? Ask yourself, would you really want to go to war with someone who controlled pretty much all supplies and spare parts and manufacturing capacity? As well as gravity, and advanced medical stuff? Women, booze, good food? Not the least that everyone in space would have family and friends on Earth.

    My guess: if you had money, you'd sic your lawyers, lobbyists & PR flacks on Earth govs instead. Works for corporations now, doesn't it?

    Big drawback of not having private property: not being able to borrow against your assets. I think this is much more likely to be the sticking point - this stuff is capital-intensive, so in order to launch it banks and investors will need convincing. That's less easy to achieve than coming to an agreement with your neighbor not to steal your stuff.

    This guy says it much better than me:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Mystery-Capital-Capitalism-Everywhere/dp/0465016154

    Only makes sense - the financing of spice expeditions to the East Indies was pretty much what triggered the birth of corporations after all.

    IMHO, the need to ensure efficient development, will bring motivated nation-states on board to back property rights against the UN. Plus, nation states have had mixed results wrt space. GPS and science sats have done well, but other stuff has generally failed to bring great returns. Non-state actors have done rather better with telecoms and sensing services. And it is interesting how much faster space tech is involving now that the Musks, Falcons and Dragons are about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @JLV Re: It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future

      It's not hugely relevant to the central points, but:

      "I wish we wouldn't get the obligatory Heinlein guff, but I guess it can't be helped on this forum. Is it likely? Ask yourself, would you really want to go to war with someone who controlled pretty much all supplies and spare parts and manufacturing capacity?"

      If you'd bothered reading Heinlein's actual attack-from-the-moon supposed guff, you'd know that he'd posited a scenario where all of your objections to the idea were dealt with in a credible-for-honest-SF-purposes fashion. E.g., the lunar colonies controlled resources vital to Earth, most people in the moon didn't have close relatives on Earth, the lunar colonies operated some manufacturing facilities, political efforts aided the lunar colonies, etc., etc., etc. It's all covered. Usually is, when it's RAH.

      What gets me about all this "making money from mining celestial resources" stuff is: since when has the price of any useful Earthly commodity made it profitable to get anything of it from asteriod (or lunar) mining?

      I mean, even if currently-economical terrestrial resources of whateveritis are exhausted, that just means that currently uneconomical terrestrial resources will be exploited at a slightly higher price, rather than the astronomically higher price which would apply if we tried to get the stuff from, erm, astronomical sources.

      And no, you can't run a fusion power station on helium-3. Lithium and deuterium are the elements you need, using yer readily available high neutron flux to transmute lithium into tritium (at least, that's the plan). Planet Earth has plenty of lithium and deuterium.

      Tritium is hydrogen-3, which is possibly why some people get confused.

      By the way, gold is tremendously useful stuff - electrical contacts in high tech small signal electrical socketed stuff wouldn't be the same without it. But there's no shortage of gold, nor does its relatively high price per kilo have much to do with the price of (e.g.) PCs. It's the parts made out of sand that cost a lot in PCs.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The catcher

    If we could remember where the keys to the moon are we could send that off to harvest a few more asteroids and bring them back for mining. It's be a few civilisations since we last used that and it's just been parked in that silly orbit catching nothing but dust for aeons now.

  23. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Space Marines?

    ...And absent any governments setting up the Space Marines, there will be bugger-all anyone can do about it....

    The Western powers - basically, the ones who won WW2 - have kept their armies and military capability LOOONG after it was conceivably needed.

    There's a reason for this. The Military-industrial complex had become very big and profitable, and it didn't want to be closed down. That's why, after the Russians stopped being a valid excuse, we started a succession of pointless wars to give ourselves a new enemy to justify the military spend.

    Who here thinks that the US won't immediately start up a Space Marine unit? Of course they will. Don't you remember their military's attempts to control the Legrange points? And once they have such a unit, they will need to start up space territorial disputes in order to justify the expense. Just like at the moment...

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