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Thread: Planetary resources

  1. #1 Planetary resources 
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    Hiplanetary resources recently made an announcement about their space mining program. They plan to mine asteroids for useful resources. They are saying that asteroid contain useful resources like gold, iron, platinum, water etc in large densities when compared to earth mines. Is it based on hard facts or just assumptions (about the claimed quantities of resources in asteroids.


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    Quote Originally Posted by nikhil.gona2012 View Post
    Hiplanetary resources recently made an announcement about their space mining program. They plan to mine asteroids for useful resources. They are saying that asteroid contain useful resources like gold, iron, platinum, water etc in large densities when compared to earth mines. Is it based on hard facts or just assumptions (about the claimed quantities of resources in asteroids.
    I believe that they made these estimates based on the chemical analysis of meteorites.


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    'The newly discovered cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallized carbon 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus. (A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, or about 6 trillion miles.) It is 2,500 miles across and weighs 5 million trillion trillion pounds, which translates to approximately 10 billion trillion trillion carats, or a one followed by 34 zeros.'

    I think they must have been reading the above, and if De Beers have I bet their really happy ...
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    Why would they be happy? They'd no longer have a monopoly on the diamond market.
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    There is an item in the latest New Scientist magazine of great relevance.

    Not mining asteroids exactly, but rather miniature moons of Earth. Turns out that lumps of rock regularly come close to Earth, and from time to time, one will go into temporary orbit - moving around the Earth 3 to 5 times before slipping off into space again.

    it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that humanity may learn to divert such a structure. Imagine a metal rich lump of rock, about 2 km in diameter, which is due to pass close to the Earth without too much difference in velocity. Such things happen every few decades. We erect a solar sail, to slow its motion, and slip it into a wide Earth orbit. By erecting and deflating the sail at the requisite times, its movement around the Earth is slowed so that it spirals down to a closer orbit. Perhaps 100,000 kms from the planet?

    Such a structure would have a value (according to the article) of over $US 80 trillion. If it was mined into smaller pieces that were guided down to Earth, it might prove very profitable. I do not know how the miners would get their products safely to Earth, but it would be a damn sight easier than the opposite - getting stuff up into orbit.
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    Such 2 km asteroids would get trapped in such an orbit about every 5,000 or 10,000 years at best. More likely several times that long. I've done the extrapolation based on the original paper.

    Even a 1 km sized asteroid, optimistically, would be in such an orbit about every 2700 years. Not really of mush value unless we get very lucky.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MeteorWayne View Post
    Why would they be happy? They'd no longer have a monopoly on the diamond market.
    Sarcasm dear boy, for a company that avidly maintains a stranglehold on the world's diamond supply to keep prices up the idea of a mining operation bringing thousands of tons of diamonds back to earth must be lovely. Diamonds would become about as valuable as glass.

    That said at 50 light years away it's not likely anytime soon.
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    Have you an estimate of how often such an asteroid would come close enough to Earth orbit, for a giant solar sail to be able to change its motion enough to slip it into Earth orbit?

    Of course, we could start on something smaller. A few hundred metres across, for practice.
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    Just a thought but, why consider mining astroids when we could set up permanent bases on Mars or the Moon from which to send mining craft to Earth and back.
    Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it. - confucius
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    Mining asteroids in the asteroid belt would be impractical for a long time to come yet. However, what is the problem with diverting an asteroid that is on a close to Earth trajectory, so that it falls into Earth orbit, say 100,000 kms out, and mine it from there?

    I think a solar sail mounted on the asteroid when it is still a long way from Earth could be used to deflect its course just enough, if we chose the right asteroid. Throw the asteroid into a highly elliptical orbit round Earth, and then, over a period of years, slowly adjust the orbit with judicious uses of the solar sail till the orbit approaches circular.

    Any asteroid that was due to pass within 20 million kms of Earth could be so deflected if the solar sail was mounted and deployed early enough. It might be necessary to loop around the sun first, with the solar sail constantly at work to establish a better orbit. It would take time, but I see no reason why this should be impossible.
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    The problem is such a diversion into orbit is damn near impossible using current technology. Physics 101. Early enough would be decades or centuries...
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    Agreed. But any discussion of off-Earth resource exploitation is going to be focused on a future more than a decade or two hence.
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    Then it has not much to do with us alive now, since I would suggest scores of years, not decades. And under current funding restrictions (especially in the US) the chances of that occurring are so close to zero that it is effectvely zero. My pragmatic POV.
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    That is probably correct. But so what? This debate is about space resources. Not about what we can do in the near future.
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    To someone who is alive today, pragmatically, it's actually very important. Humanity has shown no interest at all in funding things that might pay off a century in the future, so realistically, it ain't gonna happen by governments. I applaud Planetary Resources if they are investing their own money to make this happen, since it's the only way it will. But I shall not live long enough to see it come to fruition, I fear.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chrisgorlitz View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by MeteorWayne View Post
    Why would they be happy? They'd no longer have a monopoly on the diamond market.
    Sarcasm dear boy, for a company that avidly maintains a stranglehold on the world's diamond supply to keep prices up the idea of a mining operation bringing thousands of tons of diamonds back to earth must be lovely. Diamonds would become about as valuable as glass.

    That said at 50 light years away it's not likely anytime soon.

    I remember a short story from when I was a kid about a planet where it rained diamonds. The kid in the book had to scramble to get home before the storm hit then after it was over he had to go out and shovel the diamonds off the walk and he was wondering why anyone would think crystallized carbon was worth anything. Great story.
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    Much as I like the idea of it, I suspect that without remarkable technological progess - dependent on a sustained, vibrant global economy here on Earth - asteroid mining will remain in the realms of fiction. Recalling a doco on NASA doing repairs on Hubble, dealing with 20 screws represented extraodinary challenges; zero gee and vacuum make lots of tasks extremely difficult, not easy.

    As for abundance, whilst some elements almost certainly are in asteroids in plenty, I suspect others are going to be spread thin; most of the Earth's concentrated ore bodies are a consequence of hydrothermal and geothermal processes. I'm not sure that fissionable elements for example will exist in any usable amounts, having undergone eons of radioactive decay. Aren't Earth's uranium ores the result of hydrothermal concentration and natural enrichment of radioactive elements?

    But, indulging in speculation of a future where limitations are overcome and moving asteroids around the solar system is possible - I'd be tempted to send them into cometary type orbits with close solar passes for periodic abundant energy rather than in orbit around the Earth.
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    Your idea of a cometary orbit may be feasible. I suspect though, that the difficulties of mining in zero gravity and vacuum will be overcome. where enough $$$$ are within reach, innovation blossoms.

    Just as a f'rinstance, one element rare on Earth but much more abundant on asteroids is iridium. Current price is over $US 1,000 per ounce. You would not have to flick too much Earthwards to make a lot of money. And if it was suddenly a lot more abundant, you can bet the number of uses for iridium would accelerate.
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    You don’t have to bring the asteroid to NEO, just the ore. A robot probe is sent to the asteroid. We’ve directed robots on Mars for years. It uses focused sunlight to smelt the asteroid surface into blocks of ore. One that does this with lunar soil has already been designed. A solar powered mass driver then projects the blocks of ore to NEO where other robots capture the ore and skim the atmosphere as a breaking device. Silicate from the Moon is similarly mined. The silicate is also fused into ceramic tiles in a solar kiln. Some of the ore is constructed into a one-way re-entry vehicle shielded by the tiles. Load it up with ore and let gravity do the rest. Once the vehicle lands safely, it is then disassembled and the parts sold with the ore. The tiles can be sold for souvenirs as Moon rocks.
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    I find it difficult to share the optimism for the viability of remotely operated mining in space. It sounds straightforward but I think it would be extremely difficult, expensive and challenging. It's an enticing fiction that will take much more than optimistic enthusiasm to ever become reality.

    One of the issues I have with these grand visions is the startup challenges and costs. Trade around the world had the luxury of starting as small and profitable before growing into huge and profitable; I don't see there's any option for viable space mining and industry but starting as huge and unprofitable in the hope that it will become hugely profitable. Even governments of the wealthiest nations don't command the kinds of resources for initial infrastructure requirements and in the absence of an immediate income stream and reliable payoff, commercial ventures will fail to get financed.

    I also think there are major problems and challenges here on Earth that are not being faced up to and they are crucial for sustained viability of an innovative technology based global economy. I think we are beginning to run up against the limits of our finite world with our 'exploit and move on' and 'use and discard' methods. Far too much of our most precious resources are being used in ways that ultimately see them lost to future use, at best downcycled a bit on the way to being tossed away. Whilst the abundant resources of space appear to offer us the ability to avoid facing the unsustainability of such methods by forever expanding availability of resources I think the distances - physical and technological - mean doing so in time is illusory. If we don't get our act together and remake the way we make prosperity here on Earth, the ability to resource the establishment of industry and mining in space - with it's potential for making that abundance of resources available - will remain forever beyond reach.
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