Mining in Space!

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Smeghead
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Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 02:21

The Washington based engineering firm Planetary Resources has now secured funding for a project with the ultimate goal of producing small spacecrafts capable of mining asteroids for valuable minerals.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/116927-Space-Mining-Company-Prepares-for-Launch

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17827347

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17835607

Of course there are some smaller steps to be taken first, and mining is only part of the project’s purpose.
Still, I suddenly feel as if E.V.E isn’t as far-fetched anymore :)
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Alja-Markir » 25 Apr 2012, 04:33

I seriously question the percentage of asteroids containing actually useful materials.

Most of them seem to be rock and ice. What the hell do they expect to find that would be more valuable than the cost of the crafts, their launches, maintenance, and all the rest? It's not like asteroids are made of tritium, for crying out loud.

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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 05:06

Gold and Platinum seems to be the main focus of any mining operation (maybe the price of thouse materials will skyrocket (oh-ha-ha) in the future, making it more profitable.). That and water (ice) that can be used for fual for other crafts.

I do believe that Ion engines are the most commonly used engine types for spacecrafts (outside of earth's atmosphear), most Ion engines use Xenon as propellant, but some can apparently run on hydrogen as well, which I guess is where the water comes in.

But yeah, I can't say that at first glance this does seem like a big money maker. If they are able to somehow get the minerals back to earth safly without having to land the craft (and thus having to spend tons of fual to get it back into space again), then who knows. Space economics isn't really my thing.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Alja-Markir » 25 Apr 2012, 05:56

Space isn't economical. It's that simple.

Space is brutal. Staggeringly huge distances of almost nothing, then whole planets worth of resources. There's really not much practical about asteroids. If you're going to go through all the danger and effort of space travel, you do it for big payoffs, not a bunch of piddling rocks. Hell, otherwise I'd be a lot wealthier.

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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 06:17

Economic analyses generally show that asteroid mining will not attract private investment at current commodity prices and space transportation costs.[13] However, based on known terrestrial reserves and growing consumption in developing countries, there is speculation that key elements needed for modern industry, including antimony, zinc, tin, silver, lead, indium, gold, and copper, could be exhausted on Earth within 50-60 years
- Wikipedia on asteroid mining

So, if that is correct then asteroid mining might be neccesary for getting acess to new deposits in the future. But today; probably not gonna make you rich.
Last edited by Smeghead on 25 Apr 2012, 06:23, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Alja-Markir » 25 Apr 2012, 06:20

Even with "exhausted" sources of such elements, all that means is that no more new material will be able to be mined and added to the global reserves. Instead of trying to find more, it'd be a lot easier and smarter to just improve our reclamation and recycling efforts, and to make better use of those materials in the first place.

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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 06:28

oh yeah, recyceling old materials is always recomanded, it definatly seems like the cheaper option, unless we start building huge things that require more metal then we can salvage like say spaceships....oh....
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Alja-Markir » 25 Apr 2012, 06:31

If you're using that much antimony, zinc, tin, silver, lead, and indium, you're doing it wrong.

Gold and copper are useful electrical components, but given that we literally throw untold tons of it into the garbage every years in the form of obsolete electronics, I think we could be managing what we have a little bit better.

But yes, as you point out, building spaceships so that we can build spaceships is kinda silly. :P

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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 06:41

Awww! But I wanna build a spaceship out of gold and silver. what could possibly go wrong!?...other then trying to launch it into orbit would be next to impossible, it would probably melt and a slightest bump would damage the structure. There goes my dreams of a bling spaceship

There are companies that recycle phones to collect the gold used in the electronics, and apparently our roads contain platinum for some reason
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby JayBlanc » 25 Apr 2012, 08:01

There is actually one way, and pretty much the only way, in which Space Asteroid Mining is "economical" compared to terrestrial mining. No one currently claims ownership on any of them, no current government demands fees for mining them, no political concerns stall extraction... So in the short term maybe if you get the start up and initial operating costs down below the initial costs of a terrestrial operation, but in the long term all these would follow.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Valliac » 25 Apr 2012, 08:26

Spacerock probably has a fortune in future stock potential.

Like space-age futures.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby JayBlanc » 25 Apr 2012, 08:40

One note about the idea of 'buying' asteroids. Common property law amongst almost all communities that recognise the idea of property ownership has roughly established that property ownership is also dependent on the idea that you are occupying the property, and can demonstrate that by various ways such as improving the property, enclosing and taking steps towards protecting the property and so on.

This is why all those 'Own a Plot on the Moon' things are scams. But if you were actually making an effort to mine an asteroid, you have a common law claim on it.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Geoff_B » 25 Apr 2012, 08:45

Or you could wait for an asteroid to fall into your back yard. Then it would be yours anyway right? :D
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 08:51

Geoff_B wrote:Or you could wait for an asteroid to fall into your back yard. Then it would be yours anyway right? :D


A plan with no drawbacks!... except for the getting killed by the explosion part
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Keab42 » 25 Apr 2012, 09:16

Helium is rapidly running out, if somebody can find a way to harvest that from space you'll make a fortune.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Master Gunner » 25 Apr 2012, 09:34

What I've read about this so far indicates that it may not be as far-fetched as you'd initially think. It costs something like $20,000 a kilogram to send something (such as water) into space, and the one of the goals of Planetary Resources is to produce and sell water to NASA at 1/10th to 1/20th of that price. The constitute oxygen and hydrogen can be used as fuel for unmanned probes on long-term missions, and of course would be invaluable to any long-term manned flights. Assuming that they can get to these asteroids for less than it costs to get to the moon (and there are apparently over 9000 near-Earth asteroids), this kind of project does make sense over the next 50 to 100 years.

Here's the Bad Astronomy article about it.

Keab, while the moon does contain helium, embedded in the rock by solar wind, it is in extremely low concentrations. You'd have to process over 150 million tonnes of regolith to obtain a single ton of helium. A more likely proposition is probably to harvest it from one of the gas giants.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Alja-Markir » 25 Apr 2012, 09:42

Best sources would be Jupiter or the sun, but both offer very strong challenges. Other options include figuring out the trick to sustainable fusion, or letting radioactive materials decay.

Helium has a number of high tech applications, but there are at least reasonable potential replacements.

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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Lyinginbedmon » 25 Apr 2012, 09:44

Personally, I'm looking at this beyond just the mining aspect. When we can efficiently and economically mine asteroids, there's little reason we won't be able to also start colonising asteroids and other bodies.

Which is a big concern when you realise that in a few billion years the Sun will devour the roasted corpse of Earth, and the rest of the solar system with it.

Put simply, we cannot stay here, eventually regardless of our economic solutions here on Earth we will have to leave. My position is it'll be better for everyone in the long run if we develop the necessary technologies as soon as possible.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Master Gunner » 25 Apr 2012, 10:05

Alja-Markir wrote:Best sources would be Jupiter or the sun, but both offer very strong challenges.


Saturn would probably be the best bet, actually. The sun has obvious complications, and Jupiter's gravity well makes it much less cost-efficient than Saturn. Neptune and Uranus would of course likely be easier to mine from than Saturn, but the distance to them can cause problems of its own.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Smeghead » 25 Apr 2012, 10:07

Master Gunner wrote:Saturn would probably be the best bet, actually. The sun has obvious complications, and Jupiter's gravity well makes it much less cost-efficient than Saturn. Neptune and Uranus would of course likely be easier to mine from than Saturn, but the distance to them can cause problems of its own.


Isn't there liquid helium occuring naturally on one of the gas giant's moons? I know there are some of them with liquid gases in abundace, but I don't remember if helium was one of them
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby empath » 25 Apr 2012, 15:20

Lying said what I have to say - he paraphrased Tsiolkovsky quite well, too.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Master Gunner » 25 Apr 2012, 17:00

Smeghead wrote:
Master Gunner wrote:Saturn would probably be the best bet, actually. The sun has obvious complications, and Jupiter's gravity well makes it much less cost-efficient than Saturn. Neptune and Uranus would of course likely be easier to mine from than Saturn, but the distance to them can cause problems of its own.


Isn't there liquid helium occuring naturally on one of the gas giant's moons? I know there are some of them with liquid gases in abundace, but I don't remember if helium was one of them


Titan has lakes of liquid methane, and Europa is thought to have liquid water under the surface ice. As far as I can recall, the rest are all rock and ice.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Lorithad » 25 Apr 2012, 18:54

I'm interesed in the mining not just for the mining aspect. Manufacturing in space could provide lots of cool stuff.


I am curious how they're going to power the mining operations though. I imagine nuclear will be a good option, though I'd prefer to hope for a more intense focus on solar for large scale power generation.
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Lyinginbedmon » 25 Apr 2012, 20:43

empath wrote:Lying said what I have to say - he paraphrased Tsiolkovsky quite well, too.

I did? :|
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Re: Mining in Space!

Postby Metcarfre » 25 Apr 2012, 21:50

The title of this thread has two fewer exclamation marks than it should.
*

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