Asteroid mining is here?

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby dimochka » Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:46 pm UTC

What I found hilarious was the email alert I received from Wall Street Journal yesterday: "Planetary Resources to Outline Plan to Lasso an Asteroid"

They came back a few hours later with a correction, saying that the idea was actually to Mine it.

I can't seem to find a working link for the original article, but you should be able to google it and potentially find a cached site.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby zeitpfeil » Tue Apr 24, 2012 11:00 pm UTC

I'm really excited about this. Their plan of doing many little steps sounds doable, especially the idea of using very small satellites for detecting/prospecting asteroids and sending them alongside other satellites to orbit.
Also, I was surprised what Chris Lewicki, President of Planetary Resources, said in an interview with Phil Plait about the motivations of the investors:
Chris Lewicki wrote:"The investors aren’t making decisions based on a business plan or a return on investment," he[Lewicki] told me. "They’re basing their decisions on our vision."

It's nice to know that there are still some people who don't measure everything in terms of return on investment.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Mother Superior » Tue Apr 24, 2012 11:21 pm UTC

Bla bla bla, stupid commercial space exploration never going anywhere and being artificially hyped ad nauseum.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby morriswalters » Tue Apr 24, 2012 11:42 pm UTC

Let me see if I get what all the excitement is about. A group of men want to attempt to jump beyond the orbit of mars, match orbits with a chunk of something, and attempt to reduce it to something that can be transported, and return it to earth. Is that correct? So let me see if I understand how that would work. We boost it out of the gravity well to LEO, we then inject it into an orbit that would carry it to the region between Mars and Jupiter. Once there it visits the some object that is visible from here or they make it smart enough to find an object that we can't see. They then must assay the object to see if it's worth the effort to return. Then they would mine it and return with the ore or maybe a semi-refined product. Everything must be on board or we must use multiple launches with fuel. Without doing any calculations it seems like a very pricy way to mine anything. And kind of iffy if you take into account the amount of technology flying around in one state or another that didn't make it to various destinations.

It would seem like a better idea to beat down the cost to LEO, get back to the moon and then build Mars probes and mining machines out of native Lunar Materials on the Moon. Can anybody tell me how much you gain launching from the moon or Lunar orbit?

Edit
I see that they intend to launch assaying space craft, so we have multiple launches before they can do anything.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Apr 25, 2012 12:06 am UTC

They're also apparently commercializing various parts of the assaying program, such as the imaging satellites and communications technology.

Depending on how many launches they actually make, and how many of their satellites they are able to sell to others, the project might help drive an economy of scale that would lead to reductions in launch-costs.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Apr 25, 2012 12:26 am UTC

Evidently this research is responsible for the idea. This is a link to a pdf file.

Edit

Just went through the linked document. It's better than I thought but only because they won't go to the asteroid belt. I wish them the best of luck, but somebody is fairly ambitious and the timelines are very long.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby scarecrovv » Wed Apr 25, 2012 3:00 am UTC

I've skimmed that pdf, and there's something I'm confused about. If they can catch a 7 meter asteroid and move it at will, why put it in lunar orbit? Wouldn't it make more sense to crash it into a desert and collect the materials there with bulldozers?

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Princess Marzipan » Wed Apr 25, 2012 3:43 am UTC

scarecrovv wrote:I've skimmed that pdf, and there's something I'm confused about. If they can catch a 7 meter asteroid and move it at will, why put it in lunar orbit? Wouldn't it make more sense to crash it into a desert and collect the materials there with bulldozers?
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Apr 25, 2012 4:00 am UTC

I really wish they changed their goals to instead of bringing resources back to Earth, simply utilized them in space. Say, construct something in orbit around the moon.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby CorruptUser » Wed Apr 25, 2012 4:23 am UTC

Yeah, refining might actually be easier in 0g and in a vacuum. Since the biggest cost of orbital projects is getting things into orbit, it might be cheaper, once you get the robotics working.

Side note, new idea for short story; Earth is invaded by alien's robotic miners, long after the aliens themselves have died off.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Soralin » Wed Apr 25, 2012 6:39 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I really wish they changed their goals to instead of bringing resources back to Earth, simply utilized them in space. Say, construct something in orbit around the moon.

Actually, They are planning on doing stuff for utilization in space first. This article has some good information:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badas ... can-do-it/
Once a suitable asteroid is found, the idea is not to mine it right away for precious metals to return to Earth, Lewicki told me, but instead to tap it for volatiles — materials with low boiling points such as water, oxygen, nitrogen, and so on, which also happen to be critical supplies for use in space.

The idea behind this is to gather these materials up and create in situ space supply depots. Water is very heavy and incompressible, so it’s very difficult to launch from Earth into space (Lewicki quoted a current price of roughly $20,000 per liter to get water into space). But water should be abundant on some asteroids, locked up in minerals or even as ice, and in theory it shouldn’t be difficult to collect it and create a depot. Future astronauts can then use these supplies to enable longer stays in space — the depots could be put in Earthbound trajectories for astronauts, or could be placed in strategic orbits for future crewed missions to asteroids. Lewicki didn’t say specifically, but these supplies could be sold to NASA — Planetary Resources would make quite a bit money while saving NASA quite a bit. Win-win.


morriswalters wrote:Let me see if I get what all the excitement is about. A group of men want to attempt to jump beyond the orbit of mars, match orbits with a chunk of something, and attempt to reduce it to something that can be transported, and return it to earth. Is that correct? So let me see if I understand how that would work. We boost it out of the gravity well to LEO, we then inject it into an orbit that would carry it to the region between Mars and Jupiter. Once there it visits the some object that is visible from here or they make it smart enough to find an object that we can't see. They then must assay the object to see if it's worth the effort to return. Then they would mine it and return with the ore or maybe a semi-refined product. Everything must be on board or we must use multiple launches with fuel. Without doing any calculations it seems like a very pricy way to mine anything. And kind of iffy if you take into account the amount of technology flying around in one state or another that didn't make it to various destinations.

It would seem like a better idea to beat down the cost to LEO, get back to the moon and then build Mars probes and mining machines out of native Lunar Materials on the Moon. Can anybody tell me how much you gain launching from the moon or Lunar orbit?

Actually, there are quite a few asteroids that are easier to get to than either than those. Remember, not all asteroids are between Mars and Jupiter, there are quite a few asteroids in the inner system, that cross Earth's orbit, or come close to it. The presentation said 4000 asteroids that require less energy to reach than Mars, and 1200 that take less to reach than the moon, from what I heard (haven't watched it myself yet). Also a lot of that is the Energy cost to land or take off from the surface. Larger objects have more gravity, and it takes a lot more energy to land or take off from the Moon, or Mars, than it does a small asteroid. (Or to move material off of it for that matter.)

Sending stuff from an asteroid back to Earth orbit for example, would take much much less energy or fuel than lifting it up from the surface of the Earth. And if you can get your propellent from the stuff that you're mining, then it's all reusable. I mean, right now, practically all the stuff we launch from Earth is one-time use, everything just gets tossed away to burn up in the atmosphere (or with manned craft, everything but a tiny capsule). That's the primary cost of getting stuff into orbit, that we throw the thing away after using it one time. For example, SpaceX's Falcon 9 costs about $50 million to make, but only about $200k to fuel. Which is why they're trying to figure out a way to return the rocket stages to the ground intact in a powered landing, since if you can manage to do so, you've cut the cost to orbit dramatically. And in the same way, if you can get your propellent from space, and your energy from solar panels, you can just keep re-using the same craft in space for a long time.

Not to mention, being in space, you can make use of low thrust, high efficiency engines, stuff like the ion drive, low thrust, but an order of magnitude more efficient at least in terms of propellent use. Their very low thrust however, means you wouldn't be able to use them to take off from a planet. But maybe you can get off a small asteroid with them, or if not, it would only take a small propulsion system to get far enough away from an asteroid for it to be useful.

Also, as far as rarer materials go, asteroids have an advantage. Larger bodies, big enough to once be molten for some time, and with significant gravity, had their heavier elements sink down towards the core, while lighter elements ended up closer to the surface. For something like an asteroid that didn't even have enough mass to be spherical, that wouldn't have happened. Elements which are rarer on planets because they mostly sunk down towards the core, would be more abundant in accessible locations at an asteroid's surface.

Edit: more stuff
Oh yeah, and for their plans in the short term:
http://www.planetaryresources.com/technology/

Looks like the first thing they're going to launch are small telescopes that can be used both for space observations, and for observing Earth. That they'll then attach small rocket motors to, to kick them out of orbit to meet up with a near-earth asteroid.
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badas ... can-do-it/
Instead, they’ll make a series of calculated smaller missions that will grow in size and scope. The first is to make a series of small space telescopes to observe and characterize asteroids. Lewicki said the first of these is the Arkyd 101, a 22 cm (9″) telescope in low-Earth orbit that will be aboard a tiny spacecraft just 40 x 40 cm (16″) in size. It can hitch a ride with other satellites being placed in orbit, sharing launch costs and saving money (an idea that will come up again and again in their plans). This telescope will be used both to look for and observe known Near-Earth asteroids, and can also be pointed down to Earth for remote sensing operations.

I’ll note Lewicki said they expect to launch the first of these telescopes by the end of next year, 2013. They’re already building them (what’s referred to as “cutting metal”). They could launch on already-existing rockets — an Atlas or Delta, for example, Europe’s Ariane, India’s GSLV, or Space X’s Falcon 9.

After that, once they’re flight-tested, more of these small spacecraft can be launched equipped with rocket motors. If they hitch a ride with a satellite destined for a 40,000 km (24,000 mile) geosynchronous orbit, the motor can be used to take the telescope — now a space probe — out of Earth orbit and set on course for a pre-determined asteroid destination. Technical bit: orbital velocity at geosync is about 3 km/sec, so only about an additional 1 km/sec is needed to send a probe away from Earth, easily within the capability of a small motor attached to a light-weight probe.

Many asteroids pass close to the Earth with a low enough velocity that one of these probes could reach them. Heck, some are easier to reach in that sense than the Moon! Any asteroid-directed probe can be equipped with sensors to make detailed observations, including composition. It could even be designed to land on the asteroid and return samples back to Earth, or leave when the observations are complete and head off to observe more asteroids up close and personal.

Even if they aren't profitable, it looks like there will be useful stuff produced from it, and it should be interesting to watch. :)

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Chirios » Wed Apr 25, 2012 11:46 am UTC

The thing is, from their official mission statement, they should be profitable each step of the way, with some of the profits going into R&D to get to the next step.

The fleet of telescopes will be useful because the imaging data can be sold to governments, universities and space agencies.

Water should be easier to mine from asteroids than metals, and a solar powered craft would be able to separate the H2 from the O2, giving fuel that they can sell to satellite companies, governments and space agencies. Not to mention that with orbital fuel depots, space flight becomes a buttload cheaper since your RLV can restock on fuel to slow themselves down when they descend into orbit. Plus refueling the ISS will be cheaper as well, and they can sell water to the ISS for human consumption. That money can be use to fund the R&D for the next step, which is mining and refining the metals in orbit, which is the most difficult. They'll probably need some sort of centrifuge to make that work. The main problem is that the only metals that would be worth mining would be PGM's.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Apr 25, 2012 5:31 pm UTC

Where can I buy shares? :mrgreen:
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Jonesthe Spy » Wed Apr 25, 2012 5:39 pm UTC

Pretty awesome, in my opinion. I listened to a lot about this on NPR and the BBC yesterday, and it seems like smart planning and realistic expectations - and they were also very clear that they knew they might fail to make it profitable, but it was worth the attempt no matter what. I admire that kind of forward thinking quite a lot, though it makes sad that the U.S. has pretty much abandoned its space program and left it to the private sector. Mining is fine, but when it comes time to put people into space for the long term I really really don't want that to be controlled by corporations.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Apr 25, 2012 7:37 pm UTC

Image explaining their plan:
Spoiler:
Image
I think the platinum bit is just for show. The real business plan will be to sell water to astronauts in LEO or, better, Mars or the Moon. If they could get a tank full of water onto Mars, they could name their price.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Apr 25, 2012 7:57 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:I think the platinum bit is just for show. The real business plan will be to sell water to astronauts in LEO or, better, Mars or the Moon. If they could get a tank full of water onto Mars, they could name their price.


I don't think these guys are stupid, but it seems unwise to suggest asteroid mining is the best source of water for Mars, given that Mars has a water-ice cap. The best use of this venture is, as they stated, producing methods and techniques and technologies for gathering resources in space FOR USE IN SPACE.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Apr 25, 2012 8:06 pm UTC

When it rains it pours, here is NASA looking at prospecting the moon for water.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby nitePhyyre » Thu Apr 26, 2012 2:18 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:When it rains it pours, here is NASA looking at prospecting the moon for water.

*rimshot*
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Mother Superior » Sun Apr 29, 2012 9:30 am UTC

Heisenberg wrote: The real business plan will be to sell water to astronauts in LEO or, better, Mars or the Moon. If they could get a tank full of water onto Mars, they could name their price.

And here is why commercial space travel is so stupid right now: Sell to who? What astronauts? The ISS? Wow, what a booming market. I have a very hard time seeing more than a handful of people going up into space in the next fifteen-to-twenty years, comparable maybe to how many people have went up in the previous twenty years, inside of fifty years, maybe it will have gone up a bit, but you're still only talking hundreds, maybe maybe maybe a thousand and a bit, but that's hardly enough people to warrant companies spending billions of dollars to go asteroid-jumping.

If commercial space exploration was a viable way of making money, companies would do it. They're not. They're being bribed by NASA and the ESA in the form of competitions with monetary prizes to come up with worse solutions which NASA and the ESA would solve on their own if they weren't being under-funded and mandated to seek assistance from the private sector.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sun Apr 29, 2012 3:55 pm UTC

If you build it, there's a non-zero chance they will come.

If you build it first, you take on the risk that no one will come, but if they do, you'll be in position for a de facto monopoly.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby aoeu » Sun Apr 29, 2012 10:25 pm UTC

Mother Superior wrote:I have a very hard time seeing more than a handful of people going up into space in the next fifteen-to-twenty years, comparable maybe to how many people have went up in the previous twenty years, inside of fifty years, maybe it will have gone up a bit, but you're still only talking hundreds, maybe maybe maybe a thousand and a bit, but that's hardly enough people to warrant companies spending billions of dollars to go asteroid-jumping.

It's one thing to spend billions of dollars right now, and another to spend billions of dollars over the period from now to the point in time you believe your market will appear.
If commercial space exploration was a viable way of making money, companies would do it. They're not.

The people who are planning this are a company.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby DaBigCheez » Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:41 pm UTC

And perhaps commercial space exploration would be a more attractive option if, say, it was easier and cheaper to refuel in space, lowering overall launch costs due to not having to lift all that extra fuel? They're gambling that a market will be created by the options they're opening up, not catering to an existing one, IMO.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby curtis95112 » Wed May 02, 2012 1:10 pm UTC

They can afford to make high-risk high-return investments.
IF this works out, the rewards would be astronomical.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Aceo » Wed May 02, 2012 3:16 pm UTC

curtis95112 wrote:They can afford to make high-risk high-return investments.
IF this works out, the rewards would be astronomical.


To be honest, the profits could be out of this world.


It certainly seems like a risky venture, but getting in early like this, especially if they have the spare capital, is definitely a good idea.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby morriswalters » Wed May 02, 2012 4:27 pm UTC

I can't believe you used that.

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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby SlyReaper » Wed May 02, 2012 5:41 pm UTC

Eh, someone had to go there.
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Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Postby Ben1599 » Wed May 02, 2012 7:33 pm UTC

While the de-funding of NASA is disappointing and all that, I think the fact that another private company is planning to spend lots of money on R&D for space technologies is amazing on its own. Even better, if their ideas actually pan out, they could make future possibilities in space travel and research dramatically easier and cheaper. Maybe this will even serve as an example for other incredibly rich people to spend there money on a company like this, rather than just another big house.


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