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Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 1:13 pm UTC
by Robert'); DROP TABLE *;
It's all highly speculative ATM, but it looks like someone has set up a company which intends to mine asteroids, and has managed to get Google's founders, James Cameron, and several other billionaires to fund them.
http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/27776/

Planetary Resources' press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 18, 2012

*** Media Alert *** Media Alert *** Media Alert ***

Space Exploration Company to Expand Earth's Resource Base

WHAT: Join visionary Peter H. Diamandis, M.D.; leading commercial space entrepreneur Eric Anderson; former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki; and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones, Ph.D. on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT in Seattle, or via webcast, as they unveil a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity's prosperity.

Supported by an impressive investor and advisor group, including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr., the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

The news conference will be held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT and available online via webcast.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 24
10:30 a.m. PDT

WHO: Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., Space Tourist, Planetary Resources, Inc. Investor
Eric Anderson, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Chris Lewicki, President & Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Tom Jones, Ph.D., Planetary Scientist, Veteran NASA Astronaut & Planetary Resources, Inc. Advisor

WHERE: Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle, WA 98108

Event will also be streamed online.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:37 pm UTC
by Ormurinn
So... they're planning to use use massive amounts of energy to drag huge potential extinction events above an already resource rich planet, and they expect there to be a cost incentive for them to do this? if they find a chunk of solid osmium floating around somewhere, but then they'd have to deal with osmium inflation.

Bad Idea All Round.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:43 pm UTC
by Diadem
No it's a very good idea. But it's definitely not yet economically feasible. It will be though, in a few decades.

So I guess this is either:
A) A PR stunt for some company or another
B) A "it never hurts to be prepared" kind of initiative, where actual implementation of their ideas is far, far away.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:52 pm UTC
by Garm
Maybe they should start collecting all the asteroids that are potentially going to hit us, nudge them into a stable orbit and start mining them. That'd be two birds with one very literal stone.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:53 pm UTC
by Izawwlgood
Or start working on ways to do zero-g vacuum mining, which could potentially facilitate orbital construction.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:59 pm UTC
by Diadem
Garm wrote:Maybe they should start collecting all the asteroids that are potentially going to hit us, nudge them into a stable orbit and start mining them. That'd be two birds with one very literal stone.

If you just let the asteroid collide you get a lot more birds with one stone.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:05 pm UTC
by Enokh
Why not just push them into orbit around Mars, mine and refine there (presumably with large amounts of automation or remote-control activities) and then let it "fall" sun-ward and be captured by Earth-based operations? Wouldn't need to send them here FAST, as once the steam of things comes this way it'll be nice and steady. Maybe have it "set down" in some sort of lake? I'd also imagine one would want to aim for the deliveries getting into orbit around Earth and then fine-tuning the actual drop portion.

Why not OTHER than the whole "getting to Mars" thing, I mean. Keep the dream alive!

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:16 pm UTC
by Diadem
You can't just 'fall inward', gravity doesn't work that way. You first have to escape Mars' gravity well. And then you are in orbit around the sun (because mars is), so you are going too fast to fall inward, you have to spend energy to get closer to the sun. So no, using Mars is a pretty bad idea.

Using the Moon however makes a lot more sense. It's smaller than Mars, so less gravity to overcome to escape it, and it's in the same orbit as earth, so no extra energy needed. You could have your actual mining in orbit around the moon, and support facilities based on the moon itself. Though you have to wonder why you wouldn't just mine the moon first in that case.

It makes even more sense to keep everything in space. Just put the entire thing in L2.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 7:33 pm UTC
by mike-l
Garm wrote:Maybe they should start collecting all the asteroids that are potentially going to hit us, nudge them into a stable orbit and start mining them. That'd be two birds with one very literal stone.
Having not done any calculations at all, I feel like this would require an extreme amount of energy to accomplish, weighing on the order of zettagrams (that's 10^21 grams) and travelling at 30 km/s.

Edit: To put that in prespective, if I've done my math right (so much for not doing any calculations) the kinetic energy of your average asteroid is on the order of 10^26J. The energy released in all nuclear bombs to 1996 is 2x10^18, so about 100 million times less.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:08 pm UTC
by Wnderer
I don't think it's asteroid mining. They're after Helium 3 on the moon. Just like the Chinese.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:14 pm UTC
by Izawwlgood
Diadem wrote:Using the Moon however makes a lot more sense

You know, out of curiosity, what would you think of a plan to smash asteroids into the moon for sources rich in iron and other metals? Do we have some responsibility to maintain the 'natural' form of the moon?

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:15 pm UTC
by mike-l
Again, I think we're overestimating our power to move asteroids in any meaningful way.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:23 pm UTC
by maxQ
mike-l wrote:Again, I think we're overestimating our power to move asteroids in any meaningful way. leave LEO.



First things first. :cry:

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:37 pm UTC
by Heisenberg
maxQ wrote:
mike-l wrote:Again, I think we're overestimating our power to move asteroids in any meaningful way. leave LEO.



First things first. :cry:
Hey, we did that. (once)
mike-l wrote:Edit: To put that in prespective, if I've done my math right (so much for not doing any calculations) the kinetic energy of your average asteroid is on the order of 10^26J. The energy released in all nuclear bombs to 1996 is 2x10^18, so about 100 million times less.

1. I think Garm's talking about Near Earth Asteroids, which are just scant delta v away from Earth orbit.
2. We don't need to capture the average asteroid, we can go after the small ones first.
3. We don't need to stop the asteroid, just redirect it.
4. We don't have to do it all at once. Thinking in terms of Watts instead of Joules, it may take months or years to drive asteroids around, but we have lots of time.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:53 pm UTC
by Izawwlgood
It's not that hard, you just need lots of white paint.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:01 pm UTC
by lutzj
It's also possible that this company intends to speculatively stake out asteroid claims that could become incredibly valuable in coming decades.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 9:26 pm UTC
by sourmìlk
Are asteroids currently international territory? Is there an agency from which I can purchase an asteroid?

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:00 pm UTC
by Izawwlgood
I'll sell you an asteroid.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:26 pm UTC
by sourmìlk
Will the deed to the asteroid by recognized by the international community?

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:42 pm UTC
by Weeks
Izawwlgood already owns 0.001% of Mars, so.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:45 pm UTC
by Izawwlgood
Sure! It'll hold up in some court.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:35 pm UTC
by mike-l
Heisenberg wrote:
maxQ wrote:
mike-l wrote:Again, I think we're overestimating our power to move asteroids in any meaningful way. leave LEO.



First things first. :cry:
Hey, we did that. (once)
mike-l wrote:Edit: To put that in prespective, if I've done my math right (so much for not doing any calculations) the kinetic energy of your average asteroid is on the order of 10^26J. The energy released in all nuclear bombs to 1996 is 2x10^18, so about 100 million times less.

1. I think Garm's talking about Near Earth Asteroids, which are just scant delta v away from Earth orbit.
2. We don't need to capture the average asteroid, we can go after the small ones first.
3. We don't need to stop the asteroid, just redirect it.
4. We don't have to do it all at once. Thinking in terms of Watts instead of Joules, it may take months or years to drive asteroids around, but we have lots of time.

The slowest moving near earth asteroid is moving at about triple orbital speed. So you will need at least 8x te energy of puttin an equivalent mass in orbit, if not much more.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:08 am UTC
by Diadem
The earth occasionally captures asteroids or comets naturally. They circle the earth for a few months to a few years before being ejected again (because the moon disrupts their orbits). It would probably be easiest to wait for one of these and mine that. No need to spend any energy on moving the asteroid, just on getting there and getting back.

The problem is that they are generally quite small. So it might work as a proof-of-concept, but I doubt it's economically feasible.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:10 am UTC
by Diadem
Also, why is everybody talking about moving asteroids?

Isn't it simpler to just fly a big spaceship to the asteroid, mine it, refine the ores on the spot, load your cargo bay with the refined product, and fly home again.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:58 am UTC
by Panonadin
Diadem wrote:Also, why is everybody talking about moving asteroids?

Isn't it simpler to just fly a big spaceship to the asteroid, mine it, refine the ores on the spot, load your cargo bay with the refined product, and fly home again.


I think that this is the only thing that would be possible in "our" future. However, mars is probably an easier target for an operation like this and we all know how that is working out.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:22 am UTC
by ++$_
If asteroids were made out of iridium then it would probably be worth mining them.

However, it turns out that asteroids are made out of rock. (Yes, a few of them are made out of metal, but the situation isn't terribly different.)

I don't know the exact numbers, but I expect your average scrapyard has a higher concentration of iridium than your average asteroid does.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:00 am UTC
by EdgarJPublius
Asteroids are undifferentiated, they should contain much higher concentrations of platinum group (and other valuable) elements than the Earth's crust, which has been differentiated by gravity. It's already more profitable to recycle some platinum group elements than it is to mine and process them, but that creates a cap on their availability, new economic sources of these elements could jumpstart new industries and technologies that are impossible/hobbled given the current low supply and high cost.

Without space-based manufacturing, I doubt mining and refining asteroids in-situ and returning processed material to earth would be economically viable. it makes little sense to boost all that equipment all the way to a target asteroid when the same job could be done cheaper on earth. By comparison, just sending a tug-rocket up to push desirable rocks back to earth would be easy and cheap.

Space-based manufacturing (such as making solar collectors or lunar processing of rocket fuel) would change the economics considerably, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the plan wasn't actually some form of space-based fuel processing or power generation.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:12 am UTC
by Garm
Regardless of the feasibility, I think we ought to do it just for the rad factor.

Also, too: What about mining a giant slushball for clean water?

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:18 am UTC
by lutzj
Garm wrote:Also, too: What about mining a giant slushball for clean water?


Loses economically to desalination and strip-mining Antarctica for water production here, but icy comets could be useful for acquiring water in space.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 6:53 am UTC
by Soralin
Automated mining of asteroids could definitely provide lots of valuable resources.. But then, if you have automated mining machines, why not just set them loose here on Earth? At the very least, that seems like it would be a useful first step.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 10:29 am UTC
by AvatarIII
mike-l wrote:
Heisenberg wrote:
maxQ wrote:
mike-l wrote:Again, I think we're overestimating our power to move asteroids in any meaningful way. leave LEO.



First things first. :cry:
Hey, we did that. (once)
mike-l wrote:Edit: To put that in prespective, if I've done my math right (so much for not doing any calculations) the kinetic energy of your average asteroid is on the order of 10^26J. The energy released in all nuclear bombs to 1996 is 2x10^18, so about 100 million times less.

1. I think Garm's talking about Near Earth Asteroids, which are just scant delta v away from Earth orbit.
2. We don't need to capture the average asteroid, we can go after the small ones first.
3. We don't need to stop the asteroid, just redirect it.
4. We don't have to do it all at once. Thinking in terms of Watts instead of Joules, it may take months or years to drive asteroids around, but we have lots of time.

The slowest moving near earth asteroid is moving at about triple orbital speed. So you will need at least 8x te energy of puttin an equivalent mass in orbit, if not much more.


surely though the difference would be in efficiency,

you could land a little nuclear reactor with an efficient ion thruster onto an asteroid, and it might take decades or longer to get any decent change in delta-v, but I'm just saying it to illustrate a point, getting stuff into orbit is limited by the lack of technologies we have to get things into orbit, which is at the moment, just relatively inefficient chemical rockets, with which you don't even have the option to expend a little energy over a long period of time.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:25 am UTC
by Tirian
mike-l wrote:Again, I think we're overestimating our power to move asteroids in any meaningful way.


We are also confusing "Larry Page and James Cameron wrote us a check" for an actual scientific project. I've got nothing against science theater, and I'm sure it's a rush to be in a club of smart people who are contemplating the theoretical potential of the distant future. But we have to pool our talents to imagine this future precisely because we will never live to see it.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:54 pm UTC
by Heisenberg
mike-l wrote:The slowest moving near earth asteroid is moving at about triple orbital speed. So you will need at least 8x te energy of puttin an equivalent mass in orbit, if not much more.

Nah. All I need is about 0.1 m/s delta v in the right direction. Then, instead making it miss Earth, I make it hit the Moon. Bam! Earth orbit in one!

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:57 pm UTC
by Sero
Soralin wrote:Automated mining of asteroids could definitely provide lots of valuable resources.. But then, if you have automated mining machines, why not just set them loose here on Earth? At the very least, that seems like it would be a useful first step.


Fundamentally different designs. A machine capable of mining an asteroid in vacuum and microgravity, won't work for mining under earth's gravity and atmosphere. And we basically already have done so anyways, just that there isn't a strong reason to remove the operator from the proximity of the machine, and there are strong reasons in favor of having a human operator on hand.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 9:47 pm UTC
by Box Boy
Ormurinn wrote: but then they'd have to deal with osmium inflation.
Not if they refuse to sell it at a significantly lower price and are in charge of the supply.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 9:51 pm UTC
by Diadem
Sero wrote:
Soralin wrote:Automated mining of asteroids could definitely provide lots of valuable resources.. But then, if you have automated mining machines, why not just set them loose here on Earth? At the very least, that seems like it would be a useful first step.

Fundamentally different designs. A machine capable of mining an asteroid in vacuum and microgravity, won't work for mining under earth's gravity and atmosphere. And we basically already have done so anyways, just that there isn't a strong reason to remove the operator from the proximity of the machine, and there are strong reasons in favor of having a human operator on hand.

More importantly: I'm perfectly fine with strip-mining an asteroid. I'm far less thrilled about the thought of strip-mining planet earth.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:05 pm UTC
by ElWanderer
The Register article: "'Asteroid mining company' makes classic hypegasm debut today"
A short quote from near the end of the article:
All in all, Planetary Resources don't really seem to be bringing anything very new to the table: their ideas have been around for a long time, nothing in the way of actual new technology is on offer, and only a modicum of genuine space-tech expertise. The main strengths of Diamandis, Anderson and the company's other celebrity backers lie really in promotion and hype rather than space hardware or resource mining. Certainly the way they're handling the launch announcement bears all the hallmarks of Silicon Valley puffery with little in the way of big money or real major new technology behind it.

Perhaps that's what's actually needed: the late great Robert Heinlein suggested as much back in 1950 in his book The Man Who Sold the Moon, in which a huckstering, hypestering businessman manages to get boots onto the lunar surface by hook and occasionally by crook - and a huge space-based industry then springs into existence within his lifetime.

But in fact the US government put men on the Moon for real in 1969: and then ... nothing happened.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:36 pm UTC
by Tirian
ElWanderer wrote:Perhaps that's what's actually needed: the late great Robert Heinlein suggested as much back in 1950 in his book The Man Who Sold the Moon, in which a huckstering, hypestering businessman manages to get boots onto the lunar surface by hook and occasionally by crook - and a huge space-based industry then springs into existence within his lifetime.


I wonder how much more mature our societal discussions about technology would be if we rejected the infantile premise that science fiction writers sixty years ago were intrinsically visionary and that it is our duty to validate their model.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:24 pm UTC
by eran_rathan
Tirian wrote:
ElWanderer wrote:Perhaps that's what's actually needed: the late great Robert Heinlein suggested as much back in 1950 in his book The Man Who Sold the Moon, in which a huckstering, hypestering businessman manages to get boots onto the lunar surface by hook and occasionally by crook - and a huge space-based industry then springs into existence within his lifetime.


I wonder how much more mature our societal discussions about technology would be if we rejected the infantile premise that science fiction writers sixty years ago were intrinsically visionary and that it is our duty to validate their model.


I have always thought that was the problem, though. I hold Heinlien responsible for us NOT having a lunar colony, precisely because he wrote what could happen with people living there (see: "The Long Watch", "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.") Kinetic bombardment sucks.

Re: Asteroid mining is here?

Posted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:46 pm UTC
by dimochka
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.