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Ken Fabian

How reliable are estimates of asteroid mineral content?

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In a discussion that wandered into asteroid mining possibilities I wondered what is known with confidence about the mineral resources within asteroids. Reconciling the estimates thrown around with the admitted large uncertainty about the quality of mineral ores within asteroids seems to be essential to estimating the economic viability of any attempts to exploit them. Clarity about what form the desired materials take rather than simple estimates of concentrations and total quantities is needed; a pure elemental metal, even at low concentrations may have good potential for mining - relatively simple techniques can separate and concentrate them - whereas higher concentrations but in the form of alloys with other metals are not so desirable. Not impossible to separate and purify but involving far more complex and costlhy. Examining meteorites here on Earth appears to be the primary source of estimates of mineral potential.

The presence of nickel-iron as kamecite and taenite is certain, but is there evidence of the presence of relatively pure iron that is not alloyed with nickel? Whilst there is an existing market for alloys of nickel and iron, if it is pure iron or nickel that is wanted, separating them is no easy matter.

Platinum group metals are the ones that seem to arouse the most excitement and there is no doubt they are present, and in concentrations that here on Earth would arouse interest. However they appear to be present as part of the content of nickel-irons like taenite, ie present within those alloys. Is this correct? Have any been found in more pure or concentrated forms,  as relatively pure native metals or concentrated alloys, perhaps with others of that metal group or as stony ores ie chemically bound into compounds?

I think the enthusiastic proponents of asteroid mining tend to underplay the costs and difficulties - and they no doubt see my scepticism as overstating them. For now I'd like to know more about the resources themselves than go too far into the challenges of exploiting them.

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Not going to be easy, and certainly all the details and methodology are as yet uncertain, but as earth based resources will become increasingly harder and scarcer to obtain, this future endeavour is already being actuated by at least two companies so far.

Of course asteroid mining in time will certainly be a doable objective.

 

http://www.planetaryresources.com/#home-asteroids

 

http://deepspaceindustries.com/

 

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3 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

In a discussion that wandered into asteroid mining possibilities I wondered what is known with confidence about the mineral resources within asteroids. Reconciling the estimates thrown around with the admitted large uncertainty about the quality of mineral ores within asteroids seems to be essential to estimating the economic viability of any attempts to exploit them. Clarity about what form the desired materials take rather than simple estimates of concentrations and total quantities is needed; a pure elemental metal, even at low concentrations may have good potential for mining - relatively simple techniques can separate and concentrate them - whereas higher concentrations but in the form of alloys with other metals are not so desirable. Not impossible to separate and purify but involving far more complex and costlhy. Examining meteorites here on Earth appears to be the primary source of estimates of mineral potential.

The presence of nickel-iron as kamecite and taenite is certain, but is there evidence of the presence of relatively pure iron that is not alloyed with nickel? Whilst there is an existing market for alloys of nickel and iron, if it is pure iron or nickel that is wanted, separating them is no easy matter.

Platinum group metals are the ones that seem to arouse the most excitement and there is no doubt they are present, and in concentrations that here on Earth would arouse interest. However they appear to be present as part of the content of nickel-irons like taenite, ie present within those alloys. Is this correct? Have any been found in more pure or concentrated forms,  as relatively pure native metals or concentrated alloys, perhaps with others of that metal group or as stony ores ie chemically bound into compounds?

I think the enthusiastic proponents of asteroid mining tend to underplay the costs and difficulties - and they no doubt see my scepticism as overstating them. For now I'd like to know more about the resources themselves than go too far into the challenges of exploiting them.

Ummm, we have actual physical samples of asteroids to test for their content... 

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Probably nobody knows yet?  Is there enough statistical sampling from all the stuff found around the globe?  Hundreds perhaps thousands of bits and shards of material thought to be from the asteroid belt?  Assuming someday such asteroids can be exploited, would the eventually and actual cost be worth it?  Space will still be very non forgiving.

Would it still be cheaper and safer to just mine minerals form Earth?  The most expensive deep gold mine production still would have to be many times cheaper than the least expensive asteroid belt mining procedures.  Perhaps someday the cost benefit ratio will prove space mining doable.  When will that day come?  Not for a long long time.

Just me.  Respectfully.

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“It is natural to doubt when you don’t know much about it. Most people read the headline and make assumptions"

Chris Lewicki:

President and chief Engineer                                                                                      Planetary Resources.

 

Asteroid mining is still probably at this time, a solution for the long term. Planetary Resources are still in the early stages of designing the infrastructure and developing the technical know how to mine Asteroids. Water of course [I don't believe I have seen that mentioned as yet] would be the prime objective in the early stages, particularly for potential outposts on the Moon or other outposts on Asteroids for that matter.

http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2016/finalwebsite/solutions/asteroids.html

extract:

Conclusion

Although asteroid mining is capable of producing significant amounts of critical elements, Mission 2016 recommends that funding for asteroid mining come from the private sector. At present, the high start-up costs, high risk, and long timescales on investment returns make it difficult for governments to safely invest in asteroid mining. Since some resources are projected to become critically low very soon, Mission 2016 suggests that governments focus on more easily available resources and technologies.

Timeline

2012-2025: Launch of space probes and telescopes to prospect and collect data on near earth asteroids, such as the LEO Space telescope and the ARKYD Series 100 Interceptor, and ARKYD Series 300 Rendezvous Prospector ("Technology," 2012)
2025-2035: NASA lands an astronaut on an asteroid
2035-2045: Space development and infrastructure necessary to further space exploration and exploitation
2045+: Asteroid mining prospers, as well as humankind's expansion in space

Edited by beecee

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I wondered if meteorites have provided a comprehensive sampling of the kinds of asteroid materials - minus the volatiles - that can be expected to be found or if significant absences might remain. Samples of a few asteroids have been returned but samples all the major types haven't been gathered.

Does the surface material mirror the overall mineral mix or would core samples by drilling be needed?

Nickel-iron would need little refining if it's to be used or sold as nickel-iron - ease of processing would make it attractive, but not as attractive as either metal in pure elemental form. Finding native iron that is relatively pure and not alloyed with nickel would make mining more attractive. Finding native platinum group metals would be more attractive than extracting it at a hundred ppm from nickel-iron - it looks like the estimates of platinum content are based on presence in nickel-irons. Gold - would make money but I'd find it perverse if that were a primary target for asteroid mining.

Perhaps it is the asteroids rich in copper rather than nickel-iron that could have better economic prospects - not native copper but a copper mineral seems abundant in some.

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We can't get much detail from spectography, which only shows surface composition (how light interacts with elements). So our main data is from sampling. As mentioned the amount of collected samples is limited. Hence why drilling with probes is such a big deal. Other than that we can safely assume the asteroids will have compositions we find on Earth and other neighbors. After all the Earth according to theory arose from the same materials.

 Its safe to assume a certain percentage of your more valuable ores are contained in asteroids, though the heavier metal asteriods will tend to migrate towards the sun.  Much like your more metal rich planets lie in the inner regions while the gas giants on the perimeter.

So your more likely deposits of heavy metals will probably be your nearby asteriods. Although this doesn't mean those minerals cannot be on the outer regions, it will depend on the overall mass of the asteriod as to how it migrates. Yes if I guess correctly mining asteriods can be highly profitable. Probably enough to compensate the costs.(once the infrastructure is in place) (particularly as asteriods can have helium 3 which could potentially provide clean nuclear fusion.

hope that helps

Some papers suggest a source of platinum in asteroids for example

http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2016/finalwebsite/solutions/asteroids.html

mentions many of the rarer minerals

Edited by Mordred

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I remain unconvinced about the financial viability of these kind of space activities, even with strong government/taxpayer support.

I may come back to that discussion sometime, but later.

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Fair enough, on the financial end. It is a huge infrastructure requirement that is difficult to grasp. However the materials that we mine on Earth for our everyday needs are available in the asteriods.

Helium 3 being in far greater abundance.

edit lol a discussion on financial feasibility would be a lengthy discussion in and of itself.

Edited by Mordred

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