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Mining Asteroids


jfy1966
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I'd love to hear what everyone has to say about this.....please post.

 

Even though this is still in the "dreaming" stage, I think that enterprises with a focus on mining asteroids have great potential; using mined materials to facilitate further space travel, developing new technologies as we learn how to mine asteroids, creating whole new industries, etc.

 

For me the best part of all of this just getting our collective butts out there more and more. When I was young I envisioned grand explorations of the solar system (which we do pretty well, but could be more) and establishing outposts near other planets, etc. Now I would be excited about roughnecks mining asteroids for water (i.e. hydrogen and oxygen).

 

Should space exploration be more "pure" or are commercial endeavors equally good if they get us 'out there'?

 

Your thoughts?

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  • 2 months later...

Mining asteroids is HOW we will become a space-faring species. They are a handy supply of ice which can be converted into water, air, and fuel, and they have many useful metals and such.

Every solid planet in the Solar System has water on its surface or (in Venus' case) in it's atmosphere. There is no longer any great concern about being able to provide future settlements with water. The major planets have the advantage of more regular launch window availability than asteroids. Regular deliveries of a product is important to keeping costs manageable. Asteroids offer relatively limited options for marketable materials. Only those metals for which we have markets on Earth are reasonable for development. In-space markets could appear in time, but they do not exist yet and asteroid mining, by itself, will not change that. Sorry to be so negative, but it is important to stay connected with reality if we intend to change that reality.

I regret I was not on this forum when this was first posted. . . Timing is everything!!

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The major planets have the advantage of more regular launch window availability than asteroids.

I'd think asteroids in the main asteroid belt would have regular orbits like the planets and regular launch windows. In addition, it is always possible to launch to get to some asteroid at any time. Moreover, launching from a planet costs much more fuel than from an asteroid.

 

AFAIK the only metal likely to be on asteroids that might be worth mining is iridium, and that is doubtful even if they found pure iridium nuggets. I believe, the other rare elements aren't expected to be on asteroids. Thus, I believe you are right Moonguy, mining asteroids to send stuff to Earth is unlikely to be economically feasible.

 

The only possible scenario I can think of for that to change is if people decide to migrate into space stations, but that is only sci-fi ATM.

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I'd think asteroids in the main asteroid belt would have regular orbits like the planets and regular launch windows. In addition, it is always possible to launch to get to some asteroid at any time. Moreover, launching from a planet costs much more fuel than from an asteroid.

 

AFAIK the only metal likely to be on asteroids that might be worth mining is iridium, and that is doubtful even if they found pure iridium nuggets. I believe, the other rare elements aren't expected to be on asteroids. Thus, I believe you are right Moonguy, mining asteroids to send stuff to Earth is unlikely to be economically feasible.

 

The only possible scenario I can think of for that to change is if people decide to migrate into space stations, but that is only sci-fi ATM.

 

Much of the attraction to asteroid mining has been focused on the low escape velocities from asteroid bodies. Main Belt asteroids are no exception even though they are much larger and more massive than NEO's. The problem is the larger delta-V needed to transport masses of processed materials back to Earth from that region of space. Worse: the only reasonable method for transport would have to be a chemical rocket of some sort burning a propellant manufactured on site. Highly doubtful the rewards would match or exceed the cost.

Edited by Moonguy
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Moonguy, perhaps you have solved the Fermi Paradox. There is no way for people to thrive in space. To make a living in space, people need energy and resources. If there is energy, resources are available. Solar energy in the asteroid belt is iffy; the only alternative is fissionable material, unless controlled fusion is possible.

 

Given energy water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, and ion engines can be used to conserve fuel. Asteroids should provide metal to build and repair spaceships and space stations, and must provide expendable resources. Although, recycling everything is required, some things will unavoidably escape into space. Mostly, resources are required for population growth. Is there any need to sell things minded on asteroids to Earthbound people? Even if a population can survive without trade, they like to trade for luxuries they do not or cannot make.

 

Is there something that limits this potential space faring population? IDK of anything.

Edited by EdEarl
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Moonguy, perhaps you have solved the Fermi Paradox. There is no way for people to thrive in space. To make a living in space, people need energy and resources. If there is energy, resources are available. Solar energy in the asteroid belt is iffy; the only alternative is fissionable material, unless controlled fusion is possible.

 

Given energy water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, and ion engines can be used to conserve fuel. Asteroids should provide metal to build and repair spaceships and space stations, and must provide expendable resources. Although, recycling everything is required, some things will unavoidably escape into space. Mostly, resources are required for population growth. Is there any need to sell things minded on asteroids to Earthbound people? Even if a population can survive without trade, they like to trade for luxuries they do not or cannot make.

 

Is there something that limits this potential space faring population? IDK of anything.

Yes, there is a big limiter: the fact you are spending other people's money to start these things.

taxpayers, corporate investors, business lenders, stockholders all want the earliest returns for their cash invested. It is not about greed. It is about the cost of money to the people 'lending' it.

Even NASA does not have the prerogative of spending other people's money without regarding the cost of that money - and taxpayer dollars are, functionally, a form of loan. Those 'other people' live on Earth and will for some time. They need to be satisfied the project they are paying for at least has an even shot at making good.

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I see little use for bringing materials from asteroids back to Earth. One of the things that makes space travel so costly is starting out with such a huge expenditure just to make it offplanet with enough resources to do anything. If asteroid resources stayed in space for use in space, our costs for working in space go way down.

 

As far as NASA expenditures, they've always paid big returns in technology and engineering advancements. And why wouldn't we want offworld expenses to be met with offworld resources? Do we need to strip this planet to explore the rest of the system?

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I see little use for bringing materials from asteroids back to Earth. One of the things that makes space travel so costly is starting out with such a huge expenditure just to make it offplanet with enough resources to do anything. If asteroid resources stayed in space for use in space, our costs for working in space go way down.

 

As far as NASA expenditures, they've always paid big returns in technology and engineering advancements. And why wouldn't we want offworld expenses to be met with offworld resources? Do we need to strip this planet to explore the rest of the system?

The biggest reason for space travel is to have human civilization on two planets, to reduce the risk of an asteroid or other catastrophe destroying humanity. The two most likely places are the Moon and Mars, and sustaining life on either one will be a challenge.

 

Mars would be more suitable if it were larger for at least two reasons. First, if it were larger its core might be active and create a magnetosphere to protect from some solar radiation. Second, if it were larger, its atmosphere would be thicker and water could be liquid on its surface; although, its distance from the sun will make it colder.

 

Asteroids might be thrown at Mars to increase its mass. And, a Dyson ring might be used to provide more intense light. Although, these things would be very expensive at this time, robotics, AGI and replicators will eventually reduce their cost to an acceptably low fraction of a national budget. It should only take three replicators. One replicator sent to the asteroids can replicate itself and throw small asteroids at Mars. Another replicator sent to Mercury can replicate itself and start launching Dyson satellites to make a ring around the Sun. When Mars is large enough and warm enough, a third replicator can be sent to Mars to begin climate engineering and seeding plants on its surface.

 

This plan would be complicated by a colony already existing on Mars. That would require a robots to help that colony move from time to time as Mars becomes larger and warmer. They might be able to make their own, but if not a replicator could be sent from Earth.

 

The resources used by Earth would be very modest, three or four successful launches of replicators.

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I see little use for bringing materials from asteroids back to Earth. One of the things that makes space travel so costly is starting out with such a huge expenditure just to make it offplanet with enough resources to do anything. If asteroid resources stayed in space for use in space, our costs for working in space go way down.

 

As far as NASA expenditures, they've always paid big returns in technology and engineering advancements. And why wouldn't we want offworld expenses to be met with offworld resources? Do we need to strip this planet to explore the rest of the system?

It would be possible for a colony to finance itself if thousands of people simultaneously invested their money in businesses here and then committed the dividends to supporting the settlement's import needs. Since asteroids have the physical resources, they would import energy in the form of power panels. The settlers would then concentrate on making their own consumer goods.

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The goal of humanity is to develop rotating space colonies with artificial gravity and shielding from cosmic rays, that are self-sustaining (grow plants and raise animals for food), and recycle everything. A space colony should be able to repair itself using materials fabricated from asteroid metals.

 

A convenient place to build such colonies is among the asteroids, so ice and metals from the asteroids can be used to build more space colonies and enlarge existing ones. In a sense it would be healthier to live on a rotating space colony with one full g gravity, than on Mars with such low gravity that your body would be weakened.

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The goal of humanity is to develop rotating space colonies with artificial gravity and shielding from cosmic rays, that are self-sustaining (grow plants and raise animals for food), and recycle everything. A space colony should be able to repair itself using materials fabricated from asteroid metals.

 

A convenient place to build such colonies is among the asteroids, so ice and metals from the asteroids can be used to build more space colonies and enlarge existing ones. In a sense it would be healthier to live on a rotating space colony with one full g gravity, than on Mars with such low gravity that your body would be weakened.

The 'goal of humanity' is to survive. There has never been an adequate answer to the question of how space settlements, in any form, enable the Earth-bound majority of 'Humanity' to survive. What has been presented is the assumption that settlements guarantee survival even if Earth-bound humanity destroys itself. It is abandonment psychology at its worst: 'YOU might get blown up, Earthling, but at least I will be safe in my tin can. . .' Can you wonder why space colony advocates aren't taken seriously anywhere outside of the advocacy?

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In the LONG term (millions or billions of years), survival of humanity, and perhaps a number of important plant and animal species, will mean thriving somewhere else besides Earth.

 

In the short term, it will be very interesting to see IF humans can live indefinitely in a space colony.

 

Your "abandonment psychology" theory is absurd. Living in a space colony is far riskier than living on Earth. Few people would be willing to risk their lives that way. However, if it can be shown that it is perfectly safe, comfortable, and maybe even fun, then people may get in line to try it out.

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What has been presented is the assumption that settlements guarantee survival even if Earth-bound humanity destroys itself. It is abandonment psychology at its worst: 'YOU might get blown up, Earthling, but at least I will be safe in my tin can. . .' Can you wonder why space colony advocates aren't taken seriously anywhere outside of the advocacy?

 

I don't think this is what's been presented at all. Who assumed any guarantee?

 

We've always had pioneer mentalities as well as homestead mentalities, and darned near everything in between. Unless there was some imminent danger that threatened everyone, I don't see how anyone would feel abandoned just because some humans wanted to explore the system, building facilities using their own resources to help them continue to explore.

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In the LONG term (millions or billions of years), survival of humanity, and perhaps a number of important plant and animal species, will mean thriving somewhere else besides Earth.

 

In the short term, it will be very interesting to see IF humans can live indefinitely in a space colony.

 

Your "abandonment psychology" theory is absurd. Living in a space colony is far riskier than living on Earth. Few people would be willing to risk their lives that way. However, if it can be shown that it is perfectly safe, comfortable, and maybe even fun, then people may get in line to try it out.

 

Your premise of preserving species through space colonies is plausible enough if you assume the colonies are successful. Remember, this thread started as a discussion about asteroid mining to build colonies. That takes money. The 'species survival' angle sounds good until you realize it is FAR cheaper and more certain if you just get rid of nuclear weapons, stop butchering the environment and put an end to pointless warfare. I could think of a few other measures to ensure human survival that have nothing to do with space colonization. My point is that the people you expect/hope to pay for colonization will not be impressed by esoteric arguments. They want money for their money. That is why space colonization has failed as a potential advance for humanity.

I truly wish it were otherwise. I have my own visions for space colonization, but I have to let people know that I respect their money before I spend it. . .

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Your premise of preserving species through space colonies is plausible enough if you assume the colonies are successful. Remember, this thread started as a discussion about asteroid mining to build colonies. That takes money. The 'species survival' angle sounds good until you realize it is FAR cheaper and more certain if you just get rid of nuclear weapons, stop butchering the environment and put an end to pointless warfare. I could think of a few other measures to ensure human survival that have nothing to do with space colonization. My point is that the people you expect/hope to pay for colonization will not be impressed by esoteric arguments. They want money for their money. That is why space colonization has failed as a potential advance for humanity.

 

(emphasis mine) I disagree with this completely. Space exploration/colonization does cost a huge amount of money, and the technology has to match the commitment. Your argument assumes colonization was possible in the past but failed, but large scale endeavors like that are still a bit distant.

 

Of course you're right that "species survival" is not an issue that is driving space exploration right now. We haven't had the capability long enough to develop much of a "we shouldn't keep all our eggs in one basket" attitude. But there are many other reasons why governments and even private commercial interests should be interested in finding ways to expand our knowledge of the system and use the resources found to continue the search. There's money to be made in discovery.

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Cost is a barrier to space exploration, but costs are coming down. Eventually replicator technology will make construction and demolition in space inexpensive. However, it will not reduce the cost of putting people into space; for that, something like the space fountain or space elevator is required.

 

There are people who will pay to go into space, and several projects are underway including a space hotel and suborbital flights. Whether there will be enough business or not to pay for a space fountain is uncertain, but it is clear people want to go into space. Much depends on the future of humanity on Earth. Will climate change cause disaster, or will humanity make an amazing 9th inning home run to save the World.

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(emphasis mine) I disagree with this completely. Space exploration/colonization does cost a huge amount of money, and the technology has to match the commitment. Your argument assumes colonization was possible in the past but failed, but large scale endeavors like that are still a bit distant.

 

Of course you're right that "species survival" is not an issue that is driving space exploration right now. We haven't had the capability long enough to develop much of a "we shouldn't keep all our eggs in one basket" attitude. But there are many other reasons why governments and even private commercial interests should be interested in finding ways to expand our knowledge of the system and use the resources found to continue the search. There's money to be made in discovery.

I agree about 'not having the capabilities long enough'. Recent attempts at things like inflatable orbital habitats are encouraging, but we are way off from what most would call a 'colony'. Space colonization as a public issue is what has failed. I often hear the joke about how all they need to do is find oil on Mars and we would colonize it in a heartbeat. Well, in the 1960s we 'discovered' how we could provide Earth with clean, unlimited energy. All we had to do was build colonies to build powersats to provide the energy. Energy is universal to every society and so basic to everyone. . . Yet the advocacy could not sell it to a world that was in the middle of an energy crisis. Why? My guess: The cost of building colonies was 'prohibitive' because the emphasis of their design was to make them 'Earthlike'. They were not 'valid statements of what it is to live in space' (quoted from T.A. Heppenheimer, Colonies In Space ') Instead, they were expressions of the abandonment psychology I mentioned. Had the advocates concentrated on solving problems people cared about (at the time it was providing cheap energy) instead of constantly pitching massively impractical engineering feats they might have been taken more seriously more often. Of course, I'm just guessing. . .

I don't think this is what's been presented at all. Who assumed any guarantee?

 

We've always had pioneer mentalities as well as homestead mentalities, and darned near everything in between. Unless there was some imminent danger that threatened everyone, I don't see how anyone would feel abandoned just because some humans wanted to explore the system, building facilities using their own resources to help them continue to explore.

 

Space advocates, that's who. Myself among them. For years advocates have been making claims about how space settlements, including those on the Moon, Mars etc. could do such great things for humanity. Usually the one's doing most talking were experts in physics as if all we had to do is rearrange enough molecules or direct enough watts in the right direction. Rarely did they even try to convey a sense of costs in a meaningful way. When they did, they usually got their ears knocked off. Remember mass drivers on the Moon? That way exceeded the costs for Apollo and yet it had to be built before a space colony could be built. . .And a space colony had to be built before powersats could be built. . . There are STILL space advocates who think this was a reasonable proposition and are trying to pitch it to a world that is running out of time.

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"...Rarely did they even try to convey a sense of costs in a meaningful way. When they did, they usually got their ears knocked off. Remember mass drivers on the Moon? That way exceeded the costs for Apollo and yet it had to be built before a space colony could be built. . .And a space colony had to be built before powersats could be built. . . There are STILL space advocates who think this was a reasonable proposition and are trying to pitch it to a world that is running out of time."

 

The science experts I've heard "tried" to convey costs. I don't know who you are listening to.

 

Space colonies is a huge expense. Whenever you send people into space the costs skyrocket. That is why I agree with Michio Kaku, that robotic probes is the way to go in the near future. Gradually we will develope the technology to put people, a few at a time, on the Moon or Mars. This will take at least a hundred years. Space colonies, that are independent from the Earth, Moon or Mars, with artificial gravity and radiation shielding, and everything recycled and raw materials taken from nearby asteroids, however, will take MUCH longer to develope.

Edited by Airbrush
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This will take at least a hundred years.

 

I don't think you can accurately make this statement. Look what we've accomplished in the last 50 years.

 

Right now, the global economy won't support much enthusiasm in the way of offworld exploration. But if this changes, I can easily see us becoming determined to see what kind of resources are in the neighborhood, possibly with some kind of facility on the moon or Mars, and easily within the hundred years you think of as a minimum.

 

And all it takes is a few breakthroughs in technology to suddenly make it all economically viable. It's not guaranteed to happen, but I don't think you can absolutely say it will take a century either.

 

I agree about the drone ships. It's been mentioned that work is being done on drones that can identify and asteroid, latch on to it and propel it where we want it. I don't think that technology is very far off at all. And the government or corporation that can build a refinement facility to process those resources will have a huge advantage in future efforts.

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Space colonies is a huge expense. Whenever you send people into space the costs skyrocket. That is why I agree with Michio Kaku, that robotic probes is the way to go in the near future. Gradually we will develop the technology to put people, a few at a time, on the Moon or Mars. This will take at least a hundred years. Space colonies, that are independent from the Earth, Moon or Mars, with artificial gravity and radiation shielding, and everything recycled and raw materials taken from nearby asteroids, however, will take MUCH longer to develope.

 

We were ready to put six people on the Moon in a program called LESA in 1970. We had the technology ready to go. Taken solely as a technology issue we were already there. The problem was maintaining public support for the program over time. You can get one or two consecutive Presidents to fight Congress for the funds. But sooner or later you get some short-sighted clod who thinks that is a waste or just has other ideas.

 

As for 'space colonies', I refer you to the Aquarius Rocket concept Space Systems/Loral was working on a few years ago. This could have gotten you a rotating colony in orbit in only one year's worth of launches. And it had a payload of only one ton. The resulting colony would have been roomy, self sustaining and cost less than half a billion dollars. It would not have been the glamorous thing you see in the Don Davis paintings. There is a Wikipedia article on the Aquarius launch vehicle and at least two YouTube videos that I know of. I apologize for not having a link.

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The way to go is modular units that you add to a colony a even number of units at a time. You start with two tethered units spinning around a central hub. Over time you add units to each side to maintain balance. Over time you can accumulate thousands of units all revolving around a central hub.

 

This is getting off the subject of Mining Asteroids, but in the future maybe these units can be fabricated from asteroids. You search the asteroid belt for one or more ideal asteroids with all the ice and metals you need within easy reach. That is where you start building a space colony.

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The way to go is modular units that you add to a colony a even number of units at a time. You start with two tethered units spinning around a central hub. Over time you add units to each side to maintain balance. Over time you can accumulate thousands of units all revolving around a central hub.

 

This is getting off the subject of Mining Asteroids, but in the future maybe these units can be fabricated from asteroids. You search the asteroid belt for one or more ideal asteroids with all the ice and metals you need within easy reach. That is where you start building a space colony.

You are starting to see my point. The modular concept you describe here is exactly what Aquarius could give us. Without having to spend unknown billions to get to an asteroid. I can tell you the launch program for Aquarius Colony would be very much less than half a billion dollars. Less than the cost of a single Space Shuttle launch. This colony would not be glamorous, but it could be built with today's dollars and be occupied by today's people. Sure, we want to build colonies in space for the future. The difference - and the reason I left the advocacy - is the future promoted by would-be space colonists was high-debt, low return. It was doomed. I appreciate that you have this vision. I would only say that you should not colonize tomorrow what you can colonize today!

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Space colonies is a huge expense. Whenever you send people into space the costs skyrocket. That is why I agree with Michio Kaku, that robotic probes is the way to go in the near future. Gradually we will develop the technology to put people, a few at a time, on the Moon or Mars. This will take at least a hundred years. Space colonies, that are independent from the Earth, Moon or Mars, with artificial gravity and radiation shielding, and everything recycled and raw materials taken from nearby asteroids, however, will take MUCH longer to develope.

 

We were ready to put six people on the Moon in a program called LESA in 1970. We had the technology ready to go. Taken solely as a technology issue we were already there. The problem was maintaining public support for the program over time. You can get one or two consecutive Presidents to fight Congress for the funds. But sooner or later you get some short-sighted clod who thinks that is a waste or just has other ideas.

 

As for 'space colonies', I refer you to the Aquarius Rocket concept Space Systems/Loral was working on a few years ago. This could have gotten you a rotating colony in orbit in only one year's worth of launches. And it had a payload of only one ton. The resulting colony would have been roomy, self sustaining and cost less than half a billion dollars. It would not have been the glamorous thing you see in the Don Davis paintings. There is a Wikipedia article on the Aquarius launch vehicle and at least two YouTube videos that I know of. I apologize for not having a link.

 

You seem to base your argumentation on the assumption that the USA is the only country that should be considered capable of putting people on another planet. I am not sure that is a good assumption.

 

I think that China is a far more likely candidate for a Mars colony. They have shown themselves capable of managing very large projects over the last decade. And in addition, their government funding does not suffer from the short-term problems that the Western world has. And finally, they have set their sights on a lunar colony, stating that as a long-term goal.

 

And to bring this post back on topic: no, asteroid mining is not listed among the goals... yet.

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