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"Mining" space debri/particles from space using a "panning for gold" method

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I don't know if this method has ever been thought of or if it would be efficient, but from what I hear there is a lot of space debri that is in space(not man-made) that may be valuable resources. I was thinking maybe there could be a way to gather this space dust and use it as a valuable resource. Is this an idea to investigate?

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The problem is one of economics. Right now, it would probably cost more to go up and fetch the material than the material would be worth once you had it - and most of that cost is down to how much it costs to put someone (or something, if we use robots) in space, then bring the whole lot back to earth for processing.

 

Let's say (for the sake of argument) it costs you $100 to recycle a ton of aluminum. That includes only the actual recycling process from old aluminum to shiny new aluminum. You still have to pay to recover the aluminum, and a ground based system can do that much (think orders of magnitude) cheaper per ton than your space recovery can - which means you can't afford to sell your products at a price that's competitive.

 

The real rub, is that you have to bring it back to the surface for processing - if you had a way of collecting it and processing it in space that didn't involve a round trip to and from the surface, you could could probably do it and make money - especially if you could turn around and use the material in orbit, meaning you never have to fight Earth's gravity well. The initial investment would be high, but once you got up and running, you could probably recycle materials at a profit, and for less than comparable materials shipped up from the surface.

 

Now, if powered space flight reachews a point where putting something in orbit is (relatively) cheap, you may have something.

Edited by Greg H.

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Is this an idea to investigate?

 

It doesn't seem that practical by itself, but if we were to develop the techniques for capturing man-made space debris, to keep our satellites safer, and the vehicles(?) were already deployed, it might be a nice way to help fund the expeditions. And, as Greg H points out, if you figure out how to use what you capture without bringing it back down to the planet, you could continue to reduce costs.

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It doesn't seem that practical by itself, but if we were to develop the techniques for capturing man-made space debris, to keep our satellites safer, and the vehicles(?) were already deployed, it might be a nice way to help fund the expeditions. And, as Greg H points out, if you figure out how to use what you capture without bringing it back down to the planet, you could continue to reduce costs.

Hmm, I might do research on this then. Just exploring the idea.

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At some point we my have to start to remove space debris as it starts to pose a serious threat on space travel. Well, it is starting to do that already.

 

http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/

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At some point we my have to start to remove space debris as it starts to pose a serious threat on space travel. Well, it is starting to do that already.

 

http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/

 

So, your business model for your Orbital Garbage Recovery Expedition (OGRE) has two sources of income:

1. The actual scrap value. Since the total mass of debris is estimated to be 5500 ton, you should be able to make a low and a high estimate of its value and calculate an income. Note that there are an estimated 500,000 particles larger than 1 cm in orbit.

2. The value of a clean orbit. As a first estimate, I would see if you can find infomation about the frequency of orbital adjustments to avoid debris, and the fuel needed to avoid debris. Putting fuel in space costs a lot of money, and avoiding spending fuel is your income.

 

However, you may not have to catch all the small particles yet. A study seems to suggest that it is the large bodies in orbit that (on the long term) pose the largest threat, and therefore these should be removed with priority. So, in order to generate income, you don't have to catch fast-moving particles. All you may have to do is carefully plan the removal of a few dozen drifting obsolete satellites.

 

Interestingly, there are quite a few initiatives out there already. The Japanese apparently even launched a net into space to catch debris, although this satellite will only test part of the functionality, and will not actually catch any debris yet. That is planned for 2019.

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