Assuming these people aren't making an irrational decision, then we are looking for something that is extremely high value, extremely difficult if not impossible to obtain on Earth (the expense of obtaining almost anything from space precludes a lot of possibilities), and has current or very near term applications in relatively small quantities.
Currently the aqcuisition and transfer of information is the only thing space has found an industrial use for, although that is itself a huge and varied field. Something that is a 'new kind of space resource' and comparable to high quality information in utility, cost, colection, and ease of return.....
Without derailing this thread, I thought the following quote from an Adult Swim show might lighten the mood in the same "vein".
"Intel suggests terrorists have been shown the schematics to the Space Shuttle."
"What could they want with the Space Shuttle?"
"Plutonium! There are huge plutonium deposits on the Jovian moon Io. Our terrorists are going to use these blueprints to build a fleet of 1970s era Space Shuttles, send them to Jupiter, dig up the plutonium, bring it back, then design and build a complicated nuclear detonation device!"
"Of course! It's so simple!."
International Space Development Conference 2011Space Resources Roundtable XII / Planetary & Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium : http://www.isruinfo.com/index.php?page=srr_12_ptmss
ETA: Got the conferences mixed up
ETA2: I did not specifically research asteroid mining, but I did look into lunar mining. Surprinsingly, quite a lot of papers have been written on this. The literature is pretty clear that people have succeeded in testing model equipment in analog environments on Earth. This is very significant, because it proves that there are no fundamental obstacles with extraterrestrial mining.
Last edited by kamaz; 2012-Apr-22 at 11:47 PM.
However, 60 grams is nowhere near enough for someone who wants to experiment with processing this stuff. That kind of research requires using whole kilograms of stuff -- amounts which a mission like OSIRIS-REX cannot provide.
Further, if you want to learn how to do a teleoperated sampling / mining operation, than having your training asteroid in a nice stable orbit around the Moon actually makes it feasible. First, you actually can teleoperate at this distance. Second, you can launch your mission every two weeks, (instead of once per year) which greatly simplifies your logistics. Third, your mission takes three days to get there (as opposed to several months), which makes everything cheaper and faster.
Funnily enough, I was wondering about that very idea about three months ago. My reasoning was like that. The problem with Moon missions is that you need a lander (and a lot of fuel) to go up and down the lunar gravity well. Asteroids don't have this problem, but they are in orbits which make them difficult to reach. So, I reasoned, if we moved an asteroid to EML-4/5, then we would have the best of both: an easily accessible body (i.e. no gravity well) in an easily accessible orbit. These folks apparently got the same idea, except that they want to use a high lunar orbit, which I did not think about, and which is much safer than an L-point -- in the worst case, the asteroid will crash on the Moon.
Here's another interesting business aspect: can you sell the captured asteroid to someone, like, a government customer?
Yes, I know that the Outer Space Treaty says that you cannot own an asteroid. However, you can very much own a spacecraft. If you catch an asteroid in a net, which is a part of your spacecraft, then nobody can access the asteroid without trespassing your property (net / spacectaft). So that would mean that while you technically cannot own an asteroid, you can have full control of it -- which is practically the same. The only difference is that you wouldn't sell the asteroid itself, just the spacecraft holding it...
And you can make changes based on what you find. You aren't stuck with the equipment you sent out to some distant asteroid. It also gets more interesting if you bring back more than one asteroid and can use the same equipment on them. Also, some of the material can be transported to LEO, or for the most interesting bits, sent back in capsules to Earth (maybe in more of those Dragon capsules).Second, you can launch your mission every two weeks, (instead of once per year) which greatly simplifies your logistics. Third, your mission takes three days to get there (as opposed to several months), which makes everything cheaper and faster.
Last edited by Van Rijn; 2012-Apr-23 at 04:49 AM.
As above, so below
Early targets could be carbonaceous asteroids to be ground up and heated for the volatiles, with the leftover for shielding material.What are you expecting people to actually use it for?
Not so expensive if there is one company that does the missions and sells pieces to bidders. And, just because this particular plan had the asteroid returned to high lunar orbit doesn't mean that's the only possible option.If people want 'a piece' of that asteroid - they've still got to go to high lunar orbit to get it - that's a massive, expensive mission all on its own.
Same story for asteroid mining as with space based solar power. The numbers are so simple to work,and the results so gratuitously demonstrate the futility of both industries - I'm still surprised that people give either the attention that they do.
I'm still waiting for someone to point out the big glaring mistake I must be making, but no one ever has.
OSIRIS-REX, assuming it all works, doesn't get back to earth until 2023. Take Lewicki's detailed architecture ( http://kiss.caltech.edu/study/astero...nal_report.pdf ) and it's not bringing anything back till late 2025 at the earliest.
And yet you say you expect commercial mining to be a reality in 15 years. I don't want to be rude - but that's just laughable.
the only way i can see is it somehow being a facilitator for the whole commercial sector....maybe, at least in part, fuel depots in LEO?
You could even do a manned mission to this thing using nothing but a stock F9H + Dragon combo.
To monitor change, to study the vast area, to monitor wildlife, climate, do astronomy, to learn about and investigate the 14 million sqKm of Antarctica as it changes from season to season.
What does that have to do with a rock with a surface area of 300 sqM.
Anyway, I am still not convinced that space materials for space use could not be a worthwhile, and potentially even profitable endeavour once we set up the proper infrastructure to exploit it.
Of course it is, to you. Never mind that you already have been shown a viable way, with current technology, to retrieve an asteroid. It's still laughable.And yet you say you expect commercial mining to be a reality in 15 years. I don't want to be rude - but that's just laughable.
What I am thinking is something simpler--how large an object can we aerobrake and slow? Long before carbon fibers will ever be space elevator capable, they could make a ballute--a bag to wrap around an asteroid--shuttlecock style.
Imagine huge versions of these concepts:
You manage to coax an asteroid into orbit--cut into hunks and bring as much as you can within the laws of physics. If anything--might there be a way to use the heat of entry (not re-entry) to do smelting/liquification on the fly?
As long as these hunks are reasonable slowed down, the g forces don't matter in that they are raw materials and can slam into dugway proving ground about as hard as they like. If the material is strong enough--into water where the ballute can be repaired--inflated again and towed to shore.
This might even allow smaller asteroids to be de-orbited in one piece.
If you had to modify an asteroid--you don't refine it but shape it to get maximum surface area, or you do that with a sacrificial inflatable structure--something to slow it down just enough that it survives.
Less meteor crater, and more Sikhote-Alin:
"An estimated 70 tonnes of material survived the fiery passage through the atmosphere and reached the Earth"
This would just be a better controlled crash--and the wording would use the terms "catching a meteor" not "downing an asteroid."
Meteorite research is the search for the chemical origins of life, the origins and makeup of Earths building blocks, the history of the young solar system, the evolution of planetoids, and protoplanets- which we now know were active woulds in their own rights, objects only hundreds ofkm across with active geology. A tame fragment of one never touched by Earths atmosphere, close enough to break down and ferry back in chunks, would be incredible. There'd be no money in it but I imagine planetary geoligists would wet themsleves. I'd wet myself!
Last edited by marsbug; 2012-Apr-23 at 10:43 PM.
Keeping it in space means that sending material to other parts of space is much cheaper. Earth orbit is one of the biggest delta-v hurdles and we can't even use low thrust/high ISP tricks like present plasma rockets because of the gravity and atmosphere.
How about going to Mars first. A manned Mars mission might take place in 20 years. That'll excite the masses more than mining asteroids. Also, how about looking for life on Europa or some other Moon or planet?
Ifcourse, the stock market or the internet might crash, and all those billionaires will go belly up, and with no dough no go.
Anyone remember Netscape? I hear Yahoo is going down the tubes. Kodak is gone. This project sounds too insane.
Anyway, we should be hearing more about whatever they're planning tomorrow. If they're serious about it, I expect they would have put a good amount of effort into a money-making plan. That requires a different approach than a plan focused on research or flag-planting.
Paul and Raven,
I have to agree most, if not all, of the asteroid mining has to be done by robots. Robots don't need oxygen, water, food, etc. All they need is a steady source of power and sufficient shielding from radiation. Still expensive, but a whole lot less costly than having humans do it. If we want to mine asteroids with anything just a little beyond our 2012 technology, though, we will have to find a way to divert the metaphorical gold mine into orbit - one of the Lagrange points ideally, but even high earth or polar lunar orbit might be practical as well (assumes the orbit is - from earth's perspective - a 'ring around the moon' that never leaves sight of the earth).
Now if we want to go mine in "the belt" - that WILL require advanced artificial intelligence (though not necessarily conscious intelligence). I doubt we have that technology yet, though we certainly could have it possibly as early as 25 years from now and certainly in 50 years. If we can find a way to transport at least a good fraction of it to Earth, so much the better. Still, it's probably best to use the material to build a space station or a lunar or Mars colony with it. Let's just hope we don't end up building a white elephant a few generations from now.
I think you're going to need some humans, for oversight, repair, and maintenance, and if you got that, you can have telepresence instead of advanced AI.
Spirit probably could have gone a lot longer if there was someone to brush away the dust on her solar panels and get her out of the hole she dug herself in.