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Thread: Asteroid mining? Google billionaires, James Cameron, & "Planetary Resources, Inc"

  1. #91
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    UPDATE:

    Well it looks like some more information has come out already. It looks like the plan is asteroid mining of NEO's. Although they won't be doing that right off the bat. First they'll spend some time prospecting and looking for the best rock they can find. The goal is to find water as well as Platinum-group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum) which can only be found in low concentrations here on Earth.

    Here's the space.com article: http://www.space.com/15395-asteroid-...resources.html

  2. #92
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    WOW, thanks! Looks like its almost exactly what I expected, with small asteroid capture. They're looking for water and precious metals, the water for in-space use, of course. One significant added detail is that they're building their own space telescope for prospecting.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

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  3. #93
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Never mind that you already have been shown a viable way, with current technology, to retrieve an asteroid.
    I didn't need to be 'shown' that. I know that with current technology an asteroid can be retrieved.

    That's not commercially viable mining.

    Indeed that very case study shows it to be utterly economically nonviable.

    I'll bet you right now that there isn't a captured asteroid in high lunar orbit by the end of 2027

    And I'll bet you, right now, that no asteroid based mining is profitable 15 years from now.

    What say you? Each to the charities of our choice perhaps? A few dollars - I'll even give you 10:1 odds on both.

    I'm sure another BAUT member will hold it in escrow for us.

  4. #94
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    There is still little detail in the article, but it mentions company materials, hopefully there will be more tomorrow. One intriguing sentence:

    Mining activities will be enabled by swarms of unmanned spacecraft, according to company materials.
    My guess is that these will be very small spacecraft.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

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  5. #95
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    I'll bet you, right now $100, at 10:1 - that there isn't a captured asteroid in high lunar orbit by the end of 2027

    And I'll bet you another $100 at 10:1 that no asteroid based mining is profitable 15 years from now.

    What say you? Each to the charities of our choice perhaps?
    Yes, sounds fine. You did notice that their plan does include small asteroid capture?

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

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  6. #96
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    You did notice that their plan does include small asteroid capture?
    Yes. And if it that happens at all, it certainly wont be by 2027, and even if they DO do that, at some point - that doesn't represent profitable mining.

    I'm still waiting for someone to go "Dude - you forgot about unobtanium - it's in asteroids at the 1% by weight level and is worth $1M/kg."

    What is it that people see in this that renders it commercially viable that I do not?

  7. #97
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    What is it that people see in this that renders it commercially viable that I do not?
    I've discussed a lot of my thoughts on this already. I'm not going to repeat it.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

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  8. #98
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    What is it that people see in this that renders it commercially viable that I do not?
    Water already in earth orbit is worth approximately $2000-$10,000 a kilogram.
    If they can beat that by a sufficient margin, then it's profitable.

  9. #99
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    well, if they actually get a space telescope up there, at least thats something tangible ...
    what about the simple politics of a private company dragging a lump that big towards earth though?
    Its not the technicalities of it that matter, its the public perception, whether that perception is right or wrong

  10. #100
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    Yes. And if it that happens at all, it certainly wont be by 2027, and even if they DO do that, at some point - that doesn't represent profitable mining.

    I'm still waiting for someone to go "Dude - you forgot about unobtanium - it's in asteroids at the 1% by weight level and is worth $1M/kg."

    What is it that people see in this that renders it commercially viable that I do not?
    I don't think anyone's arguing it will be viable any time soon, but sooner or later someone has to work on the means to do it. Even if this venture fails it may lay the ground work for someone else to succeed in the future.

  11. #101
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    Water already in earth orbit is worth approximately $2000-$10,000 a kilogram.
    If they can beat that by a sufficient margin, then it's profitable.
    There are companies will put it there for you for the low end of that scale, quicker, simpler. Don't need to go find an asteroid, haul it back, process it, purify the resulting material. The infrastructure required to process it, the complexity of those systems, the R&D, the testing, the flight-ops teams, and, of course, the rockets requried to launch it all. Massively expensive exercises, all. It renders the exercise nonsensical.

    Heck - for the $2.5B or so that that fascinating paper says it would take to bring back an asteroid to high lunar orbit ( so a long LONG way from Earth ) - You could put more than a 1000 tons of anything you like into LEO. Water, cheese, novelty fridge magnets, rocket fuel, all without having to build never before attempted deep space, zero G processing plants.

    They say they will have prop depots in LEO within 8 years. Who are they selling it to? There's no customers for that. It would take longer than that to develop BEO assets that could act as customers. Robotic vehicles perhaps? The budgets to build spacecraft to take advantage of it don't exist either.

    A small telescope in LEO for NEO observations within 2 years? Sorry - I don't believe it. They cite Space Ship One in that article - October 2004 Space Ship 1 was retired. Back then - who expected it to take more than 8 years for Space Ship 2 to be ready for paying customers. Certainly no Rutan, Branson etc. In '05 they talked about paying customers in '08. In Feb '07 they were still talking space flights by SS2 in '08. 5 years later....not a single powered flight, let alone paying customers on board. SpaceX's schedule has slipped. Orbital's has slipped. Xcor has slipped.

    Forgive my industrial strength skepticism here, but I see nothing in their plans that appears to be fiscally sound or realistically scheduled.

  12. #102
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    News Conference Stream


  13. #103
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    And the web site is now live. http://www.planetaryresources.com/technology/

  14. #104
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    Building a new auto plant can cost over 750 million dollars.
    In effect, the very first car built at said factory cost over 750 million to make.
    And that is not including the cost of mines, and oil wells for the raw materials, roads, gas stations, mechanics and other infrastructure.
    Now, I do not deny that building the infrastructure to do so is going to be expensive, but if we do do, if someone decides, 'lets do this', that infrastructure, once built could really open up the sky in ways we have so far only imagined.
    The reason there is few customers at present is because many things are impractical without this infrastructure.
    Just like driving a car you made yourself with no gas stations or roads would be impractical.
    A long, slow transfer, using minimal fuel and delta-V, is going to be much less expensive than sending it from the Earth's surface.
    I admit, I am not an economist, and I really want this to succeed.
    But I don't think that makes me wrong.

  15. #105
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    they do seem to have come up with a reasonable strategy to get the ball rolling.
    i can imagine the data they can collate would be quite valuable in itself.
    Once you have that data, and its promising data, then the earth bound prospectors may start getting interested...and they are well used to spending hundreds of millions on long term high risk projects...
    so its interesting.

  16. #106
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    Think of it this way. Even their failures can help anyone following them. And certainly their successes will build that infrastructure. I'm excited just for their first phase, the NEO telescopes, because right now we have very, very limited resources dedicated to that.

    Love the assembly line approach as well. Make them tough, simple, and a lot of them. Send them out, see what works.

  17. #107
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    With this venture, jobs will be created on Earth, and with the material mined would best be used in space where the delta-V requirements would be lower

  18. #108
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhaedas View Post
    Even their failures can help anyone following them
    I'm skeptical of that even. Billionaires put cash into this...and then what if it fails in 5 years, with one small NEO telescope (that isn't as good as the science assets already in existence ) to show for it. What does that say to other potential investors in new space startups? There is plenty of potential for it to do harm, not good.


    This press conf was everything I feared, and nothing I hoped. A Wired journo asked the specific question about the figures involved - and they arm-waved it away. Not even a hint at the fiscal reality of it all. I fear this will be long, drawn out, painful and ultimately disappointing.

  19. #109
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    We'll see.

  20. #110
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    ...... I fear this will be long, drawn out, painful and ultimately disappointing.
    Well I'm pretty desensitised to that, after 20-odd years of following space exploration. It's their own money, and I'm happy to wish them luck, without hoping for too much.

    This press conf was everything I feared, and nothing I hoped
    I hope you don't mind my quoting you out of order. What had you hoped for? I'm not looking for something to bash, you're a space exploration fan, you're smart, and you're a realist*. Did you have an idea in mind that you think would be a feasible new way to use space as a resource/ get resources from space?

    * I suck up not, you've been running your own space exploration forum for years, and it's members have been referenced as 'our sternest, most valued critics' in at least one paper on planetary geology. Though the high signal to noise ratio is itself an offput for someone like myself, who comes online to play.
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

  21. #111
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anthrage View Post
    I listened to most of it. What they talked about is very similar to my speculation. Some of the key points I noticed:

    (1) They spoke a lot about water. After the prospecting phase, retrieving water appears to be one of their key initial goals. (As I expected - it's expensive to lift water from Earth.)

    (2) They will accept a high failure rate with their spacecraft and plan on a "mass production" model, where they learn while doing. Compared to NASA, they expect to have a faster development cycle, sending more but less expensive spacecraft, accepting more individual failures. (Makes sense, given the very high cost of "failure is not an option" designs.)

    (3) Unmanned spacecraft only, no plans to send people.

    (4) They clarified that returning trillions of dollars worth of resources was a long term goal (no surprise, but good it's on the record).

    (5) They started the company three years ago, but announced now because they have now established enough funding to proceed.

    I'd always like more detail, but very interesting!

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

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  22. #112
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    Indeed, water and it's component molecules are something there is a market for *right now* in LEO. If they can get it for less than the cost to launch it from Earth, then there's your initial market, space stations like the ISS.

  23. #113
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    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post
    Did you have an idea in mind that you think would be a feasible new way to use space as a resource/ get resources from space?
    I was hoping they had identified some sort of resource that was SO high value that it would offset the monumental costs in going to get it from asteroids. I hoped I was missing some big piece of the puzzle that would make it make sense to me.

    Didn't happen.

  24. #114
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    If they can get it for less than the cost to launch it from Earth
    ISS uses 22 tons of water per year.

    Less than half a Falcon Heavy launch.

    Can you go get purified water from an asteroid delivered to ISS for less than $83M?

  25. #115
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    ISS uses 22 tons of water per year.

    Less than half a Falcon Heavy launch.

    Can you go get purified water from an asteroid delivered to ISS for less than $83M?
    We'll see.
    The craft used to deliver it could be much flimsier as it never has to stand up to Earth gravity, just a ball of ice wrapped in kapton with solar panels, perhaps some heater coils, ion thrusters and a guidance system, so you might even save compared to the cost of a Soyuz or ATV normally used to deliver supplies.

  26. #116
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    so you might even save compared to the cost of a Soyuz or ATV normally used to deliver supplies.
    They're quoting >$2.5B to fetch a modest sized asteroid to a high lunar orbit.

    You could launch a thousand tons of anything into LEO - where it would actually be useful - for that much.

  27. #117
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    They're quoting >$2.5B to fetch a modest sized asteroid to a high lunar orbit.
    As I pointed out before, that's only if you assume there is ONE FLIGHT EVER. And even then, as the paper points out, it would be lower cost then it would take to put similar material there from Earth. Cost per flight drops significantly for multiple missions. They estimate recurring flight hardware costs at $340 million, for example.

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

    I say there is an invisible elf in my backyard. How do you prove that I am wrong?

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  28. #118
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    They're quoting >$2.5B to fetch a modest sized asteroid to a high lunar orbit.

    You could launch a thousand tons of anything into LEO - where it would actually be useful - for that much.
    How massive is a 'modest sized asteroid'? Even dross can be used as radiation shielding, so even the tailings will have value.
    I know of several lunar space probes that used very minimal fuel to reach lunar orbit, Chandrayaan-1 for example, they just took a while doing so.
    As Van Rijn points out, your number is for one flight and never doing anything again, just like the 750 million figure I mention for a single car.

  29. #119
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    Quote Originally Posted by djellison View Post
    I was hoping they had identified some sort of resource that was SO high value that it would offset the monumental costs in going to get it from asteroids. I hoped I was missing some big piece of the puzzle that would make it make sense to me.

    Didn't happen.
    "Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it."---Robert Heinlein

    At least they are going to try.

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    History tells us that it is unlikely that they can do their first mission for that much. All space projects of that scale go over budget. It's a first-of-its-kind project that's very very ambitious. Opportunity for failure is high. Their schedule (Diamandis said they would be mining asteroids within 10 years to reporters) is ludicrously optimistic. They either cut corners (and fail) by trying to reach it (faster better cheaper etc etc ) - or their schedule grows significantly, increasing costs as it does.

    Here's where the numbers don't work, for me.

    If you want nice water rich asteroids...they live further from the sun, they're not the easy-to-get asteroids. Even if they were easier to get, CI type asteroids are only about 20% water. How much will it cost to develop hardware to process and extract the water from an entire 7 meter, 500 ton asteroid? That's not even been mentioned. Who's going to buy it in high lunar orbit...there's no customers, no plans or budgets available for architectures to go and use those resources. Or if you're going to bring it back to LEO..with what, and at what cost? That's not been mentioned either.

    That 500 ton asteroid, even if it's an amazing 20% water, and can be processed for FREE, and that water delivered to consumers for NOTHING.... will have provided 100,000kg of water for $2.6B. That's $26,000/kg.

    They say "The recurring cost for subsequent missions is estimated at approximately $1B" (recurring hardware costs is a very cunning way of forgetting that they have a rocket to buy, and ground-station time to rent, and a flight ops team to pay and train, and testing to carry out...the actual cost of further missions they quote is $1B )

    That's STILL $10,000/kg - for water - in high lunar orbit, unprocessed.

    I've used very optimistic assumptions, corner cutting, and giving them a free pass for other elements of what is required . As if I've not cut enough corners and been optimistic enough...I'll even throw them this...

    "Longer flight times, higher power SEP systems, or a target asteroid in a particularly favorable orbit could increase the mass amplification factor from 28-to-1 to 70-to-1 or greater"

    Let's say it's 80:1. Then that water, to high lunar orbit, unprocessed, is only $3,500/kg

    Still 50% more than an LV that will start launching in a year or three, and ignoring any potential reductions in LV costs from reusability.

    Using crazy, wildly optimistic assumptions, their own best case scenario mass fraction and budget, giving them a free pass on large non trivial issues, giving them nothing for all the R&D that has to precede all of this - the very best case scenario is 50% more than an ordinary LV of current technology.

    I don't know about you, but if a new gas station opened up offering gas at $6.60 a gallon...I'd drive straight past it and go to Chevron and pay $4.40. Wouldn't you?

    It's clear that most of you think they can pull it off and make it work, or at least think it's awesome that they're going to try. The optimism in this place is very very high. I've seen other places where those optimistic voices represent the minority and skepticism like my own is more widespread.

    Using their own figures, I've come to the conclusion it's not going to be feasible. You can use those figures and come to your own conclusions. You may very well disagree with my conclusions. At this point, further debate really isn't worth while, as the response to my skepticism has been the same handwaving in here that I saw in that press conference yesterday.

    We'll just have to wait and see.

    I, for one, will not be investing in them.

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