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Online Comics => Escape From Terra => Topic started by: paddyfool on July 18, 2011, 07:13:48 am

Title: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: paddyfool on July 18, 2011, 07:13:48 am
The news coverage of the Dawn spacecraft reaching Vesta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_(spacecraft)) got me thinking about how real-world asteroid mining might get started.  Currently, based on this spaceship, travel to the Belt takes a few years.  Is this likely to be enough of an obstacle for the first space mining operations to be more likely to take place on the Moon and/or on Near-Earth Objects, or are the rewards available there not sufficiently valuable?  Would initial operations involve shipping select chunks of asteroid back near to a facility in Earth orbit or at a Lagrange point for processing, or would there be more on site processing to minimise the amount of mass to shift?  How big an obstacle is the development of new smelting, forging and other more subtle processing techniques for use in low-to-zero G and a vacuum?  How difficult would it be to make more advanced tech in such circumstances, from communications satellites to space habitats?

And how much, ultimately, might Dawn tell us about what material of value may be found on Vesta and Ceres?

Any thoughts?
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Plane on July 18, 2011, 04:00:31 pm
Being in a vacuum helps.

If you have a means of applying heat to a metal ore, it should be simple to refine it , all the volitile elements would leave in the vacuum, compounds would reduce in the heat and a centrifuge could seaprate the elements by weight.

  Metals like Iron and nickle are already known to be common in Asteroids , so building ships and shelters of metal right on site might not be a bad idea , much better than lifting a lot of weight off the gravity well of a planet.

    Heat might be availible if you can carry or produce a large mirror to concentrate sunlight , since a large mirror is also a good propulsion device this could be dual use. A solar sail to get you there then a tug to change the orbit of the asteroid and a curved mirror furnace could be all the same article. 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Larry G on July 18, 2011, 08:09:04 pm
We COULD try mining from long distance.  I would think that a Earth to Asteroid Belt teleoperated mining operation will not in the long run be practical, but, for governments  it has the attraction of being somewhat cheaper than manned efforts.

Just to get personnel and equipment on site to begin with represents a huge front end investment, one that many would balk at.  But it is doable and I expect it to get more doable as time proceeds.  That we have to establish "stepping stone" stations and colonies for this to work is a given
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Killydd on July 18, 2011, 08:49:46 pm
I think that the travel time to the asteroid belt will remain far too great in the foreseeable future to be economical.  Try this for an idea though:  Send one ROV to the belt, it performs initial analysis and if the small asteroid is suitable, it then redirects it as a near earth object.  Keep the size of the asteroid small to avoid excessive risk if mistakes happen, and to reduce the amount of thrust the ROV needs to give it.  This can then be repeated indefinitely while a company on Earth sends another vehicle to space, possibly manned, to rendezvous with incoming claims and fit them with a suitable landing system, possibly a variant of the heat shield/parachute system used by that probe used to catch comet dust.  An area of desert could easily be used as a landing area, with the added benefit of a nearby solar farm to power smelting.  After all, keeping personnel in space is expensive, and it needs to end up down here for the near future anyway. 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 18, 2011, 09:45:43 pm
We COULD try mining from long distance.  I would think that a Earth to Asteroid Belt teleoperated mining operation will not in the long run be practical, but, for governments  it has the attraction of being somewhat cheaper than manned efforts.
The time delays for that would, I think, be far too long.

But an Earth to Moon teleoperated mining operation is another matter entirely.

Although using teleoperation to refine the lunar material, and then build solar energy collectors and a railgun to send it to lunar orbit would seem to me to still be completely impractical.

So I would envisage something like this: send people to the Moon to set up some infrastructure, but then use teleoperation as much as possible to avoid people having to stay in low gravity. Spinning colonies in lunar orbit or at L5, at full Earth gravity, would be where the lunar material is largely processed.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: dough560 on July 20, 2011, 05:05:05 am
An elevator would help get start-up materials into place and return finished goods.  Elevators on earth and the moon could also be used as launching stations.  Will Elevators and Rail-guns be possible in the near future?  Don't know enough about current technology to guess.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn elevators will be easier with space based manufacturing.  Clark wrote a book depicting the equipment development needed and the building of an orbital elevator.

Bova's Dan Randolph stories depict one way to start space based mining, processing and manufacturing.  There was another series that depicted space mining etc., but I don't remember the titles or author.  it was identified in one of the earlier threads.  Another book a few years ago depicted the development of inexpensive vertical take off and landing heavy lift ships.  A prototype was tested at White Sand Missile Range about 10 years ago.

Swiss cheese for a memory these days.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Larry G on July 20, 2011, 08:06:31 am
Its a matter of timescale, and growth of an ET human population in space. 
Getting to the Moon to mine it would provide a highly desirable platform for further exploration (close to home, low escape velocity, handy amounts of usable fossil ice, LOTS of light metals and ceramics available to process into useful items).
The choke point is the fossil ice, because humans insist on breeding more humans.  Some day the Moon ice will run out.
Providing an incentive to explore further for more ice and minerals.
I would think the near Earth-Lunar space would be mostly populated not from immigration from Earth but from new births in space (which figures; most humans wouldn't want to move from their comfortable caves, preferring  to 'let George do it').
So: ON TO MARS!  Mars is roughly half way to the Asteroid Belt from Earth, and would make a good trans shipment center for personnel, goods, products, and food for the rest of the inner solar system.  And Mars also apparently has fossil ice, which makes it valuable real estate.
I think that by the time Mars is firmly colonized, the Belt would be mapped, the first asteroid mining colonies established, and the first real efforts to survey the moons of Jupiter and Saturn  begun.
All this time personnel would be moving outwards from Earth-Luna while goods are moving inwards.  So by the time we are ready to do full bore asteroid mining, there would be a nearby population of potential miners to man the mining equipment, and a market for their products.
The long travel times for the personnel are quite comparable to the early days of colonizing the New World here on Earth, but I would be willing to bet that the colonists would travel in more relative comfort than formerly, what with communications to friends and family "back home", video games and entertainment, and on line education.
This scenario isn't based on any new flight of fancy propulsion systems, but on off the shelf tech that we have now and expected improvements on production methods for mining and refining in a low or no gravity and vacuum environment.
 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: SandySandfort on July 20, 2011, 08:49:39 am
Bova's Dan Randolph stories depict one way to start space based mining, processing and manufacturing.  There was another series that depicted space mining etc., but I don't remember the titles or author.  it was identified in one of the earlier threads.
...
Swiss cheese for a memory these days.

I have a book here by John S. Lewis, called Mining the Sky. It is pretty good from a technical perspective, but way too statist for my taste. Lewis just assumes that, "of course," the government will do it all.  Good book, though, if you are interested in the what, where and when, and not so much the who.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Ike on July 20, 2011, 10:07:52 am
As far as Lunar mining and settlement, the rarest item will be nitrogen for the 'air' in the Lunar habitats.  I haven't found any research or recon work that gives nitrogen in any form as a component of the lunar soil and nothing in the rocks that Apollo returned give any indications either.  Most of the rest of essentials are either already there or producible from human waste via bacterial action:  water, methane, carbon dioxide, and a sludge useful as fertilizer for hydroponic farming.  Metals?  Titainium, aluminium, iron all in the surface regolith and highland rock, along with silicon and calcium.  Some chemical engineering and perhaps some selective breeding/gene splicing in bacteria would give us the rest, include ethane (important base stock for plastics).   Problem with production of nitrogen from human (and/or animal) wastes is that if you do that, you lose the nitrogen as fertilizer.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: ContraryGuy on July 20, 2011, 10:18:54 am
An elevator would help get start-up materials into place and return finished goods.  Elevators on earth and the moon could also be used as launching stations.  Will Elevators and Rail-guns be possible in the near future?  Don't know enough about current technology to guess.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn elevators will be easier with space based manufacturing.  Clark wrote a book depicting the equipment development needed and the building of an orbital elevator.

Bova's Dan Randolph stories depict one way to start space based mining, processing and manufacturing.  There was another series that depicted space mining etc., but I don't remember the titles or author.  it was identified in one of the earlier threads.  Another book a few years ago depicted the development of inexpensive vertical take off and landing heavy lift ships.  A prototype was tested at White Sand Missile Range about 10 years ago.

Swiss cheese for a memory these days.

I think you are talking about the DCX, the Delta Clipper Experimental.  The prototype worked fine on a tether, but had problem when free flying.  Then of course, funding was cut, McDonnell-Douglas went out of business(largely due to incompetent and mis-management.  I'm sure glad those same managers are now running Boeing. Not!)

There is an old book, whose name I have inconveniently forgotten, that details the early ideas for post-Saturn 5 rockets and heavy lift vehicles.  Including prototypes of the shuttle.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 20, 2011, 10:21:53 am
Lewis just assumes that, "of course," the government will do it all.
Given the multi-billion dollar cost of the Apollo program, and the long delays between investment and payoff, this was pretty much a routine assumption in those days. Space exploration - and even space exploitation - seemed doomed to be a "public good" for a long time to come.

Of course, with advances in technology bringing down the cost of space travel, and other advances increasing human wealth, the gap keeps decreasing - and so, today, we see the early beginnings of private-sector space participation. But governments would still be bigger than even the largest businesses (IBM, Bell Telephones) and so naturally they would do it first - and doing it as early as humanly possible was, of course, automatically assumed to be vital in the Cold War context of the times.

So if the book is statist, it isn't so much because Lewis is statist, but because the book is dated.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: SandySandfort on July 20, 2011, 12:45:05 pm
So if the book is statist, it isn't so much because Lewis is statist, but because the book is dated.

You might be right. Its copywrite date is 1996. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in the last 15 years.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 20, 2011, 01:32:24 pm
You might be right. Its copywrite date is 1996. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in the last 15 years.
True, but I'll admit I would have been a lot likelier to be right if the copyright date had been, oh, say, 1972 or thereabouts.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: paddyfool on July 20, 2011, 01:41:59 pm
So, to be really crude in summing up how I see it:

Main technological advances that would probably be necessary:
- Finding a way to get sufficient starting kit into space affordably (efficient heavy lifters and/or a space elevator).  
- Development of self-sustaining space habitats.

Other things that will almost certainly happen first:
- Colonising and mining the moon, colonising Lagrange points, mining NEOs.

Other things that may well happen first:
- Colonising Mars.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: ContraryGuy on July 21, 2011, 08:50:57 am
The news coverage of the Dawn spacecraft reaching Vesta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_(spacecraft)) got me thinking about how real-world asteroid mining might get started.  Currently, based on this spaceship, travel to the Belt takes a few years.  Is this likely to be enough of an obstacle for the first space mining operations to be more likely to take place on the Moon and/or on Near-Earth Objects, or are the rewards available there not sufficiently valuable?  Would initial operations involve shipping select chunks of asteroid back near to a facility in Earth orbit or at a Lagrange point for processing, or would there be more on site processing to minimise the amount of mass to shift?  How big an obstacle is the development of new smelting, forging and other more subtle processing techniques for use in low-to-zero G and a vacuum?  How difficult would it be to make more advanced tech in such circumstances, from communications satellites to space habitats?

And how much, ultimately, might Dawn tell us about what material of value may be found on Vesta and Ceres?

Any thoughts?

What would it take? It will take a combination of governmental goodwill and/or money and investment from private industry.
At this point in time, it appears that the only people in space capable of doing this kind of thing would be the Chinese.

No AnCap society would be capable of doing this for the same reason the US is incapable of doing this:  People dont want it.
It doesnt matter that the spin-offs from the frist 30 years of space flight have given us most of our modern society, people are just too dumb to understand the benefits of space-flight/exploration/colonization/exploitation.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 21, 2011, 07:21:00 pm
It doesnt matter that the spin-offs from the frist 30 years of space flight have given us most of our modern society, people are just too dumb to understand the benefits of space-flight/exploration/colonization/exploitation.
It isn't that people are dumb.

It's that these benefits usually fit the "public goods" model or the "government project" model - either it's hard to monetize the benefits, or the timescale for return on investment, and the magnitude of the investment required, are just too big.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: dough560 on July 23, 2011, 12:16:16 am
History or Technological History is not something a lot of people are interested in studying.  Never mind the equipment we're using to carry on this conversation, would not exist without the space program.  Never mind the changes in our furniture, homes, medicine, vehicles....  all from the space programs. 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on July 23, 2011, 10:56:23 am
History or Technological History is not something a lot of people are interested in studying.  Never mind the equipment we're using to carry on this conversation, would not exist without the space program.  Never mind the changes in our furniture, homes, medicine, vehicles....  all from the space programs. 

I liked the space program and I did what I could to lobby for it until it was obviously a lost cause. But you are stating a fallacy.

Your claim is exactly like saying that when the government does an immunization program, there would have been an epidemic unless the government had done that, that there was no other way to get people immunized.

It's like saying that without the government-run Post Office there would be no way to deliver mail or parcels.

Things that the space program used *did* have a significant effect on the civilian society. But how many of them would have been developed anyway? We have no way to tell. How many useful things that in fact did not get developed, would have come into use if the space program had not diverted resources away from them? Again, we have no way to know.

The space program was a great thing, but it doesn't help at this point to inflate the claims. As one of my old teachers said, "We put a lot of money into NASA and then we get some great spinoffs. But let's instead put a lot of money into research, and then run NASA off the spinoffs."

It might have worked. If NASA had been first-to-market with a significant fraction of the products that get attributed to it, they might have significant funding today.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 23, 2011, 06:35:36 pm
I liked the space program and I did what I could to lobby for it until it was obviously a lost cause. But you are stating a fallacy.
That's true enough.

But there was a bigger fallacy lying closer to his main point.

Simply because people were saved from an epidemic by an immunization campaign, does it follow that something must be wrong with them because a movie about a heroic doctor carrying out an immunization campaign... does poorly at the box office, compared to more trivial entertainment that provides immediate gratification?

If people don't share my feelings towards space exploration, I am not going to curse them for being ungrateful for Tang.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Plane on July 23, 2011, 06:37:41 pm
http://www.windstream.net/news/read.php?ps=1018&rip_id=%3CD9OLDE280%40news.ap.org%3E&news_id=18702093&src=most_popular_viewed&page=1


Quote
With the space shuttle now history, NASA's next great mission is so audacious, the agency's best minds are wrestling with how to pull it off: Send astronauts to an asteroid in less than 15 years.

The challenges are innumerable. Some old-timers are grousing about it, saying going back to the moon makes more sense. But many NASA brains are thrilled to have such an improbable assignment.

And NASA leaders say civilization may depend on it.

An asteroid is a giant space rock that orbits the sun, like Earth. And someday one might threaten the planet.

But sending people to one won't be easy. You can't land on an asteroid because you'd bounce off it has virtually no gravity. Reaching it might require a NASA spacecraft to harpoon it. Heck, astronauts couldn't even walk on it because they'd float away.



  Here is a good reason to visit asteroids they are dangerous and we might need to redirect one just to forstall collision.

     While developing this abity,  we might as well explore and mine as well.

    This is the most practical "need " for space travel I know of, perhaps compelling enough to gain widespread support, otherwise there is just nothing on  any heavenly body that is worth the expense of going t o get it right now.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: paddyfool on July 24, 2011, 03:46:17 pm
Alongside that defensive need, of course, is the threat that anybody mining NEOs or the moon could also potentially weaponise them against the Earth's inhabitants.  (Although I've heard that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress may have overstated this capability).  Not sure quite what failsafes would be needed to prevent this, short of orbital weapons platforms (which are similarly problematic in themselves, even if their ordinance were somehow designed to be useless if pointed through an atmosphere).
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Larry G on July 25, 2011, 10:52:04 am
As far as Lunar mining and settlement, the rarest item will be nitrogen for the 'air' in the Lunar habitats.  I haven't found any research or recon work that gives nitrogen in any form as a component of the lunar soil and nothing in the rocks that Apollo returned give any indications either. 
That doesn't say that Nitrogen is non existent on the moon, just that it isn't where we have looked.
After all we only sampled the surface in a few places down to a depth of a few feet.  Solar heating over the last 2 billion years could have cooked off the Nitrogen on the surface to a depth of several yards, due to the turnover of surface material from the action of Meteor strikes (since it doesn't bind easily to many elements besides Carbon and Hydrogen).  And I suspect that solar/cosmic radiation would convert a lot of the out-gassed Nitrogen to Carbon 14 which decays naturally into Carbon 13.
I think that if Nitrogen is to be found on the moon, it would be locked up in fossil ice deep in the moon and in the ice at the south pole.
The proof would be going there and finding out.
Argon and other gasses have been used successfully used as a Nitrogen substitute in atmosphere mixes but we need Nitrogen for organic processes to build cells.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Killydd on July 25, 2011, 11:21:51 am


The space program was a great thing, but it doesn't help at this point to inflate the claims. As one of my old teachers said, "We put a lot of money into NASA and then we get some great spinoffs. But let's instead put a lot of money into research, and then run NASA off the spinoffs."

It might have worked. If NASA had been first-to-market with a significant fraction of the products that get attributed to it, they might have significant funding today.


It's been done.  We called it Bell Labs.  Well, at least after the anti-monopolists split Ma Bell up. 

Alongside that defensive need, of course, is the threat that anybody mining NEOs or the moon could also potentially weaponise them against the Earth's inhabitants.  (Although I've heard that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress may have overstated this capability).  Not sure quite what failsafes would be needed to prevent this, short of orbital weapons platforms (which are similarly problematic in themselves, even if their ordinance were somehow designed to be useless if pointed through an atmosphere).

There really aren't any failsafes possible  Any technology capable of steering an asteroid to miss the Earth is equally capable of causing it to hit a particular point on the Earth.  I'm sure there are people out there who would like to see Meteor Crater superimposed on NYC, or Jerusalem, or Mecca. 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on July 25, 2011, 01:37:50 pm


The space program was a great thing, but it doesn't help at this point to inflate the claims. As one of my old teachers said, "We put a lot of money into NASA and then we get some great spinoffs. But let's instead put a lot of money into research, and then run NASA off the spinoffs."

It might have worked. If NASA had been first-to-market with a significant fraction of the products that get attributed to it, they might have significant funding today.


It's been done.  We called it Bell Labs.  Well, at least after the anti-monopolists split Ma Bell up. 

Well, but the money didn't go to fund space research. So it was wasted that way.

Quote
Alongside that defensive need, of course, is the threat that anybody mining NEOs or the moon could also potentially weaponise them against the Earth's inhabitants.  (Although I've heard that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress may have overstated this capability).  Not sure quite what failsafes would be needed to prevent this, short of orbital weapons platforms (which are similarly problematic in themselves, even if their ordinance were somehow designed to be useless if pointed through an atmosphere).

There really aren't any failsafes possible  Any technology capable of steering an asteroid to miss the Earth is equally capable of causing it to hit a particular point on the Earth.  I'm sure there are people out there who would like to see Meteor Crater superimposed on NYC, or Jerusalem, or Mecca. 

Yes, when you give power to human beings you have to assume they will not always use it wisely. So, are we more likely to get a giant meteor strike on Terra when it might happen by accident, or when people know how to prevent it and how to make it happen?

The last big meteor strike I've heard of, was the hypothetical one that probably made the Carolina Bays around 40,000 years ago.

If we had that technology, what's the chance we'd go 40,000 years without using it to win a war?
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: paddyfool on July 25, 2011, 03:12:59 pm
Yes, when you give power to human beings you have to assume they will not always use it wisely. So, are we more likely to get a giant meteor strike on Terra when it might happen by accident, or when people know how to prevent it and how to make it happen?

The last big meteor strike I've heard of, was the hypothetical one that probably made the Carolina Bays around 40,000 years ago.

If we had that technology, what's the chance we'd go 40,000 years without using it to win a war?

Valid argument, but it does somewhat depend what you define as "big".  The Tunguska event was only 103 years ago, and involved an explosion, "believed to be caused by the air burst of a large meteoroid or comet fragment at an altitude of 510 kilometres (36 mi) above the Earth's surface" (according to Wikipedia), with an impact about 1000 times the size of that of the Hiroshima bomb.  Which wouldn't wipe anything but the smallest of countries off the map, but could take out a city.  Demonstrating the capacity to do that kind of damage would be enough to win a war, if you could realistically threaten a repeat performance and the opponent had no capability for an equivalent reprisal.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 25, 2011, 09:36:33 pm
The last big meteor strike I've heard of, was the hypothetical one that probably made the Carolina Bays around 40,000 years ago.

If we had that technology, what's the chance we'd go 40,000 years without using it to win a war?
That makes sense, but wouldn't losing a war be a big disaster too?

The problem isn't us having the technology, it's the other fellow getting their hands on the technology.

So if the U.S.A., Britain, and France had and maintained a permanent monopoly of atomic weapons and space travel, what could possibly go wrong?
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on July 25, 2011, 09:55:28 pm
Yes, when you give power to human beings you have to assume they will not always use it wisely. So, are we more likely to get a giant meteor strike on Terra when it might happen by accident, or when people know how to prevent it and how to make it happen?

The last big meteor strike I've heard of, was the hypothetical one that probably made the Carolina Bays around 40,000 years ago.

If we had that technology, what's the chance we'd go 40,000 years without using it to win a war?

Valid argument, but it does somewhat depend what you define as "big".  The Tunguska event was only 103 years ago, and involved an explosion, "believed to be caused by the air burst of a large meteoroid or comet fragment at an altitude of 510 kilometres (36 mi) above the Earth's surface" (according to Wikipedia), with an impact about 1000 times the size of that of the Hiroshima bomb.  Which wouldn't wipe anything but the smallest of countries off the map, but could take out a city.

If the carolina bays came from a comet etc strike, there were half a million or so strikes that probably would have taken out just about everything from Baltimore to Savanna and points west. There would presumably have been lots of effects other places from all that, and the fact that such effects don't stand out a whole lot is one reason to think it was something else happening.

Quote
Demonstrating the capacity to do that kind of damage would be enough to win a war, if you could realistically threaten a repeat performance and the opponent had no capability for an equivalent reprisal.

If we could do that sort of thing to each other, probably we would go through with it every now and then. Say, every few hundred years. Like a great big cheap nuclear war, without the radioactivity. That would be a whole lot worse than the chance it happens by accident once every 40,000 years.

But then, if we had that technology, then within much less than 300 years we'd surely have newer technology which was a whole lot more devastating.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Plane on July 26, 2011, 11:21:43 pm
   The technology to lift heavy loads into space is already developed,the technology to live in space is developed, but the cost is realy high and only a few uses of space can pay back right now.

    I think a key technology that could be developed soon is the stronger cables needed to erect a "beanstalk" or space elevator. The space elevator would make lifting tonns of materiel much cheaper and lifting persons much safer.

    Present technology doesn't produce cable nearly strong enough to bear its own weight over this verticle length , but the possibility is tantilisingly near.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Damocles on July 27, 2011, 04:38:22 am
Why do humans need to be in the picture?

This applies to both the recent changes at NASA and to the original topic of asteroid mining. 

For the latter, it would be much more efficient to use an entirely AI-driven robotic mining system: picture a self-repairing and self-sustaining roving refinery to conduct the mining, which then sends back refined products via a mass accelerator.  You only need to plan a one-way ticket for the hardware, no squishy humans to protect or life-support to worry about, not to mention the expense of sending and retrieving personnel.  The technology required to achieve this would be an extrapolation of many systems currently available or under development.

With respect to NASA, I was quite persuaded by the argument that space exploration using robotic probes was more efficient and cost-effective than manned space flight.  I just hope that the shift to unmanned space exploration doesn't reduce research into sustainable off-world habitats, as the technological solutions that this research will yield could also be used to solve or mitigate environmental problems on Earth. 

That being said, I have always thought that investing in the exploration and colonization of the ocean floors was a wiser resource allocation than spaceflight, but that is a whole other topic...
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 27, 2011, 05:09:00 am
That being said, I have always thought that investing in the exploration and colonization of the ocean floors was a wiser resource allocation than spaceflight, but that is a whole other topic...
Given that Earth is a crowded neighborhood, spaceflight, unlike going to the ocean floor, is a way to go where Russia and China might not be able to bother you for a while.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Ike on July 27, 2011, 09:12:44 am
As far as Lunar mining and settlement, the rarest item will be nitrogen for the 'air' in the Lunar habitats.  I haven't found any research or recon work that gives nitrogen in any form as a component of the lunar soil and nothing in the rocks that Apollo returned give any indications either. 
That doesn't say that Nitrogen is non existent on the moon, just that it isn't where we have looked.
After all we only sampled the surface in a few places down to a depth of a few feet.  Solar heating over the last 2 billion years could have cooked off the Nitrogen on the surface to a depth of several yards, due to the turnover of surface material from the action of Meteor strikes (since it doesn't bind easily to many elements besides Carbon and Hydrogen).  And I suspect that solar/cosmic radiation would convert a lot of the out-gassed Nitrogen to Carbon 14 which decays naturally into Carbon 13.
I think that if Nitrogen is to be found on the moon, it would be locked up in fossil ice deep in the moon and in the ice at the south pole.
The proof would be going there and finding out.
Argon and other gasses have been used successfully used as a Nitrogen substitute in atmosphere mixes but we need Nitrogen for organic processes to build cells.

Good and valid points, but we would need Nitrogen for growing food; argon wouldn't be an acceptable substitute for nitrogen.  Settlement with resource production in Luna, making air, water and food available for construction projects at L4/5 - wherever - as well as for expeditions to Mars, the Belt, Jovan moons ... Outward Bound!  But, all that requires a source of construction materials and consumables which don't cost a delta-vee of 10 km/sec (or thereabouts) for delivery.  Tailored bacteria, chemical engineering .. in short, human inventiveness and work, can produce all or nearly all of the requirements given a population of settlers in Luna, not just a handful of rock collectors and photo-snappers.  Perhaps someone ought to imitate the early English and Dutch settlers and form a joint stock association with the goal of moving its shareholders and their families to Luna ... good story idea and I'm writing the story.  :)
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Thaago on July 27, 2011, 10:32:26 am
So far no one (that I have seen with a quick read through) has mentioned helium-3, which is present in relative abundance in lunar soil. It is a promising fuel for stage 2 fusion not particularly available on earth, and has already been recognized as an economic incentive for lunar development.

I feel the largest challenges to asteroid mining at present is demand; the earth has plenty of material left to dig up, and for less cost. If there existed a population already off earth however, mining (for water, nitrogen, iron, etc) would be much more efficient than shipping up against the well. (A nice delta-v budget map can be found at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c9/Deltavs.svg/500px-Deltavs.svg.png although it does not include the asteroids). Of course, asteroid mining rather than local mining (on the moon or mars for example), again would depend on the relative abundance of materials and demand.

So my thoughts on how we start: we would require a large population already in space, possibly starting from the moon and expanding to Mars, Europa, etc. The L4/5 transfer points would probably have the most demand for asteroid mining as they have no native material to speak of.

As to crashing asteroids on the earth: it all depends on the launching point and the number of available ships for intercept. The nice thing about space is that its empty, so with a good telescope network those on earth could detect an asteroid changing course very quickly and launch a response. If launched via catapult on the moon ala The Moon is a Harsh Mistress the transit time would be quick - perhaps too quick for an intercept. From the belt though? Even for a massive lift rocket, it would still be en route for months.

Anywho, thats my thoughts. Cheers!
Thaago
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Killydd on July 27, 2011, 12:06:28 pm
So far no one (that I have seen with a quick read through) has mentioned helium-3, which is present in relative abundance in lunar soil. It is a promising fuel for stage 2 fusion not particularly available on earth, and has already been recognized as an economic incentive for lunar development.

I feel the largest challenges to asteroid mining at present is demand; the earth has plenty of material left to dig up, and for less cost. If there existed a population already off earth however, mining (for water, nitrogen, iron, etc) would be much more efficient than shipping up against the well. (A nice delta-v budget map can be found at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c9/Deltavs.svg/500px-Deltavs.svg.png although it does not include the asteroids). Of course, asteroid mining rather than local mining (on the moon or mars for example), again would depend on the relative abundance of materials and demand.

So my thoughts on how we start: we would require a large population already in space, possibly starting from the moon and expanding to Mars, Europa, etc. The L4/5 transfer points would probably have the most demand for asteroid mining as they have no native material to speak of.

As to crashing asteroids on the earth: it all depends on the launching point and the number of available ships for intercept. The nice thing about space is that its empty, so with a good telescope network those on earth could detect an asteroid changing course very quickly and launch a response. If launched via catapult on the moon ala The Moon is a Harsh Mistress the transit time would be quick - perhaps too quick for an intercept. From the belt though? Even for a massive lift rocket, it would still be en route for months.

Anywho, thats my thoughts. Cheers!
Thaago

Well, He-3 is, as you mention, not particularly useful yet.  Raw materials for unproven technologies just aren't worth retrieving if we have any meaningful local source.

As for demand, unfortunately the only economic incentive for creating a colony is to get products back to earth, whether raw material or finished products that can be made more effectively in microgravity. 

As for crashing asteroids:  Unfortunately space is also BIG.  We don't have anywhere near the telescope network that would be required to tackle this problem.  Right now there is no completion date for cataloging NEOs only what percentage will be located by certain dates. 

Why do humans need to be in the picture?

This applies to both the recent changes at NASA and to the original topic of asteroid mining. 

For the latter, it would be much more efficient to use an entirely AI-driven robotic mining system: picture a self-repairing and self-sustaining roving refinery to conduct the mining, which then sends back refined products via a mass accelerator.  You only need to plan a one-way ticket for the hardware, no squishy humans to protect or life-support to worry about, not to mention the expense of sending and retrieving personnel.  The technology required to achieve this would be an extrapolation of many systems currently available or under development.

With respect to NASA, I was quite persuaded by the argument that space exploration using robotic probes was more efficient and cost-effective than manned space flight.  I just hope that the shift to unmanned space exploration doesn't reduce research into sustainable off-world habitats, as the technological solutions that this research will yield could also be used to solve or mitigate environmental problems on Earth. 

That being said, I have always thought that investing in the exploration and colonization of the ocean floors was a wiser resource allocation than spaceflight, but that is a whole other topic...

The real reason for humans to be in the picture is to have a repair tech without an hour long communications delay.  ROVs are certainly getting capable of excellent manipulation, but right now, if something goes wrong with a probe, the only choice is to switch over to a complete backup system, which is unfortunately heavy. 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on July 27, 2011, 01:22:06 pm

For the latter, it would be much more efficient to use an entirely AI-driven robotic mining system: picture a self-repairing and self-sustaining roving refinery to conduct the mining, which then sends back refined products via a mass accelerator. 

The way I picture that, the system sends back stuff until it breaks down beyond repair. Then you decide whether it was profitable or not. By that time you've improved the lab-bench reliability of all the parts, so unless it was real bad you try again.

The problem comes if it breaks down in ways that cause trouble. Maybe the mass driver starts bombing Terra. Or it sends stuff that breaks apart in orbit, causing millions of obstacles that might collide with anything else in orbit. Or something worse.

Like John Gall said, "The way a fail-safe system fails, is by failing to fail safe."
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: sam on July 27, 2011, 05:41:18 pm
I feel the largest challenges to asteroid mining at present is demand; the earth has plenty of material left to dig up, and for less cost. If there existed a population already off earth however, mining (for water, nitrogen, iron, etc) would be much more efficient than shipping up against the well.

People did not settle North America to send resources back to Europe.  They settled North America to get away from war and oppression, and that is likely the reason we shall settle space.

Settling space will be a lot easier when one can put one's entire industrial base in a laptop, when a threedee printer can manufacture just about anything (some assembly required)
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Ike on July 27, 2011, 07:59:26 pm
The reason humans need to be there - rather than remotely operated or AI-controlled machinery only - is because, pound for pound (kilos if you like them better :) ) humans are the most flexible tools that can be used in exploring and developing the resources in space.  Now, that said, remotely-operated machinery on the moon - dozers, rock crushers, metal refining and smelting facilities just for three - might best be operated remotely but with humans on standby to "file to fit, bash to fix and paint to hide" when the machinery breaks down and when it encounters unexpected situations on site.  Machinery always breaks down in ways which cause trouble and are unexpected as well.  See Murphy's Corolary to Finagle's Law.  He3 is too far in the future; production of materials for use in building ships for travel to and use in, on or around the Belt, Mars, Jovan moons, etc is going to be the ticket.  China, India, Japan and probably others - not the U.S. as nobody who goes into space votes for Democrats or RINOs - will be establishing Lunar colonies and, given the paucity of resources there and relative abundance of resources on Mars - as well as the much lower of getting to Mars from, say, L4 rather than dirtside - will give a Lunar settlement customers for metals and consumables for a long time.  And there is a good likelihood of getting "3D printing" heads that will be able to handle metals in the not too distant future.  It is a coming thing, so long as the idiots in Washington stay out of it.

Besides, we can try again in Luna with the idea of limited government and maybe achieve more freedom that will last longer than this time around.  And here's another reason:  I, for one, would like to be able to walk outside my pressurized habitat onto the Lunar surface and look up at the face of the Earth shining in the 'sky' and know that what we are doing there is real and important and not likely to be stolen by the whim of some candyasses whose notion of their happiness includes lording it over their fellow humans.  Yeah, I suppose I'm a romantic.  Too many Heinlein novels and not enough of the "Game of Thrones", I would guess.  :-*
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: wdg3rd on July 27, 2011, 09:45:49 pm
Why do humans need to be in the picture?

This applies to both the recent changes at NASA and to the original topic of asteroid mining. 

For the latter, it would be much more efficient to use an entirely AI-driven robotic mining system: picture a self-repairing and self-sustaining roving refinery to conduct the mining, which then sends back refined products via a mass accelerator.  You only need to plan a one-way ticket for the hardware, no squishy humans to protect or life-support to worry about, not to mention the expense of sending and retrieving personnel.  The technology required to achieve this would be an extrapolation of many systems currently available or under development.

I assume you're happy listening to a tape of your significant other and a vibrator while you sit in a mudhole.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on July 28, 2011, 12:30:09 am
People did not settle North America to send resources back to Europe.  They settled North America to get away from war and oppression, and that is likely the reason we shall settle space.
True enough. If the goal is simply to study the planets, machines are more cost-effective. To harvest the asteroids for Earth's benefit may also be doable with machines, although that is much harder. But we want to send people into space so that people will someday be living elsewhere than just on Earth.

Some will say that this is giving up on solving our Earthly problems. But that fails to take into account the long term. Every human that exists living on Earth is like every human that exists living in Pompeii. Someday, there will be a disaster. If people are spread out more, it will take a bigger disaster.

But the other half is - who pays? If going into space costs Apollo-sized budgets, individuals won't be going into space to benefit themselves. It will be to benefit Earth.

So for the U.S. to colonize Mars to ensure its democratic political system survives troubles on Earth - that I see as plausible in the present context. Maybe someday, the technology of space travel will improve - but not at Moore's Law rates.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on July 28, 2011, 06:57:59 am

But the other half is - who pays? If going into space costs Apollo-sized budgets, individuals won't be going into space to benefit themselves. It will be to benefit Earth.

So for the U.S. to colonize Mars to ensure its democratic political system survives troubles on Earth - that I see as plausible in the present context. Maybe someday, the technology of space travel will improve - but not at Moore's Law rates.

Currently, it takes a whole lot of energy to move anything out of earth's gravity well. And that energy gets more expensive every year.

When we get cheap energy we can do significant space efforts.

The USA is in no position to colonize Mars with humans for any reason, at present. We don't have the resources, and particularly we don't have the consensus. Nobody else has that either just now.

We might in somewhat beyond the foreseeable future, send complicated nano stuff into space, and it might assemble most of the things that people would need. Not nearly as expensive to send just naked people, compared to people plus everything they depend on.

Or by the time we get that sort of nano stuff working, we might have cheap energy.

Or a third way -- without cheap energy, we'll probably settle into a routine where almost everybody is a peasant but a very few rich people pretty much own the world. And those few might decide to devote whatever resources it takes to get into space. If you can't heat your hovel in the winter, what do they care? They're going to the stars! And they'll surely take some servants with them, so you might get to go too.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Thaago on July 28, 2011, 11:01:49 am


As for crashing asteroids:  Unfortunately space is also BIG.  We don't have anywhere near the telescope network that would be required to tackle this problem.  Right now there is no completion date for cataloging NEOs only what percentage will be located by certain dates. 


You are quite correct, let me clarify. IF there was asteroid mining and the possibility of a state or terrorist group smacking an asteroid or comet into earth, then there would be ample incentive for a group (be it states or private security firms) to fund a comprehensive sky scan. It is within our current technology, if not infrastructure, and is much easier and probably cheaper to implement than countermeasures to nuclear devices (I really don't know if there are any effective countermeasures to an ICBM, I'm not an expert).

Yes we don't have the network to do so yet, but its a lot closer than asteroid mining, thats for sure!  ;D

As for H3 fusion... I'll get back to you in a decade or so when the results from ITER are in. I worked in the plasma/fusion field for a little while as a researcher and the technology is coming along... slowly. With a few breakthroughs fusion plants could be being commissioned in 30 years (no exaggeration, perhaps even too cautious). With the slow progress currently being made, maybe 50 years (I know its depressing).


Cheers,
Thaago

Edit: I just saw this on the news: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14307987
Don't know if its suitable for mining, but it certainly is interesting.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: dough560 on July 29, 2011, 03:18:28 am
I wonder how long it would take without government involvement in the research? 
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on July 29, 2011, 06:01:43 am
I wonder how long it would take without government involvement in the research? 

There would probably be less money available. On the other hand, there would be less concern for secrecy to protect bomb-making trade secrets.

It might be a wash.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: dough560 on July 30, 2011, 12:58:58 am
Want to bet, what ever comes out of the program costs less and has wider acceptance?
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: sam on August 02, 2011, 08:30:31 pm
Perhaps someone ought to imitate the early English and Dutch settlers and form a joint stock association with the goal of moving its shareholders and their families to Luna ... good story idea and I'm writing the story.  :)
This will be a lot easier with advanced 3D printers.  You are going to need to transport a complete industrial and technological base to Luna.

The early American settlers could transport their entire industrial base as a master blacksmith, a master carpenter and their tools, plus a couple of specialty skills like wainwrights.  Recall that Cortez was able to make gunpowder, ships, and so forth, using the resources of his early copper age, pre wheel, allies.

When the Aztecs figured out that whether or not Cortez was an emissary of Christ/Quetzalcoatl, he was a brigand from a society with technology more advanced than their own, they attempted to adopt his technology, and were able to make a start on it.  Cortez's Indian allies, under white supervision, were able to make quite a lot of stuff at Cortez's technological level.  I am in a tropical paradise right now, and there is not much I can make at twenty first century level.  Today, it is a lot harder to move your technological base.

Unfortunately, with electronics, we are heading in the worse direction, with chip fabs getting ever bigger and more expensive.  Molecular electronics may reverse this trend, with circuits being constructed by a printer with an extremely small printhead capable of delivering a single very large molecule in a particular position and orientation.  When all the big molecules are lined up in the correct position, you then put them in a reactive bath, like developing film, to irreversibly link them up, and an electric circuit results.

It will then be possible to print equipment and print the electronics to operate it.  Then we can settle the moon.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: Apollo-Soyuz on August 03, 2011, 12:21:53 am
Did you know that rocks and stuff can orbit a Lagrangian point? It looks like they've found a rock recently that is a Trojan to earth (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43914196/ns/technology_and_science-space/)


The L4/5 transfer points would probably have the most demand for asteroid mining as they have no native material to speak of.

Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: UncleRice on August 03, 2011, 11:11:41 am
As I see it, the true goal of the US space program, the ICBM and the spy satellite, has been achieved, so travelling into space will have to become monetarily profitable if much of any of it is going to happen. The single biggest cost currently is the fuel it takes to get there. Find a cheap way into space, whether it is some nuclear engine or some artificial worm hole that will send you a thousand miles or more up, and all the other technical issues will be small potatoes.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: J Thomas on August 03, 2011, 12:47:20 pm

Unfortunately, with electronics, we are heading in the worse direction, with chip fabs getting ever bigger and more expensive.

To a large extent we do that because we can. Consumer electronics consumers have little idea what they're buying, and consumer software substitutes raw power for everything else except artistic imagination.

We might easily build tiny chips that don't make much heat, that do more limited tasks incredibly fast. That could be packaged "like a wide spot on the cable". We don't, because we choose not to.

And we could scale up those tiny chips to ten thousand times the size, and one hundredth the speed, and one thousandth the fixed cost, but there is no market.

It doesn't have to be this way. Maybe in coming decades it won't be.
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: quadibloc on August 04, 2011, 08:39:39 am
We might easily build tiny chips that don't make much heat, that do more limited tasks incredibly fast. That could be packaged "like a wide spot on the cable". We don't, because we choose not to.
Well, small and low-power chips do exist for various applications.

Microsoft chose not to continue making Windows 3.1 available, and so people have had to buy larger and more powerful microprocessors, instead of smaller and cheaper ones with the same power, to have desktop computers that can run current applications. Windows 3.1 could run in 2 megabytes; to use the X Window system, even with fvwm and an old version of Linux, took 16 megabytes.

I guess we could choose to use computers like the original Asus Eee, for example. But while the current situation is the result of choice, it's choice in a marketplace where what is available and what everyone else is using strongly constrains the choices of individuals - it's not where people are individually choosing the current kind of computer, from an assortment of equally viable alternatives, as the best kind of computer for them.

Thanks to viruses on the Internet, people can't even opt for the strategy "I've got Windows 98, I can play DVDs on my computer, who needs to upgrade".
Title: Re: Real life asteroid mining: how might we start?
Post by: gemcat on August 07, 2011, 02:09:28 pm
In a word, small. The chief value of materials in space is their location. Many kinds of materials may be discovered in space but there are two common materials - nickle-iron and rock like material. Refining is not necessary since there was no atmosphere to produce what we call ore. Both these materials can be used by application of heat and manipulation. Not only that there is material in L5 that could be used. All you have to do is get a robot out there, lease some telemetry (from the GBT for example), and start fabricating stuff. For simplicity I recommend making the nickle-iron into wire and pulverizing the rock. Structures of all kinds can be woven from wire and electro-coated with rock dust. The materials can be heat fused in layers to produce solid walls. Machines already perform these functions on earth, you just have to miniaturize them for transport. Even if you cannot do high-tech you can ship microchips cheaper than mining equipment and your robots can build larger bodies when appropriate. Let the rich guys build space ships - we could have space habitats ready when they arrive. This kind of operation would not cost billions. Maybe there are enough people right here to fund it. You could begin with a prize for a team of robots that can assemble a plastic model. How much fun is that!