paddyfool on July 18, 2011, 07:13:48 am
The news coverage of the Dawn spacecraft reaching Vesta 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?

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. 

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

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. 

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.

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.

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.
 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

ContraryGuy on July 21, 2011, 08:50:57 am
The news coverage of the Dawn spacecraft reaching Vesta 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.