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.  :)

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
3

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. 

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."

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)

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.  :-*
« Last Edit: July 27, 2011, 08:01:14 pm by Ike »

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.
Ward Griffiths        wdg3rd@aol.com

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.  --  Denis Diderot

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.

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.

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.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2011, 02:08:11 pm by Thaago »
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dough560 on July 29, 2011, 03:18:28 am
I wonder how long it would take without government involvement in the research? 

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.

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?

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.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2011, 08:45:04 pm by sam »

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


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


 

anything