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Asteroid Mining - In the next ten years?

Posted by: Pete - Mon Sep 20, 2004 3:55 am
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Asteroid Mining - In the next ten years? 
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Post Asteroid Mining - In the next ten years?   Posted on: Mon Sep 20, 2004 3:55 am
I've spent a couple of hours searching for an appropriate thread to add my this question to, but couldn't find one.

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/business/asteroid_mining_000210.html

So. It seems SpaceDev is making real moves towards making asteroid mining a reality. However:

Quote:
NorCat has teamed up with SpaceDev to drill for ice in the core of a burned-out comet. Asked when such a mission will take place, Lake says "it probably won’t happen for another 10 to 20 years."


Could anything be done to make it happen earlier than this?

Could a private enterprise send a probe to a near-Earth asteroid (custom picked for mining) within four years, have landed mining equipment within seven and have the valuable minerals back here within ten?

Or am I dreaming? A common habit of mine when thinking about space...


Last edited by Pete on Tue Sep 28, 2004 11:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Mon Sep 20, 2004 9:39 am
One thing can be answered without searching for further informations:

Earlier this year an asteroid has passed earth by a distance of 43.000 km only and the XPRIZE CUP is including a competition for altitude.

Latest that time a CUP-team will reach GEO-distance mining of asteroids passing closer than 70.000 km will become interesting. Only problem to solve - the return to earth from the increasing distance of the asteroid.

...

The time to wait depends on the rates of the altitude increase by the CUPs. Wait for the experiences concerning that.



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Post    Posted on: Mon Sep 20, 2004 11:03 pm
Not going to happen until you get nuclear propulsion (and no, not Orion). Too expensive otherwise.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Sep 21, 2004 12:33 am
a) asteroid mining will be unmanned as far as we can tell in the forseeable future. this means all you need is something to extract the minerals, something to get them home, something to communicate with home, and an energy source. there may be manned research expeditions (heart of the comet-esque maybe), but no manned mining.

b) until manned mining becomes both feasible and practical, mass driver/catcher will be the way to go for getting the material back, making chemical driven asteroid mining possible.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Sep 21, 2004 7:22 am
Unmanned mining is a very good initial step. That might be an incentive for the competition for unmanned private spacecrafts like that of the Civilian Space Exploration Team.

Concerning manned mining I'll try to think of the economical break-even-points it will become profitable or necessary at.



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Last edited by Ekkehard Augustin on Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:28 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Tue Sep 21, 2004 9:47 pm
Quote:
a) asteroid mining will be unmanned as far as we can tell in the forseeable future. this means all you need is something to extract the minerals, something to get them home, something to communicate with home, and an energy source. there may be manned research expeditions (heart of the comet-esque maybe), but no manned mining.


Not likely. The survey expeditions, by necessity, will need to be manned. Mining may use robots, but there will be a substantial human presence there. You need to guide the robots in real time, take care of any problems in real time, and fix any problems in real time. Maintenence, which is a necessity on any large project, will have to be done by man. Plus, someone has to set up the mining base, and since you'll need to set up housing for the construction workers while you do that, might as well use them for the base itself.

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b) until manned mining becomes both feasible and practical, mass driver/catcher will be the way to go for getting the material back, making chemical driven asteroid mining possible.


Still need to get there, and chemical rockets for an entire base are going to be expensive as heck. Besides, to launch kilotonnes of steel (world production is in the millions of tonnes per year) at a decent rate is going to require large nuclear reactors anyhow.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 1:09 am
Cadet wrote:
Not likely. The survey expeditions, by necessity, will need to be manned. Mining may use robots, but there will be a substantial human presence there. You need to guide the robots in real time, take care of any problems in real time, and fix any problems in real time. Maintenence, which is a necessity on any large project, will have to be done by man. Plus, someone has to set up the mining base, and since you'll need to set up housing for the construction workers while you do that, might as well use them for the base itself.


why? people would have very little to do on a mining expedition to a small asteroid, just look at what the mars rovers can do, and they're designed for extremely sensitive tasks. a mass driver requires very little other than an antenna, a shovel and a giant gauss rifle (obviously the latter two of those are very large and complex, but they wouldn't have to be delicate). most of the tough/delicate stuff comes from having to catch the mass and after you do that refining it. those parts would probably need human supervision because they're simply so crucial and challenging, and so massive. i mean, for all of the forseeable future, we'll be able to use everything in the asteroid either in space or to be shipped down to earth, it's only when you start having to discriminate between minerals, and you have a resource rich region to mine (asteroid belt) that manned missions become important because, eventually, the sheer amount of iron, nickel, and similarly common materials you can produce becomes so huge that it's not worth it to mine them unless you have a gigantic asteroid and very efficient setup. then manned, nuclear powered ships can go comb the asteroid belt for 'roids that are, say, nearly solid osmium, or have metallic cesium, or similar ridiculously valuable things. the first commercial commercial mining operation will almost certianly be more like a sample return mission, with the sample going to geo orbit than what we typically think of as a "mining expedition".

EDIT: you may be right about nuclear power being required to run the driver, it could be solar panels just would weigh too much to make it worthwhile.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:42 am
Hello, Cadet,

additionaly to TerraMrs's arguments there are the following aspects to include into the cosiderations:

1. Mining is a well known and developed thing since thousands of years.
2. Mining doesn't require to move to another place until the mine at the actual location is exhausted
3. Neuronal Nets partially can - and will - substitute human decisions.
4. Robots and computers can contact man of theier own in all cases the programms tell that it is required - and they can wait for instructions without damage or loss.
5. Mining of asteroids will cause the development of new management methods and new concepts of coordination - due to the different economical properties of industries in space (which I remarked in another thread).

This list may be incomplete.

It will be worth to work out this topic further - like the example given by the Lunar Reclamation Society and the "Moon Miners Manifesto".



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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 11:30 am
I think it'd be easier to send unmanned craft that can anchor themselves to an asteroid, and then boost it back to earth / moon. From orbit, you can do everything with (relatively) greater ease. Another idea might be to bring it in on a slowly decaying orbit, and (ehem) gently drop it into a prepared location. There you can mine it to your heart content. I can already hear the environmentalists though.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 12:04 pm
Hello, Sean,

I have been thinking of this idea too.

But there are some questions open to me:

1. What acceleration is needed to change the course or the orbit of an asteroid. Would one boost sufficient? Or would it be better to use a solar sail? How long would we have to wait if a solar sail is used?

2. Asteroids are rotating and recently it has been detected that the sunlight is responsible for that to a large amount. How to stop the rotation or to change it for change the orbit/course?

3. The problems to boost an asteroid back to earth or to cause a decay of the orbit will be larger the larger the asteroid. Doesn't that mean that at least a liitle bit initial mining is required to divide the ateroid into sufficient smaller parts?

Besides - first the dust at the surface and in the inner parts of an asteroid can be collected easyly. This is a sort of mining too - why not do that?



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Last edited by Ekkehard Augustin on Thu Sep 23, 2004 7:06 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 12:19 pm
I guess the acceleration would depend upon the size of the asteroid. And what type of propulsion? Well, that's open for debate. Certainly a solar sail would be cool. It could boost the asteroid out towards a gravity well that could be used to sling shot it back towards us. It will take a long while though, which ever way we do it. But if we capture one a year, then have to wait five years to recieve the first one, you at least know that from then on, you're going to get one a year. It's all an investment.

I can see where dividing up a huge asteroid might be useful, but I fancy the idea of keeping it in one piece in orbit, and hollowing it out. The inside can then be made more useful.

Dunno about the dust. There ain't much gravity to hold it, so whatever dust there would be, would be fairly small I'd imagine. Anyone know what was discovered on that asteroid that that probe landed on? Damned if I can remember it's name though.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 12:33 pm
I would prefer to use the solar sail when an asteroid's distance to sun is closer than Earth's distance to sun. That would the right period of time to push the asteroid outwards. At distances to sun greater than Earth's distance a solar sails should be used to decelerate the asteroid.

The dust seems to be hold by micro-gravity - micro-gravity is at the beginning of its research. My proposal was due to the fact that at large asteroids a lot of dust is to be exoected and that many asteroids are suspected to be clusters of rocks only - in this case there will be a lot of dust between the clustering rocks. Additionaly holes under the dust will be a source of danger which means that the dust has to be removed for the safety of the mining equipment - so why not include it inot mining?



The asteroid the probe NEAR landed on was Eros.



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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 6:21 pm
when i thought of mining an asteroid, i initially thought that moving it into orbit (GEO or higher probably) would be the way to go, but i don't think that the energy advantage for mining it on the spot justifies the huge amount of energy required to move it, and the long time until your investment pays off. with a mass driver/catcher, it costs more energy, but you get a continued return until the asteroid is totally used up, probably several years after mining is initiated. plus you don't have governments bitching about aiming a giant rock towards the earth (even if you send it to a larange point, it wouldn't be too hard to hit earth from there).

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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 7:11 pm
It would be alot safer to just mine it and process it where it is and send regular cargo vessels (using mass drivers possibly) to ferry it back to orbit, moon, staion, whatever. When you have enough finished product, ship it to earth. I'd hate to have someone misscalulate an "ELE" sized asteroid. :shock:

This would, of course, mean no asteroid mining anytime soon, but it is the same as shiping assembly jobs overseas like they do now. :lol:


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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 22, 2004 9:57 pm
TerraMrs wrote:
Cadet wrote:
Not likely. The survey expeditions, by necessity, will need to be manned. Mining may use robots, but there will be a substantial human presence there. You need to guide the robots in real time, take care of any problems in real time, and fix any problems in real time. Maintenence, which is a necessity on any large project, will have to be done by man. Plus, someone has to set up the mining base, and since you'll need to set up housing for the construction workers while you do that, might as well use them for the base itself.


why? people would have very little to do on a mining expedition to a small asteroid, just look at what the mars rovers can do, and they're designed for extremely sensitive tasks.


Mars rovers != mining robots.

Mars Rovers:
Drive around a few hundred meters
Take pretty pictures
Maybe perform a few small experiments that have been worked out months in advance.
If something goes wrong, it can wait days to receive new instructions or be written off.

Mining robots:
Must dig through hundreds of cubic meters of rock and transport materials back to a collection point for refining.
Must be able to react to sudden and unforeseeable problems that may not allow for time lag (to communicate with Earth).
Must have maintenence performed on them.
Must be able to change missions on the fly.

Quote:
a mass driver requires very little other than an antenna, a shovel and a giant gauss rifle (obviously the latter two of those are very large and complex, but they wouldn't have to be delicate). most of the tough/delicate stuff comes from having to catch the mass and after you do that refining it. those parts would probably need human supervision because they're simply so crucial and challenging, and so massive.


You also need human supervision of the mining bots and of the refining and fabrication process (which would likely be around the mining operations due to reasons of cost-efficiency).

Quote:
i mean, for all of the forseeable future, we'll be able to use everything in the asteroid either in space or to be shipped down to earth, it's only when you start having to discriminate between minerals, and you have a resource rich region to mine (asteroid belt)


Every asteroid fits those two categories. Remember, even small asteroids are millions of tons, with dozens if not hundreds of exploitable resources.

Quote:
the first commercial commercial mining operation will almost certianly be more like a sample return mission, with the sample going to geo orbit than what we typically think of as a "mining expedition".


Go ahead and calculate the amount of energy you'll need to move an asteroid into GEO.

Quote:
EDIT: you may be right about nuclear power being required to run the driver, it could be solar panels just would weigh too much to make it worthwhile.


That and they wouldn't provide enough power in the asteroid belt.

Also, I have to keep pointing this out: Mass drivers won't work for reasons of economy. To compete in the market you'll need to send out a huge quantity of steel, and you can't launch such a large mass to Earth on an orbit anywhere approaching reasonably quick. In addition, the product will be damaged in flight by micrometeorites and such.

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