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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    Posted on: Thu Sep 23, 2004 2:48 am
Cadet wrote:
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.


you're right they're not the same, but mining tools are a lot less sensitive than, say, the mini-TES or rock abrasion tool. a mining thing could wait days to recieve instructions too. there is very little gravity on asteroids, so barring meteor impact or dangerous chemical reaction, nothing would require immediate response and those would probably destroy the thing anyways.



Cadet wrote:
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.


most asteroids are metallic enough that you don't actually need to refine anything before shooting it off. it's easier to refine on the spot with human supervision than at the asteroid. also you launch in fairly small chunks, maybe one every couple days, to give you more time to process resources, and to be able to send it at a higher speed. of course, there's the danger of your mass catcher missing one and being damaged, but then you just stop mining and make sure nothing else hits while it's being repaired.

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

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


by sample return i mean reasonably small sample, like a ton or so. and all i'm talking about is near-earth mining. asteroid belt will obviously require either nuclear or solar sails for obvious reasons, and probably human-supervised missions.

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


it's exactly because asteroids are so large that discriminating will become required (we're talking 100+ years though). all of them have exploitable resources, but many of the rarer things now won't be worth much in an asteroid-based economy, namely the precious metals, so when your economy can literally produce gigatons of them, you have to find a way to make money on a smaller scale if you can't produce on that level.

Cadet wrote:
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.

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).


i actually only envision one very large mining robot that doesn't move very much. basically it'd have the mass driver on one side and a shovel substitute probably using very sharp carbon-nanotube blades, lasers, and a mini-mass catcher to separate it from the 'roid, then funnelling it up to the gauss rifle for processing and firing. i'm not an engineer, so obviously my design could be wrong and certainly needs refining, but i think it may be the best option in the near term. since all you're doing is cutting up the asteroid for easier shipment back to orbit to be processed, the only things that could go wrong are equipment malfunctions, which hopefully you have a way of fixing (lightspeed delay isn't that much to NEOs), micrometeorite impact (should build in a defense for this beforehand), or something unexpected about the asteroid itself (like compressed pockets of highly reactive materials), the finding of which would probably pay off the expedition fully anyways. as stated before, refining wouldn't be at the asteroid, so that point's moot. since you'll be using almost all of the mass of the asteroid (maybe not silicon), it makes no sense to refine it on the spot.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 23, 2004 7:24 am
Hello, Cadet,

there are at least two aspects a liitle bit arguing against your point of view.

First - a lot of ateroids are suspected to be cluster instead of solid rocks. The clusters are suspected to be hold together by microgravity and perhaps by micro-scale effects of sunlight too. Mining this kind of asteroids will be easier by a significant amount than you are suggesting. It doesn't be comparable to mining on Earth, moon or Mars.

Second - many solid asteroids have diameters of a few kilometers only or less. For this reason it will be easy to mine them from several sides and points at the same time. This means they can be broken that way.

Third - the concept of the space elevator can be applied without any planet using an artificial center providing a motor. This and the original concept of the space elevator removes the greater part of the energy requirements for launches. Elevators easyly can be used at asteroids by several ways.

Fourth - if an asteroid will be mined only partially it might be changed to a spacecraft perhaps...



Dipl.-Volkswirt (bdvb) Augustin (Political Economist)

EDIT: To add quite another special circumstance: while an asteroid is on its orginal orbit with a perihel closer to the sun than mercury this orbit will simplify mining as well as further initial steps of production. This simplification may remove requirements of human control as well as no presesnce of humans is possible while the asteroid is significant closer to the sun than Venus.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 23, 2004 11:45 am
According to "Small Asteroid Passes Between Satellites and Earth" ( http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/a ... 41222.html ) recently again a small asteroid 5 meters wide passed Earth closer to the surface than 36,000 km.

This again would have been a cahnce to experiment with asteroid mining, to test possible mining equipment - note: "experiment", "test".

I imagine some nano- or micro-satellites placed in orbit and waiting for such a rock. When a rock passes close enough they fire their small engines and approach to the rock. They may be constructed in a manner that they can crash in end releasing the extremely small mining-equipment this way which will begin to work and send data about operations and results down to Earth.

Nano- and micro-sats might be cheap enough to get first experiences of asteroid mining.



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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 23, 2004 2:00 pm
According the story the the asteroid was discovered a mere three days prior to passing Earth. Pretty short notice to get a mission ready.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 23, 2004 2:16 pm
Yes - that's the reason why I proposed to place the nano-satellites in orbit and to make them wait for a rock. I can imagine additional nano-sats specialized for the detection of such rocks - during the last two years they visited Earth repeatedly.



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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 23, 2004 2:51 pm
We have already landed a small space craft on an asteroid.
http://near.jhuapl.edu/
To do more we need to develop the extremely small mining equipment. How many years do you think it will be before such equipment is ready?


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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 23, 2004 3:10 pm
campbelp2002 wrote:
We have already landed a small space craft on an asteroid.
http://near.jhuapl.edu/
To do more we need to develop the extremely small mining equipment. How many years do you think it will be before such equipment is ready?


If you can scale things up, you can also scale things down. Basic drilling and mining technology should be enough for the first experiments. If anybody really wants, it could be done real quick with little money. The hardest thing will be to get on such a small object, the rest would be simply testing and experimenting.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 23, 2004 3:36 pm
Stefan wrote:
If you can scale things up, you can also scale things down.

It is not quite that simple. Since volume is reduced by the cube of the length, every time you cut the size of your big machine in half you cut it’s volume by 8 times.

Ocean going steam ships were originally considered impossible since they could not carry enough fuel to complete an Atlantic crossing. A famous engineer of the time pointed out to skeptics the 8 to 1 volume Vs length relationship and said that if the vessels were simply made big enough then they could carry enough fuel. Now all ocean going ships are large.

Large mining equipment relies on large mass and power to break or move large rocks. For a small light weight machine to work an entirely different physics will be needed. Simply scaling down an existing drilling rig would result in a machine to light and with too little power. We need some new science, like ultrasonic rock pulverizing tools or something like that.

I remain skeptical that micro mining tools with enough power to do useful work will be developed soon.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Dec 24, 2004 10:05 am
Hello, Peter,

nano-technology is able to develop very small mining equipment. A few years ago I saw a helicopter able to fly not larger than the nail of your thumb ( correct translation of the german word "Daumen"?). This means that very small engines and motors can be contrcted and built.

This may be providing quite new mining technologies.



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Post    Posted on: Fri Dec 24, 2004 2:10 pm
I have also seen small flying machines, but not quite that small. However I agree that such is possible.

For a long time engineers could not explain how insects, especially bees, could fly because all the math they used for aircraft said they could not generate enough lift. Now we know insects use the viscosity of air to fly. At large scales the viscosity can be ignored.

So small flying machines are possible because they need to be light not heavy and because the physics of air at small scales is different. For mining equipment the physics is not so favorable.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 25, 2004 9:25 pm
I'm a little bit puzzled why you are speaking of air - in space there is no air and I mentioned the helicopter only to say that nano-scale machines are working.

A nanosat has a weight somewhere between 10 kg and 100 kg and is very small - there is no reason why it couldn't have centimeter-scale equiment to dig into an asteroid for example.


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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 26, 2004 3:41 am
I only memtion air because you mentioned a helicopter. And to point out how different machine types require different methods to make small. Physics favours small aircraft and large mining tools.

However I have changed my mind about the difficulty of building a small enough probe. Something like Deep space 2 would be exactly right for this mission I think.
http://nmp.jpl.nasa.gov/ds2
No actual mining is needed, just measurements of materials that COULD be mined in the future.

I am less sure that sending numerous small probes to wait very near Earth for the possibiliy that one of them may encounter an unknown asteroid. How many would be needed?


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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 26, 2004 2:54 pm
What do you understand in 'small'? If you want to mine a 5 meter wide asteroid, it doesnt have 'land' onto that asteroid, it could simply attach itself to it and then start drilling, mining and taking that asteroid apart. SO, it doesn't have to be very small imo. Sure, it cant be bigger then a cubic meter or so, but thats large enough to make some good mining equipement.


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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 26, 2004 3:35 pm
Hello, Stefan,

I agree. The term "nanosat" doesn't mean that th satellite's size is around a nanometer only - the term has been created to express size in relation to normal satellites of omnibus-size.

The purpose of the idea is simply to experiment with asteroid mining and to get experiences. This could form a good part of research and developmet of asteroid mining equipment.



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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 26, 2004 3:57 pm
off course :) I was only referring to a statement that we 'needed' nano-technology for this.

The idea is simple so it could be done cheaply. The biggest part will be to land on such a small object. Now, he stans up and invest some money into it... ?


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