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Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.

Posted by: RGClark - Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:07 pm
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Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions. 
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Post Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:07 pm
Quote:
...
This page gives the delta-V's needed for trips within the Earth-Moon system:

Delta-V budget.
Earth–Moon space.
Image
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta-v_budget#Earth.E2.80.93Moon_space

...
The RL-10 engine was proven to be reusable for multiple uses with quick turnaround time on the DC-X. The total propellant load of 40,000 kg could be lofted by two 20,000+ kg payload capacity launchers, such as the Atlas V, Delta IV Heavy, Ariane 5, and Proton.
The price for these launchers is in the range of $100-140 million according to the specifications on this page:

Expendable Launch Vehicles.
http://www.spaceandtech.com/spacedata/elvs/elvs.shtml



The original architecture was to use two of the 20 mT to LEO launchers currently available with two Centaur upper stages to get a 4 mT Dragon to the Moon and back.
What can we do with a single one of these launchers currently available? Using a single one of these launchers to carry a single Centaur upper stage we could carry about 1 mT to the Moon and back:

From the delta-V table, you need 4.04 km/s to go from LEO to low lunar orbit, 1.87 km/s to go from low lunar orbit to the lunar surface, and 2.74 km/s with aerobraking to go from the lunar surface back to LEO for a total of 8.65 km/s delta-V for a single stage making the round-trip.

Then with a 465.5 s Isp, 20 mT total mass including payload, 2 mT dry mass, and 1 mT payload we get: 465.5*9.8ln(20,000/(2000 + 1000)) = 8,650 m/s, sufficient for the round-trip.
This would suffice to carry a lunar rover to operate in the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar poles or for an NEO asteroid:

Lunar Prospecting Robot To Be Field Tested On Hawaii's Mauna Kea
ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2008)
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081014134111.htm

This university developed robot probably cost no more than a few million dollars. The single Centaur upper stage costs in the range of $30 million. And the 20 mT to LEO launchers cost in the range of $100-140 million, according to the Spaceandtech.com site estimates, for a total in the range of $200 million. This is a fraction of the amount spent by mining interests on exploration:

Explore Mining.
Quote:
World non-ferrous expenditures for all exploration in 2007 are estimated to be about $10.4 Billion dollars.

http://www.holden.house.gov/comm/explore-mining/exploration/

This same site also indicates that mining exploration is by nature high risk:

Quote:
So just what is exploration?
It’s the collection of processes that gather information about the presence or absence of mineral deposits.
The over-riding goal of exploration is to find deposits that can be worked as profitable mining operations.
It is a time-consuming, multi-stage investment in information different gathering processes.
It’s also an expensive, high-risk investment, unlike ordinary businesses investments.
Depending on the literature source, the success rate for finding profitable mining operations (when weighed against the total number of mineral properties examined by a company) have ranges from a high of 4 in 100 (that’s a 4% success rate!), to less than 1 in 100 and as low as 1 in 1000 (that’s a .1% success rate!).


For any investment venture a cost/risk/benefit analysis has to be made. Compared to the cost already spent by mining interests yearly the cost is relatively low especially for a consortium of mining interests funding the mission together.

The risk is composed of the risk of the mission failing and of it not finding the high amounts of precious minerals. At least for the asteroid missions the risk of it not finding the high value minerals is low as there are several independent lines of evidence that precious metals are located uniformly on asteroids. So that leaves the risk of the mission failing. Considering the amount of U.S. experience with planetary missions, this risk is considerably better than the 1 in 1,000 chance of success some estimates put on Earth bound mining exploration.

However, quite important when measuring cost and risk, are the benefits to justify them. The possible benefits are more mineral wealth in a single asteroid than all that mined in all of human history.
Indeed the likelihood of the high amounts of precious minerals is so good, and the benefits of success are so extraordinarily high, that it would pay to do several missions if there are failures.

That is for the asteroid missions. However, if such asteroid mining missions are to be profitable then it would be much cheaper if the large amount of propellant needed to carry out the transport could be obtained from the Moon rather than by lofting it from Earth's deep gravity well. Then to insure that propellant could be obtained from the Moon's polar regions sample return missions to the lunar poles would have to be mounted as well. The nice thing about these missions is that the same rovers and spacecraft could be used for the asteroid sample return missions. Then these lunar sample return missions could be regarded as test missions to give further assurance of the technology for returning the samples from asteroids. And if the lunar polar samples show the high precious metal amounts tentatively detected by LCROSS then so much the better.

As I said to keep costs low these missions should be privately financed. NASA is planning to launch an asteroid sample return mission in 2016. This would not return the samples though until 2023 and is budgeted at $800 million without even launch costs:

NASA to Launch Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft in 2016.
Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior WriterDate: 25 May 2011 Time: 07:10 PM ET
http://www.space.com/11788-nasa-asteroid-mission-osiris-rex-1999-rq36.html

When you add on launch costs and considering the usual NASA cost overruns this will probably wind up being a billion dollar mission. Also, since some proposed human missions to asteroids would have a duration of 5 to 6 months, these sample return missions could return their samples in months rather than the seven years planned for the NASA mission.


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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:35 pm
First of all, awesome post. Thanks for supplying the numbers, and showing your math. Now, here's my take on some of it.

For asteroids, it'll probably be safer, and more cost efficient to send robotic missions to bring them back. If something goes wrong, we're out money, materials, and energy, all of which are more replaceable than manpower. I'll use the example of Apollo XIII, in that instance, it was an interlunar mission, so they had a failsafe return orbit, while a flight out to any asteroid doesn't have that option.

Also, a robotic mission (Which we've proven, and worked up experience with over decades) wouldn't require the extra systems to support, and entertain a crew for the long trip. (Under ideal conditions to a near Earth orbiting asteroid, it's still months to years round trip.)

The crews would come in after we got the rocks on the way. By robotically altering the orbit to a chase trajectory (It's complicated orbital mechanics, but ideally, you want to catch it on the way out from the sun, and slow it to Earth Orbit behind our planetary ststem to prevent the chance of a collision) we could send prospecting missions to it at relatively little risk, and expense. We might also be able to "Park" them at either the L1, or L2 points, though the moon's co-rotatation may destabilize them in these orbits. (The other libration points would be too far away.)

And finally, I would love to hollow out a planetoid for an artificial habitat. These could be sent out to resonant orbits between us, and Mars, for instance, to make the interplanetary trips safer, and more comfortable for the crews. As long as you're willing to wait for them to come around for launch windows, we could theoretically have routine transit between worlds for large scale colonization, and interplanetary cargo. (I'd also do it to venus for Gas Mining. Mars needs Atmosphere, and Venus has plenty.)

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:46 pm
Excellent idea.
By selecting a rock with the right composition as you refined metals and fuel from the asteroid you could move into the tunnels. Another bonus here is with the low gs you could build with little effort in 3d.

Have any astroids been detected to have high concentrations of plutonium or uranium etc. ?

With the parallel laser propulsion method and a counter thrust the midpoint base could throw the ship for 1/2 its journey.

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Thu Feb 23, 2012 11:36 pm
Plutonium isn't a naturally occuring element. (That we know of, around here, anyway.) It's made in reactors. Uranium can be hin higher concentrations that surface rocks, though it would have to be seperated.

My idea was to core it through an airlock/docking collar sized aperture, then expand to a cylindrical bore from that bottleneck, and possibly to another one on the other side. That way, it could be rotated to prevent space sickness, while still dockable at the ends. Would require a rather regular shaped rock, though, not a peanut, or potatoe, as many are shaped, but it could be mined down to a better shape. The removed minerals would be sold for profit, but the habitat would be essentually free (after rebate.)

The harmonic orbit is just the best use I can think of for this kind of structure. The body of the metalic asteroid would provide plenty of radiation, and impact shielding, and it could even coast back, and forth to the Asteroid belt, to transfer equipment, and crews to bring more back. Since the belt is pretty homogenous around the sun, rather than 1 moving planet across the whole orbit, the Harmonic period would be a lot easier to set up.

For space tourism, it would also make a cheap hotel, once you sold the minerals you mined out of it. The propulsion isn't as much of a factor once you have it in orbit. The idea is it swings in an elipse, which swings past the Earth, and another destination yearly. (Actually several years round trip using the Earth standard, but it would be the base's "Year".) The only thrust it would need is enough to maintain this orbit, with pertubation of the other planets, especially Jupiter, and Venus. Their gravity would be more than to throw it off track, if not compensated for. Otherwise, it's not under accelleration the whole trip, just needs to be steered occasionally.

4179 Toutatis would be a good candidate, because it approaches within 5 lunar distances every 4 years, and swings out to Jupiter every 3. Unfortunately, it's also a mishapen lump, so a fixer-upper, but it's due for another pass soon. (Right around the time of the Mayan Prophecy, don't read into that.) It''l be back in 2016, after a trip right by the Asteroid belt. Due to the lenth of the orbit, it could be retrofitted en route, possiby by autonymous robots.

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Fri Feb 24, 2012 7:33 pm
Even irregular "peanut" asteroids will have a center of rotation that you can dock to and start digging in. What you don't want are 2 axis tumbling spins nor a loose "rubble pile" composition.


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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:32 am
Rubble piles wouldn't be ideal for holowing out as habitats, but might be great for raw materials mining. The trick would be changing the orbit to bring them back, which could possibly only be done with a gravity tractor. If you landed on it with a pusher engine, it might fall apart from the accelleration.

The "peanut" shapes, which are pretty common, may have a center of regular rotation, but you'd still have to place a co-axial docking ring on it, or every time you hooked up a ship to it, you'd change the balance, and therefore, rotation. This could be disasterous if it were manned, with the crew dependant on said rotation for artificial gravity.

A sphere, or cylinder will always be the most efficient shape, but we're mining it out, anyway, no reason the surface couldn't be mined to shape at the same time. It'd actually be easier from the outside, but putting the habitat in the hoolow would be better for comfort, and safety in deep space.

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Sat Feb 25, 2012 2:37 pm
Here am I sitting in my tin can
Deep inside the world... ;-)

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:09 am
Quote:
...
As I said to keep costs low these missions should be privately financed. NASA is planning to launch an asteroid sample return mission in 2016. This would not return the samples though until 2023 and is budgeted at $800 million without even launch costs:

NASA to Launch Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft in 2016.
Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior WriterDate: 25 May 2011 Time: 07:10 PM ET
http://www.space.com/11788-nasa-asteroid-mission-osiris-rex-1999-rq36.html

When you add on launch costs and considering the usual NASA cost overruns this will probably wind up being a billion dollar mission. Also, since some proposed human missions to asteroids would have a duration of 5 to 6 months, these sample return missions could return their samples in months rather than the seven years planned for the NASA mission.


Note that all the components for such a mission already exist, the launcher, the spacecraft, and the rover. All that is required is to mate them together. On that basis such a mission probably could be launched within a year. Note also all of the U.S., Russia, and Europe have the required 20 mT launcher, and the upper or space stage capable of the space traverse. And China will also with the introduction of the Long March 5 in 2014. Then the question arises, who will be first?

A common complaint leveled at the space program is what is it good for? If the U.S. government fully financed the mining operation then based on an estimated $20 trillion value for the minerals on a single asteroid, this would have enough value to retire the entire U.S. debt(!) Preferably though the U.S. would only be a partial investor to retain the costs savings of a privately financed venture. Even then as a minority investor, the return in value to the U.S. government could be in the trillions.

However, it may indeed be possible that a fully NASA financed venture could maintain the low costs of a privately financed one - with the right management. I consider the LCROSS lunar impactor to be the perfect NASA mission because it returned such profoundly important results and at low cost, only $79 million without launch costs, which is like pocket change for planetary missions:

Inside NASA's Plan to Bomb the Moon and Find Water.
By Michael Milstein
October 1, 2009 12:00 AM
Quote:
Typically, 10 to 15 percent of a spacecraft's budget goes into instruments; on LCROSS, it's roughly 3 percent, or $2 million. When Anthony Colaprete, NASA's lead scientist for the mission, went to big aerospace companies for instruments, they laughed at his budget. So he turned to small outfits instead. He bought near-infrared spectrometers from a company that makes them for breweries to test the alcohol content of beer on assembly lines. He resisted agency reviewers who wanted him to put an anodized coating on the aluminum storage boxes. "One of their arguments was, `It's not very expensive--just do it,'" he says. "I'm like, `Well, I want to save that $1000. I'm very cheap.'"

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/space/4277592

LCROSS: A HIGH-RETURN, SMALL SATELLITE MISSION.
Daniel Andrews, LCROSS PM
NASA-Ames Research Center, MS 240-3, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA.
http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20100028203_2010030093.pdf

Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership.
Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).
Quote:
The Good Enough Spacecraft.
From Andrews‘s perspective, the LCROSS spacecraft had to be ―faster, good enough, cheaper.‖ He made clear to his team from the beginning that LCROSS was not about maximum performance. ―It was about cost containment,‖ Andrews said. ―LCROSS was not about pushing the technical envelope. It was about keeping it simple – keeping it good enough.‖
The LCROSS team had 29 months and $79 million to build a Class D mission spacecraft. (See below for a brief explanation of NASA mission risk classifications.) The low-cost, high-risk tolerance nature of the project led to a design based on heritage hardware, parts from LRO, and commercial-off-the-shelf components.

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/474589main_LCROSS_case_study_09_23_10.pdf

LCROSS rode piggyback on the LRO mission so did not have to pay for the Centaur space stage, but even if you include this that would only be an additional $30 million or so.

LCROSS Program Manager Daniel Andrews and lead scientist Anthony Colaprete deserve major kudos for using innovative methods to accomplish such a successful mission under cost saving constraints. If we were to have NASA financed asteroidal and lunar prospector landers then they would be my choice to manage those missions.

Note now that if NASA funded these exploratory lander missions that proved definitively that asteroids or even the Moon contained such extraordinary mineral wealth, then under the principle that the government has the authority to grant mining rights to private companies, the U.S. government could sell these rights for a total of, say, $1 trillion, while only having to have spent ca. $200 million for the lander missions.


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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:19 am
The Scarab lunar rover prototype has been undergoing field tests since 2008:

Scarab Lunar Robot - Discovery Channel's Daily Planet - YouTube

There will be a media demonstration of the Scarab lunar rover using a new fuel-cell technology on Wednesday, Feb. 29th at the NASA Glenn center:

Media Invited to NASA Glenn to See New Fuel Cell Demonstration on Mobile Rover.
Source: Glenn Research Center
Posted Thursday, February 23, 2012
Quote:
CLEVELAND - A demonstration of a fuel cell that will allow rovers on extraterrestrial surfaces to go farther and last longer will be conducted at NASA's Glenn Research Center on Feb. 29 at 11 a.m.
The new type of fuel cell will extend the range of surface operations for rovers that will explore new worlds as part of future NASA missions. Unlike a conventional fuel cell that needs a pump to remove the water produced inside the device, this non-flow-through fuel cell uses capillary action to wick away the water. By eliminating the pump, a non-flow-through fuel cell is simpler, lighter, and more reliable.
The rover that will demonstrate the fuel cell in Glenn's Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) facility is called SCARAB. It was developed by Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh, under a grant from Glenn, and is regularly used for Human Robotic systems project mobility research in SLOPE.
http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=36206

Perhaps one of the reporters will inquire when the test vehicle can be turned into a flight ready version.


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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Mon Feb 27, 2012 3:22 pm
I have to point out that, while the profit potential is huge, the time frame of the return is probably going to be more than the 4-8 years of a regime in America. Asteroids are out there, and have to be bought back, then they have to be mined, with exxperimental technology, and then those materials have to be sold, or made into something marketable. Realistically, if we launched today, some of us may not even live to see the results. I also doubt the profits, after the expense of doing this for the first time, would be used to balance the deficits. Our government doesn't work that way.

It would fund further investments in Space Exploration nicely, though, especially if we used the materials to build them in Orbit, rather than selling them for profit. I don't doubt some of the funders can't help seeing dollar $ign$, especially in the Corporate market, but the real advantage to me is the savings possible to the most expensive endevor we can invest in.

An orbiting asteroid would make an ideal factory for space habitats, and other assets, as the escape velocity would be even lower than the moon, with richer deposits. It could also be placed much closer. I'd aim for geo-syncrous to avoid drag induced de-orbit, or Trgan for stability, without the risk of causing a doomsday impact.

Keep in mind the popular support, or lack thereof may hinge on this possibility. Thanks to pessemistic science fiction, a lot of the ignorant paranoid masses may not be able to conceive any other possibility of brining an asteroid closer to the Earth than TEOTWAWKI.

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:07 pm
Well we could start with smaller asteroids and then as the masses get used to the idea, and we get more expertise move onto bigger ones.

The problem with asteroids is their kinetic energy as they impact. As long as we make sure that our approach isn't fast, the risks could be minimised.

If we actually targeted smaller asteroids with an already confirmed close approach course, then we could try and use some smarts to park them in orbit instead of letting them burn and explode in the atmosphere or just fly past us.

Of course for that we would need space based telescopes dedicated to finding them, and then we would need to be able to get to them, bodify their trajectory, and put a heat shield and engine on to aerobrake and land them in orbit.

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Sat Jun 09, 2012 5:03 am
Earth orbiting and de-orbiting will never be "practical" from a legal, political, liability stand point. Not until you have super "godlike" powers to move planets around, or some sufficiently far-out/away point.

And you really don't need to. Barring some exotic (on Earth) elements, and maybe precious metals, asteroid resources actually have more value up there than they would down here. Terrestrially mined materials will always have a cost advantage over non-terrestrial. It's cheaper to dig it out of the ground, and crashing a mega-ton ingot of something down will also crash the market price for that element, make it a self-defeating proposition.

The current problem is that we can't get from here, a closed terrestrial economy, to there, one with semi-independent extensions into space.
Planetary Resources is the first real tentative step into bridging that gap, and blazing the trail for others and more.


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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Sat Jun 09, 2012 7:56 am
Well even if sending down raw materials isn't worth it, the unique environment in orbit and access to solar smelters and industrial processes that we can't do down here, does make the whole thing quite attractive. Well it does to me.

So even if raw iron isn't worth to send down, special alloys or already manufactured products might be worth to send down.

Though I guess for that we don't need to have the factories in LEO or closeby, but it probably would be better view from there for the factory workers, also we could either use telepresence to work in those factories, or have people do shifts like we do on oil rigs or in mines in the middle of nowhere.

I am voting for the industrial revolution of LEO. :)

We just need to make sure they don't dump waste products on our heads. :)

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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:59 pm
box wrote:
Well even if sending down raw materials isn't worth it, the unique environment in orbit and access to solar smelters and industrial processes that we can't do down here, does make the whole thing quite attractive. Well it does to me.


The problem is, from a business perspective, is that those markets don't exist for these products that don't exist outside of the hypothetical or as lab experiments, yet. So they aren't quantifiable. Neither are the significant risks and costs to produce and transport it. A business plan that reads like a science-fiction novel is a tough sell.

Quote:
Though I guess for that we don't need to have the factories in LEO or closeby, but it probably would be better view from there for the factory workers, also we could either use telepresence to work in those factories, or have people do shifts like we do on oil rigs or in mines in the middle of nowhere.


Space is an order of magnitude more expensive and hazardous, esp. for manned. Its a safe bet that in the short term all space mining and manufacture will be automated or remotely operated.

Quote:

I am voting for the industrial revolution of LEO.
We just need to make sure they don't dump waste products on our heads.


LEO probably isn't a great place for manufacture, except for stuff that's going to go up to microgravity, get processed, and then back down. LEO is already crowded and "dirty", plus you have higher DV costs to and from LEO. Out on the L-points or on-site lunar or an asteroid is a better prospect.


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Post Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.   Posted on: Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:15 am
JamesG wrote:
The problem is, from a business perspective, is that those markets don't exist for these products that don't exist outside of the hypothetical or as lab experiments, yet. So they aren't quantifiable. Neither are the significant risks and costs to produce and transport it. A business plan that reads like a science-fiction novel is a tough sell.

So basically the first people to bite the bullet and invest the billions will be the ones who will own the market for a considerable amount of time. If there is a market.

Though they will be the ones to fall if there is no market or if the whole enterprise is just physically impossible.

On a more realistic basis it will need to be more gradual revolution than how impatient people like me would want it. :)


Quote:
Space is an order of magnitude more expensive and hazardous, esp. for manned. Its a safe bet that in the short term all space mining and manufacture will be automated or remotely operated.

I love robots, but if we leave everything for robots to do, we will be seriously bored in a very short amount of time. :)

Though I can see the use of robots to carry out the grunt of the work. Our role and position in the system of robot-human life is constantly shifting as we let them do more and more of our activities.

For instance I love my job, but I am seriously thinking of utilising robots to help out and make ourselves more efficient with what we are doing. I still want to be there and do part of the work as well as making sure the robots do their part. I think it would increase the fun of doing the job maybe even attract more people into the industry so we can do more work. There is so much work to be done all over the globe it should keep us busy for a long time even with robots helping out.

Quote:
LEO probably isn't a great place for manufacture, except for stuff that's going to go up to microgravity, get processed, and then back down. LEO is already crowded and "dirty", plus you have higher DV costs to and from LEO. Out on the L-points or on-site lunar or an asteroid is a better prospect.


I guess it probably would be more economical to get the raw materials from the moon or asteroids, process them and send the end products down to the massive market. That should ease the environmental pressures we subject our ecosystems to with mining and other industrial activities.

I want to leave this planet behind in a better condition compared to when I got here. At least that is what I want to work for. I seriously believe that the technologies needed for living off world, and with moving the industries off world, we could potentially lead us to a situation when instead of depleting our biosphere, we will start replenishing it, and still support a large population in a comfortable and meaningful lifestyle.

There is plenty of materials, there is plenty of energy, what we don't have is the will, and subsequently the technology to access them. I am trying to solve the lack of will problem at the moment with freespaceships. Still trying to figure out why we have such a huge deficit of will, interest, and cooperation. There has to be a solution! :)

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http://www.freespaceships.com


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