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Author Topic: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.  (Read 2518 times)

Rgclark

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 Two separate teams have announced plans this week to do asteroidal and lunar mining:

Google billionaires, James Cameron backing space resource venture.
By Alan Boyle
Quote
Today's media alert says the new company "will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'"
    "That sounds like asteroid mining," Christopher Mims writes on MIT Technology Review's "Mims' Bits" blog. "Because what else is there in space that we need here on earth? Certainly not a livable climate or a replacement for our dwindling supplies of oil."
    Parabolic Arc's Doug Messier, meanwhile, writes that the venture will be an "extraterrestrial mining company."
    Diamandis has said on more than one occasion that he's intrigued by the idea of digging into asteroids, for materials ranging from water (for fuel as well as for astronauts) to precious metals such as platinum. The Verge points to a TED talk in 2005 where Diamandis discusses his dream, while Forbes magazine has brought up the subject with him more than once in the past few months.
http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/18/11273238-google-billionaires-james-cameron-backing-space-resource-venture

Renowned scientists join tech visionaries at Moon Express to mine the Moon for planetary resources.
Quote
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Moon Express, a Google Lunar X PRIZE contender, announced today that some of the world's leading planetary scientists have joined its Science Advisory Board (SAB) to assist the company in its plans to explore and ultimately mine the Moon for precious planetary resources.
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/renowned-scientists-join-tech-visionaries-at-moon-express-to-mine-the-moon-for-planetary-resources-148632035.html

 There has been alot of skepticism evinced about the possible profitability of such plans. However, in regards to the justification for these endeavors, several studies have shown many of the important metals for high technology such as platinum at present global growth rates, especially in the emerging economies such as China, will be depleted within decades:

Earth's natural wealth: an audit
23 May 2007
NewScientist.com news service
David Cohen
http://www.science.org.au/nova/newscientist/027ns_005.htm

If these reports are true, and there is some uncertainty in the estimates, then such asteroid mining missions, might turn out to be not merely amusing topics of discussion, but actual necessities.

In that New Scientist article the author seems to be implying the uncertainties in the estimates of impending scarcity come from how the producers are reporting their stocks and available mine-able ore. That is, they may be underreporting them to artificially keep prices high. But with some of these key minerals predicted to run out within two decades clearly this is something that needs to be determined definitively. Maybe we need to send in UN inspectors into their accounting departments and into their actual mines like we send in inspectors for rogue nuclear states.

In any case, here are some peer-reviewed papers that discuss this issue:

Metal stocks and sustainability.
R. B. Gordon*,
M. Bertram†,‡, and
T. E. Graedel†,§
PNAS January 31, 2006 vol. 103 no. 5 1209-1214.
Quote
Abstract
The relative proportions of metal residing in ore in the lithosphere, in use in products providing services, and in waste deposits measure our progress from exclusive use of virgin ore toward full dependence on sustained use of recycled metal. In the U.S. at present, the copper contents of these three repositories are roughly equivalent, but metal in service continues to increase. Providing today's developed-country level of services for copper worldwide (as well as for zinc and, perhaps, platinum) would appear to require conversion of essentially all of the ore in the lithosphere to stock-in-use plus near-complete recycling of the metals from that point forward.
   
http://www.pnas.org/content/103/5/1209

An impending platinum crisis and its implications for the future of the automobile.
Chi-Jen Yang
Energy Policy.
Volume 37, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 1805-1808.
Quote
Abstract
The global demand for platinum has consistently outgrown supply in the past decade. This trend likely will continue and the imbalance may possibly escalate into a crisis. Platinum plays pivotal roles in both conventional automobile emissions control and the envisioned hydrogen economy. A platinum crisis would have profound implications on energy and environment. On the one hand, inadequate platinum supply will prevent widespread commercialization of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. On the other hand, expensive platinum may enhance the competitiveness of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-powered electric cars. Policymakers should weigh the potential impacts of a platinum crisis in energy policy.
   
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421509000457

And of course also if such scarcity estimates are valid, then this would clearly have a major impact on the question of the profitability of the space mining ventures.    ;)

 In a followup post I'll show lunar and asteroidal prospector missions can be done for relatively low costs.


    Bob Clark
« Last Edit: 28/04/2012 19:23:53 by Rgclark »


 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #1 on: 28/04/2012 22:00:24 »
I think it is obvious that we need to find better ways to get less materials put into landfills, and to recover these rare earth elements from waste streams.  I find estimates of severe resource depletion within a few centuries to be quite depressing considering the age of the Earth, and Earth's long-term future.

Will mining the oceans be the next big thing?  Both the ocean floor, as well as dissolved minerals?

Lunar mining would be extraordinarily expensive, and cumbersome.  And, asteroid mining even worse.  Imagine the resources wasted for each gram of material recovered.

I foresee eventual colonization of the moon.  I suppose one could build a robot colony, but I would foresee people actually living there.  My goal, however, would be to keep lunar (and space) materials in space.  I could foresee satellite factories on the moon with the launch cost in terms of resources a fraction of what it is from Earth.  Many satellites, as well as deep space probes might even be able to be launched using magnetic accelerators (possible with lower gravity than Earth, as well as thinner atmosphere).

Then my goals would also be utilizing the moon for scientific research.  I could imagine enormous telescopes built on the dark side of the moon.  Could one build a telescope with a 1km dish?

There has also been discussion about limiting the radio noise on the dark side of the moon to avoid noise pollution of the future lunar radio telescopes. 

Anyway, thoughts of strip-mining the moon to make terrestrial trinkets makes me sick.
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #2 on: 30/04/2012 03:12:29 »
I don't agree that asteroid and lunar mining are going to be wasteful and expensive. You only have to return the purified material, and if you can usefully mine somewhere, you can also/will have to make rocket propellant or similar to move it to Earth or elsewhere.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #3 on: 30/04/2012 07:01:22 »
I suppose one question is whether it is easier to build a mine 8km below the surface of the sea.
Or to build a mine 380,000 km in the sky?

I suppose you are right, once one builds the mining infrastructure on the moon, then one could sling the finished product into space, and build disposable heat shield re-entry craft to deliver it back to Earth to be collected. 

Still, that 380,000km commute will not be easy.

If there becomes a permanent lunar colony, with long-term citizens & reproduction, and concurrently terrestrial robotic strip-mining, then undoubtedly the two will clash.
 

Offline Don_1

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #4 on: 30/04/2012 09:40:32 »
I am very skepticle of this. Minning an asteroid may mean you do not have the time to refine the ore before the asteroid is too far to make the proposition worthwhile.

Just how do you get 10 or 50 tons of ore back to Earth and if the yeild is just 10% will it be financially viable?

If, and I think its a big 'if', it were physically possible, I would still question whether the whole idea isn't just a means to an end. That end being to vastly inflate the value of certain minerals, for the benefit of those who can afford to embark on such a venture. How wonderful it would be if your stock pile of gold, currently valued at $1500.00 per ounce were to suddenly jump to $10,000.00 per ounce. Especially if you happen to have the odd ton or two hanging around.

ME! A cynic? Whatever gives you that idea?
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #5 on: 30/04/2012 11:38:08 »
Personally, I think that the first mined material should be simple rock. It's surprisingly useful to have many tonnes of rock around; if nothing else, it's a great radiation shield. It can also be used as a propellant (with the right equipment).
« Last Edit: 30/04/2012 11:46:06 by wolfekeeper »
 

Rgclark

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #6 on: 05/05/2012 15:11:04 »
Just started a new blog. I happen to believe off-world mining will be the "killer app" for routine space flight. For it, we will need low cost super heavy lift, and low cost manned flight. On the blog so far are posts discussing creating a super heavy lift vehicle at the few hundred million per launch range, compared to NASA's SLS at ca. $10 billion per launch(!), and of manned lunar missions also at the few hundred million per launch range, compared to NASA's Constellation program at $100 billion total.

Low cost HLV.
http://exoscientist.blogspot.com/2012/05/low-cost-hlv.html

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for low cost trips to the Moon.
http://exoscientist.blogspot.com/2012/05/spacex-dragon-spacecraft-for-low-cost.html

Comments on the blog posts and on improving the blog format are invited. Right now it's pretty spare.


Bob Clark
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #7 on: 05/05/2012 15:37:01 »
I am very skepticle of this. Minning an asteroid may mean you do not have the time to refine the ore before the asteroid is too far to make the proposition worthwhile.
I think for the time being mining will be restricted to asteroids that turn up in cislunar space and hang for a while.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #8 on: 05/05/2012 22:09:14 »
I am very skepticle of this. Minning an asteroid may mean you do not have the time to refine the ore before the asteroid is too far to make the proposition worthwhile.
I think for the time being mining will be restricted to asteroids that turn up in cislunar space and hang for a while.
Or find an asteroid that has a periodicity, coming back every few years.
And, of course, the moon may be slowly receeding from Earth, but we have a few billion years left before its orbit destabilizes.
Just how do you get 10 or 50 tons of ore back to Earth and if the yeild is just 10% will it be financially viable?
I doubt it would be viable to ship raw ore, unless it is at least partly refined.  A mixed ingot of rare earth metals would be fine as long as most parts were highly valuable.  The heat shields and return transport vessel will have to be built from scratch in space, but it is unlikely that it would be economical (or safe) to essentially ship the whole asteroid back to Earth.

Gold is a most interesting commodity.  It has been used in jewellery for eons "wearing one's wealth"?  It is used as a financial instrument, and is hoarded by individuals and governments alike.  But, now it is more and more being used in manufacturing including computers.  At some point the price needs to be driven by something other than the hoarders.
 

Offline Airthumbs

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #9 on: 07/05/2012 00:22:18 »
I don't see what the fuss is all about.  Governments are not keeping up with the spirit of exploration, America can't even launch anyone into space anymore!

If private companies are the only driving force to continue the necessary expansion and subsequent long term survival of the species, I say go for it.

It seems the only adventures going down right now is some very rich chappy on a one man mission to explore ocean depths & some folk digging about in some new cave network.

Even with my imagination I am struggling to find any kind of stimulation in these dark, dank places, however interesting they have been denoted to be.

To me sending Spirit and Opportunity off to Mars is an excellent metaphor.  Maybe they should call the next ones, Hope & Adventure because they will soon be lost to us also......
 

Rgclark

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Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #10 on: 27/06/2012 08:42:01 »
Two separate teams have announced plans this week to do asteroidal and lunar mining:

Google billionaires, James Cameron backing space resource venture.
By Alan Boyle
Quote
Today's media alert says the new company "will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'"
    "That sounds like asteroid mining," Christopher Mims writes on MIT Technology Review's "Mims' Bits" blog. "Because what else is there in space that we need here on earth? Certainly not a livable climate or a replacement for our dwindling supplies of oil."
    Parabolic Arc's Doug Messier, meanwhile, writes that the venture will be an "extraterrestrial mining company."
    Diamandis has said on more than one occasion that he's intrigued by the idea of digging into asteroids, for materials ranging from water (for fuel as well as for astronauts) to precious metals such as platinum. The Verge points to a TED talk in 2005 where Diamandis discusses his dream, while Forbes magazine has brought up the subject with him more than once in the past few months.
http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/18/11273238-google-billionaires-james-cameron-backing-space-resource-venture

Renowned scientists join tech visionaries at Moon Express to mine the Moon for planetary resources.
Quote
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Moon Express, a Google Lunar X PRIZE contender, announced today that some of the world's leading planetary scientists have joined its Science Advisory Board (SAB) to assist the company in its plans to explore and ultimately mine the Moon for precious planetary resources.
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/renowned-scientists-join-tech-visionaries-at-moon-express-to-mine-the-moon-for-planetary-resources-148632035.html
...

 Planetary Resources, Inc. has asked for suggestions for getting
public involvement in their asteroid mining venture on their web site:

http://www.planetaryresources.com/2012/06/back-us-on-kickstarter/

 The most common suggestion has been to use distributed computing or
crowd sourcing to find valuable asteroid targets.

     
    Bob Clark
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Re: Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.
« Reply #10 on: 27/06/2012 08:42:01 »

 

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