1. I accept that I am under the control of a higher power (Muppet).

Asteroid mining - what else?

So if asteroid mining is being seriously considered to be viable, what other interesting ventures would be viable with those kind of budgets and timeframes?
Permalink Bill42x 
April 26th, 2012 6:06pm
It isn't viable. There is almost nothing up there that can possibly pay for itself. The only possibility is called "volatiles" - figuring out some way to "mine" water and oxygen from asteroids (more likely comets) to sell to lunar and orbital ventures.
Permalink Peter 
April 26th, 2012 7:55pm
As they point out, there's a bunch of incredibly valuable rare earth elements that are simply not found on earth and are only here at all because of asteroids and meteors that have hit the earth over the millennia. They are in vastly higher concentrations in certain asteroids, some of which may be among those that would take a similar investment to retrieve as the cost of visiting the moon 40 years ago.
Permalink Idiot 
April 26th, 2012 7:57pm
Unobtanium? Sure. We'll kill all the smurfs to get the stuff.

>Despite their name, rare earth elements (with the exception of the radioactive promethium) are relatively plentiful in the Earth's crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper). However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.

Things called "rare earths" are not really that rare, they're just messy/toxic to mine, and they make great political strawmen to bash in the media to complain about the Chinese wanting to sell refined and processed "rare earth" items rather than being a colony and exporting the raw materials.


Take a look at the picture on this article:

How much would it cost to put just one of those machines in orbit?

The Mountain Pass mine is going to be a superfund site. The radioactive slag that they allowed to run off is going to come back and bite them in the wallet. I think it will end up looking like the Berkley Pit (you probably know it as the Anaconda Copper Mine)

Lawsuits about the superfund site have gone on for decades, and my business law teacher was describing how stuff was going on when he was a junior associate back in the 80s - that they were looking for any and every insurance policy that covered anything they could hang on the insurance companies. Every insurance policy since CERCLA was passed in 1980 specifically excludes paying for polution mitigation and superfund issues. But since the Anaconda copper mine has been operating since mining started up there in the mid 19th century, many insurance policies were written by companies that were later bought out by other insurance companies. So if the damage started in 1850, and it was covered by a policy that covers incidents that happen during the policy, then 130+ years later you have to pay out on that damage. This litigation is still going on, and I suspect it will end up being like Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

About 30s into this video, you see MolyCorp's Estonian refinery.

They're using solvent extraction to process the ore, which isn't going to be practical at all in space, let alone shipping something several times bigger than ISS into space and shooting it into the asteroid belt.
Permalink Peter 
April 26th, 2012 8:36pm
They're not going to "the asteroid belt" which is between Mars and Jupiter at all. Why would you even make that claim. Obviously you did not look at their business plan at all.
Permalink Idiot 
April 26th, 2012 8:43pm
Face it: we're not getting anywhere with the current space flight technology.

All this "asteroid mining" is just a marketing name for attracting investors money *hopefully* for an eventual invention of a viable way of interstellar flight.
Permalink Io 
April 27th, 2012 2:42am
Planetary Resources is the world's first company with a market cap of $20 trillion.

Permalink Idiot 
April 27th, 2012 3:33am
I don't think there's any way we can avoid the question of expanding beyond Earth. That's our role in the Earth's ecosystem -- to extend it beyond the planet. We'd be betraying other species if we shirked from that duty.
Permalink Quant 
April 27th, 2012 5:23am
"I don't think there's any way we can avoid the question of expanding beyond Earth. That's our role in the Earth's ecosystem -- to extend it beyond the planet. We'd be betraying other species if we shirked from that duty."

Wow, that's just so wrong in so many was.

1.  Humanity may or may not expand beyond earth.  Eventually (5 billion years or so) it's a necessity.  But right now I don't call something somewhere in the next 5 billion years "a necessity".

2.  If you expand the Earth's ecosystem beyond the Earth, it's no longer the Earth's ecosystem.

3.  Space is Big.  Really Big.  You just have no conception how big Space really is.  And it's mostly empty.

4.  The Earth is Big.  Really big.  And it's just chock full of nice crunchy resources, two of which are Water and Air.  Space?  We haven't even made a dent in all the resources the Ocean has to offer.

5.  It's MUCH better if we treat the Earth as if it's the only one we have -- and therefore set up systems to be sustainable.  Using "Well, there's always the asteroid belt to get resources from", and thus trashing the Earth, is a monumentally short-sighted, stupid, and ultimately self-defeating thing to do.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 27th, 2012 8:34am
6.  In all our use of the Earth's resources so far, the only ones we're really "using up" is fossil fuels.  Everything else is recyclable, if only we have the will to do so.

And with solar power and breeder reactors, we don't even need to use fossil fuels.

Therefore, personally going into space is optional.  Robotic missions have a lot going for them, though.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 27th, 2012 8:37am
>> SaveTheHubble: Space is Big. Really Big. You just have no conception how big Space really is. And it's mostly empty.

This reminds me of a group a physicists struggle to get government approval on requiring the manufacturers place accurate information on product labels (kind of like they are forced to declare the food additives).
One such label should be a notice on beer cans saying "Warning! 99.99% of this product is just empty space!"
Permalink Io 
April 27th, 2012 8:59am
"Space?  We haven't even made a dent in all the resources the Ocean has to offer. "

But oceans are not empty. They're full of other species. What right do we have to take the resources from them?
Permalink Quant 
April 27th, 2012 9:07am
They're not as full of other species as they used to be.

Again -- sustainable development is the key.  Not "rape it and leave it".
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 27th, 2012 9:20am
At the rate that we're acidizing the oceans from excessive CO2, the shells on crustaceans won't be able to harden sometime around 2040. At the rate we're currently catching fish, the oceans will run out of commercial fish around 2050.
Permalink Peter 
April 27th, 2012 9:32am
>> acidizing the oceans from excessive CO2

If only they weren't so salty, they'd be a great source of soda for our Mojitos.
Permalink Io 
April 27th, 2012 9:38am
Cheaper space launches possible: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17851603
Permalink Quant 
April 27th, 2012 12:02pm
Dude -- 5 times the speed of sound?

You need 15 times the speed of sound to become sub-orbital.  20 times the speed of sound to become orbital.  The military is working on "scram-jet" engines to do this sort of thing.

The latest flight of their "supersonic cruise missle" proof of concept made Mach 15 for about 2 minutes, before the airframe over-heated and failed.  But they learned a lot in those two minutes.

The SR-71 blackbird used to do close to this sort of thing.  The problem you run into is that to run a jet engine at those speeds, the incoming air goes through the engine at hypersonic speeds.  We don't really have data for how fuel burns in a hypersonic air-stream.  All jet engines before now have used the compressor blades (the ones in front of the combustion chamber) to slow the incoming air so the fuel burn happens at sub-sonic speeds -- even for hypersonic planes.  But to get Mach 15 and above, you can't slow the air down that much.

So building a Mach-15 and above hypersonic ram-jet engine is one of the most recent research projects.

It's sweet and all that this guy has some "mysterious" way of cooling the air -- but that's a tiny part of the problem.  "It'll be cheap to orbit!" is easy to say, hard to realize in practice.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 27th, 2012 12:11pm
Physics is fascinating. Too bad this world is mostly chemistry :P
However, there's a hope. There's a thing they both have in common - right, it's math.

And you find hardcore math:
- In quantitative finance.
- In electrical engineering.
- In physics.
- In chemistry.

I started being interested in math when my chemistry experiments failed to shreds.
I'm still interested in math, in fact even more interested, although working in quantitative finance.

But like that Idiot('s) Atari guy, I cannot forget. Where I started from.
Permalink Io 
April 27th, 2012 1:42pm
Hardcore math in astrology as well. Not so easy to compute planet trajectories easily. Also similar scientific basis and validity to the quant stuff mentioned.
Permalink Idiot 
April 27th, 2012 1:58pm
@Idiot: I suppose you mean "astronomy".

"Astrology", at least in my language, means gypsy witches guessing your future :P
Permalink Io 
April 27th, 2012 2:29pm
Astrology is the one comparable to the "odd man out" you included in your list of 3 scientific fields and one hogwash field.
Permalink Idiot 
April 27th, 2012 3:35pm
So chemistry is hogwash. That's a new one :)
Permalink Io 
April 27th, 2012 4:14pm
I think it was spelled "Alchemy", originally.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
April 27th, 2012 4:21pm
Chemistry isn't the hogwash of the 4 things listed.
Permalink Idiot 
April 27th, 2012 4:54pm

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