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"Wet" Asteroids Could Supply Space Gas Stations

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the sop-it-up dept.

Space 163

FleaPlus writes "Water ice was recently discovered on the large asteroid 24 Themis, and Space.com discusses proposals for producing fuel from asteroid ice. NASA and the President recently announced plans for robotic precursor missions to asteroids (and a human mission by 2025), as well as a funding boost for R&D to develop techniques like in-situ resource utilization. Since most of the mass of a beyond-Earth mission is fuel, refueling in orbit would be a huge mass- and cost-saver for space exploration (especially if fuel can be produced in space), but a large unknown is how to effectively extract water in an environment lacking gravity."

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163 comments

yes but... (0, Troll)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109778)

...you'd have to find some money to get a station up there first...
Maybe you should seriously consider leaving afghanistan and iraq, then rejuvenate your lousy economy, ain't it?

Re:yes but... (2, Funny)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109862)

Maybe you should seriously consider leaving afghanistan and iraq, then rejuvenate your lousy economy, ain't it?

Do you have to actively work to create sentences like this? Is there some kind of system of analysis and theory behind poor sentence construction that you employ? I can't imagine anyone would actually be able to write like that without concerted effort and thought put into it, and yet you trolls do it every day. Perhaps it is an under-appreciated art.

Re:yes but... (-1, Offtopic)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109952)

Do you have to actively work to create sentences like this? Is there some kind of system of analysis and theory behind poor sentence construction that you employ? I can't imagine anyone would actually be able to write like that without concerted effort and thought put into it, and yet you trolls do it every day. Perhaps it is an under-appreciated art.

It's how yobs (thugs/losers/hoodies) in the UK speak. Average IQ pushing one digit, average time from hitting puberty to pregnancy (female) about 9 months, average time from hitting puberty to contracting a venerial disease (both genders) about ten minutes.

In fairness to the grandparent, that kind of verbiage has also filtered into other (non-destructive) youth groups, in kind of a mish-mash of UK-yob and US-gangsta speak that for whatever reason is percieved as "cool" among the under 14s. Perhaps s/he fits into that category. Otherwise, you're right, it takes real talent for someone to fuck up a perfectly good English sentence like s/he did.

Re:yes but... (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110280)

Maybe you should seriously consider leaving afghanistan and iraq, then rejuvenate your lousy economy, ain't it?

Do you have to actively work to create sentences like this? Is there some kind of system of analysis and theory behind poor sentence construction that you employ? I can't imagine anyone would actually be able to write like that without concerted effort and thought put into it, and yet you trolls do it every day. Perhaps it is an under-appreciated art.

You would write something like that - in one of the Scandinavian languages.

Re:yes but... (2, Insightful)

HBI (604924) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110464)

I've known far more than my share of Swedes and Finns, from my mudding days, and they always had excellent English, both written and in person. Yes, accented slightly but quite excellent.

When Pigs Fly (0)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111158)

The whole topic is nonsense. They can't even pull oil from the Gulf floor without having a disaster.

If it doesn't make rich, some pig-banker who worships the holes blown through Iraqi children, it won't happen. And you know it.

Do you have Fly Buys? (1)

Sneeze1066 (1574313) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109792)

Will they have an attendant hassling you to buy 2 packs of gum for $2 every time you fill up?

Re:Do you have Fly Buys? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109934)

if it only costs $2, I will happily buy it. As it is, something like gum just to get to leo will cost a lot more than $2.

Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

quantumpineal (1724214) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109812)

I said it all along. Mining asteroids should be NASAs priority. I hate to say I told you so :P

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (3, Funny)

pellik (193063) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109974)

Mining asteroids in EVE is one of the lowest paying professions one can engage in. Perhaps NASA would be better served to focus on killing the spaceships that they encounter around the asteroids for bounties.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110020)

Yeah, but I wanna bet it will take them years of skill grinding to even get to level 1...

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (2, Interesting)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110056)

Not trolling, just curious ... if landing on an asteroid is difficult at best*, and the chances of the asteroid moving in the direction of your ship's travels are slim to none, how does going out of your way to land at a "docking station" that is moving you further out of your way to get some resources beneficial? Won't restocking the personnel or supplies on any asteroid "mining station" eat up more resources and money than they can ever harvest?



* kind of like playing 'quarters' by hitting a cup racing past on the back of a flatbed

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (5, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110222)

if landing on an asteroid is difficult at best*, and the chances of the asteroid moving in the direction of your ship's travels are slim to none

Why do you assume either of these? Asteroids are orbiting the sun. Their orbits are predictable, modulo some minor variations caused by the (very weak) gravity of nearby ones. It's much easier than, for example, landing on an aircraft carrier, where you have to worry about changes in the wind.

As to the probability of them travelling in the same direction, it's pretty much guaranteed. If you're going from the Earth to the asteroids, you use a transfer orbit, where you are starting in the Earth's orbit around the sun and then injecting enough energy to move you out to the asteroid belt. You end up on solar orbit in the asteroid belt. Any asteroid in the same orbit will, by definition, be going in the same direction and speed as you. Asteroids in nearby orbits will have a small relative speed, and the energy required to enter a transfer orbit to rendezvous with them is relatively small.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

boxwood (1742976) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111924)

Everyone knows that the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

quantumpineal (1724214) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110322)

I dunno. In eve they don't dock, but fly parallel then use robotic drones to ferry mined materials to their cargo bay. Sounds like a nice job, I agree with whoever said that :) & No I'm a fing nightmare at parties lol

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110460)

In eve they don't dock, but fly parallel then use robotic drones to ferry mined materials to their cargo bay.

Well, if game designers have it figured out already then I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before NASA catches up with them.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110982)

I suspect that the intention is to find a suitable asteroid that bumbles around in an orbit similar to Earth's so that fuel and other materials can be moved into a high Earth orbit with minimum energy. If you're willing to go slowly, wait for optimum times for transfer, use all the tricks of high efficiency engines that we know, etc... you might be able to stock up the tanks of an orbiting fuel station far more cheaply than by having to launch from Earth's surface.
 
In the medium term, cheaper launch methods are likely to make space mining for fuel an unattractive prospect. I would suggest looking up the Aquarius launcher and heated hydrogen space cannons for info on the competition.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (0, Troll)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110210)

Mining asteroids should be NASAs priority.

Great, now we're going to have environmental disasters in outer space.

If I were the aliens, I'd destroy Earth tomorrow.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

quantumpineal (1724214) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110366)

Not sure what your alternative would be. We have to mine to survive, and it would build infrastructure in space, and help reduce the risk of these disasters on our planet which is pretty special as planets go :)

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110614)

Great, now we're going to have environmental disasters in outer space.

Don't you need to have an ecology first, before you can have an environmental disaster?

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111364)

Don't you need to have an ecology first, before you can have an environmental disaster?

No. All you need is an environment to have an environmental disaster.

And space, harsh as it may be, is an environment.

And if there's a way to spoil it, humans will find it.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

besalope (1186101) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111762)

And space, harsh as it may be, is an environment. And if there's a way to spoil it, humans will find it.

And space, harsh as it may be, is an environment. And if there's a way to spoil it, Exxon Valdez and BP will find it.

Fixed it for you.

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112680)

space, harsh as it may be, is an environment.

And if there's a way to spoil it, humans will find it.

Yeah--as soon as they get to that first asteroid, they'll plant a couple shrubberies with a nice two-level effect and little path down the middle...

Re:Mining Asteroids like Eve Online (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110636)

to have a environmental disaster, there has to be a environment to have a disaster in.

If the universe were a internet spaceships game (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110744)

The mining laser was the second most awesome piece of pseudo-technology in Eve (preceded by the "pod", a minispaceship which is both the means of immortality and getting anywhere you want at 1.5 AU/s, it's basically the logical conclusion of the TV, couch, and potato chips technology). You could shoot a rock from up to 20 or so kilometers away and get lots of economically viable stuff out of it. In third place was the "Blueprint"/automated factory combo which allowed you to make extremely complex stuff (like enormous internet spaceships) for the cost of materials and a little upkeep. I believe the "exotic dancer" technology was in fourth place...

And yes, I am fun at parties.

Phone to the Brits! (1)

fvandrog (899507) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109816)

I am sure BP has a very save solution for the extraction of 'fuel' in space.

Re:Phone to the Brits! (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110068)

I am sure BP has a very save solution for the extraction of 'fuel' in space.

Sure they do, it's just the "containing it" part that still needs a little work.

Another benefit (2, Funny)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109832)

This could also provide good jobs for the inhabitants of these asteroids, serving Starbucks coffee and Cinnabons.

Re:Another benefit (1)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109854)

Man, you must live in some upscale neighborhood. Around here (Houston) the coffee and pastry sold at gas stations is more of the Kwik-E-Mart [wikipedia.org] class than Starbucks or Cinnabon.

Re:Another benefit (1)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109884)

I was trying to evoke the rest stops along the New Jersey turnpike. For the record, I do not live in New Jersey.

Re:Another benefit (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110086)

I was trying to evoke the rest stops along the New Jersey turnpike. For the record, I do not live in New Jersey.

I was thinking airports as that is the only place I've seen a Cinnabon. Although, that would still be on topic as we are talking about space craft and a space craft refueling station would likely be like an airport.

And don't worry. If I lived in Jersey, I'd actively and preemptively deny it to.

Re:Another benefit (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110326)

Are you trying to say that Starbucks is upscale? Wonder what 7-11 around is classed as where I live then, as Starbucks is too afraid to compete with them over average joe-coffee-buyer's money.

Re:Another benefit (1)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112136)

Tres upscale, especially when compared to what it was when it started out - a hippie coffee store in Pike Place, complete with funky old warped wooden floors, even funkier old, clouded window panes, and cool people selling fresh-roasted coffee... beans. Yeah, you could get an espresso or a cappuccino, but that wasn't the mainstay of the business back in the day. I seem to recall (those days are a bit fuzzy, y'understand) that a double shot of espresso was something like $0.55. So, yeah, now that that shot is called a "doppio", and costs around $2, in a plastic, corporate-approved, McDonalds on caffeine storefront, the thing that Starbucks has become is upscale.
And get off my lawn.

Re:Another benefit (1)

Jer (18391) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112342)

I don't think the word you're looking for is "upscale". I think the word is "commercialized". Yes commercialized things can sometimes be upscale, but upscale stores generally don't have drive-thru windows.

(oblig Idiocracy reference) Re:Another benefit (1)

wolftone (609476) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109966)

...wait, they'll give handj-- I mean, I can go to Starbucks on these asteroids? Sign me up!

Not so hard (3, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109924)

a large unknown is how to effectively extract water in an environment lacking gravity

Easy, bring the asteroid down to earth to extract the water. I don't see why they have to make it so complicated.

Re:Not so hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110018)

so instead of Armageddon in wich we try to destroy asteroids, we'll send up people/robots to make the asteroids land at the right spot?

and how big must these asteroids be to make it worthwhile? tektonic plate shattering big?

or will it be fuel negative? like the corn which requires almost as much diesel to harvest as it will produce?

or will you beam the asteroid to it's place with yet undiscovered tractor beams? risking urban catastrophes?

Re:Not so hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110270)

Obviously, at some point there will be so little water left on the earth that we'll have to build exotic space ships to nab water-bearing asteroids and squeeze them dry.

Re:Not so hard (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110416)

so instead of Armageddon in wich we try to destroy asteroids, we'll send up people/robots to make the asteroids land at the right spot?

and how big must these asteroids be to make it worthwhile? tektonic plate shattering big?

or will it be fuel negative? like the corn which requires almost as much diesel to harvest as it will produce?

or will you beam the asteroid to it's place with yet undiscovered tractor beams? risking urban catastrophes?

We'd simply put you under the landing site. The large "woosh" generated above your head would instantly slow the rock to 0 m/s.

I'm no space expert, but... (0, Offtopic)

qpawn (1507885) | more than 3 years ago | (#32109926)

... it seems like a more suitable source of gas would be Uranus.

Mass Driver (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110012)

It is probably incorrect to directly equate fuel with reaction mass. They can mostly be considered the same thing in a conventional rocket but if you could find another source of reaction mass then the fuel would only need to drive that mass away from you.

So I'm thinking that raw chunks of asteroid could become that reaction mass... pick up chunks of passing asteroid and throw them really really hard in the direction opposite to the one you want to travel in. Anyone following you might be in for a hard time though, but that's what the expression "eat my dust" is for.

Water is reaction mass for nuclear rockets. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110048)

No need for electolysis. Just extract it and off you go. Methane, CO2, etc could be used as well.

Unknown? No. Untested. (1)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110058)

Gravity is can be simulated through constant acceleration. To extract water, you use fractional distillation by heating the asteroid material using concentrated sunlight in accelerated frame of reference. A spinning structure has been the traditional concept of how to create "artificial gravity". Another idea would be to fling asteroid material away using mass drivers to accelerate the whole rock.

Can we refuel from ice on Earth? (1)

silverbax (452214) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110060)

From TFA:

"... the water could be broken down into its component parts (hydrogen and oxygen) to make rocket fuel, experts say.

"Water is the main component in how you might make propellants," said Jerry Sanders, leader of in-situ resource utilization at NASA's Lunar Surface Systems Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. 'If you're going to go repeatedly to an asteroid, then the ability to basically start setting up gas stations could be extremely beneficial"

Hey, I love the whole space-gas-station idea, I really do, but I would also really like if we took this concept of making fuel from water AND DID IT RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.

Re:Can we refuel from ice on Earth? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110106)

I KNOW YOUR IDEA IS BRILLIANT BECAUSE YOU USED CAPS!!!11!!

I suggest that we start training porn stars as astronauts, since they're going to have to suck pretty hard to get the fuel all the way up the hose to orbit.

Extracting is the least of your problems (2, Insightful)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110194)

the water could be broken down into its component parts (hydrogen and oxygen) to make rocket fuel, experts say.

Gee, sounds simple. Except that rockets generally run on -liquid- oxygen.

You are going to need one hell of an infrastructure to manufacture/store LOX, even more so for liquid hydrogen.

Theory and practice are pretty far apart on this idea, to the point where I would call it impractical.

Re:Can we refuel from ice on Earth? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110336)

Do you understand any of what you just said? Hydrogen is fuel because you react it with oxygen to produce water. If you split water into hydrogen and oxygen, then combine it again, you get less energy than you started with. Doing it 'RIGHT HERE ON EARTH' would be a pointless waste of energy for most uses.

It's useful in space because they don't need energy, they need rocket fuel. A solar array on an asteroid can work 100% of the time, creating rocket fuel. This is how you create rocket fuel on the ground too, but in most cases if you start with electricity then the energy is already in a more useful form.

Have we learnt nothing? (3, Funny)

Issarlk (1429361) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110114)

After the mexican gulf and it's oil, let's polute space with giant water spills! Who the hell had that good idea at Nasa?

Water for Life, Nuclear for Fuel (1)

antirelic (1030688) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110160)

The article states that the main mass of a ship for beyond earth missions would be fuel. Would this be true if we were using a form of nuclear propulsion? All safety/weapon/treaty concerns aside, isn't sticking with liquid fuels for space exploration spitting in the face of real technological development?

I think it is reasonable to research refinement and production in zero gravity in general. But arent we wasting time trying to create liquid fuel in space if nuclear is a more feasible solution?

Re:Water for Life, Nuclear for Fuel (1)

anarche (1525323) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110430)

wouldnt the energy given off by the thrust in a nuclear reactor be radioactive?

Re:Water for Life, Nuclear for Fuel (3, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110988)

wouldnt the energy given off by the thrust in a nuclear reactor be radioactive?

Basically, no.

In somewhat more detail, slightly. Reactor coolant tends to get radioactive after a while. But a nuclear rocket doesn't have any particular part of the coolant present for "a while", since it goes in one end and out the other without any potentially embarrassing recirc.

So, in general, if you used H2 as the reaction mass for your reactor, you could expect some non-radioactive deuterium moderately (which is a joke, in case you didn't get it) regularly, and an atom or so of tritium now and then.

If you used water, the same plus some O-17 and less often O-18.

Note that the amount of radioactive H@ (and O2) will be dependent on the reactor design. Some neutrons are easier to capture than others....

Re:Water for Life, Nuclear for Fuel (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110516)

But aren't we wasting time trying to create liquid fuel in space if nuclear is a more feasible solution?

I'm making this up (feel free to correct me!) but I would imagine that water is more plentiful in comets than usable nuclear fuel is and would be easier to mine.

Good opportunity coming. (1)

Adustust (1650351) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110188)

Why not set a mission to bring the Apophis asteroid into earth orbit since it's trajectory brings it closer to us anyway? We wouldn't have to worry about sending a probe or exploration team out to the distant reaches of space to do a small science project about water mining. We could knock out two technologies at the same time. Learning how to effectively maneuver an asteroid, which seems to be a hot topic as it is. Also, asteroid mining - for pretty much whatever. We would have the damn thing in our back yard and could do whatever we wanted with it.

Re:Good opportunity coming. (1)

anarche (1525323) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110540)

and what would that do to the tides?

Re:Good opportunity coming. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110728)

Hell with the tides, let me at the control software for the asteroid guidance rockets and make a few adjustments...

Get a little "Footfall" style action on that asteroid.

Settle some of this Middle East conflict crap once and for all.... That would make my millenium.

Mostly laughable concept. (1, Interesting)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110288)

Your basic laws of physics limit this to a mostly laughable concept.

You can't make "fuel" out of water, not without the addition of about 9 times the energy you'd get by just using the original energy.

For example, to break up water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, you can use electrolysis, which is only about 11% efficient, so you need 10 units of electricity to make one unit of H and O. On an asteroid, you're gonna have to get the electricity from a nuclear reactor/turbine system, which itself is only going to be about 20% efficient (and you're going to need a few acres of heat-sink to condense the working fluid). So we're up to throwing away 49 units of energy to make one unit of H and O rocket fuel. Or you're going to need a very large and complex solar collector with super-complex metallurgy to generate a high enough heat to disassociate the water. And then there's the extra energy needed to compress and liquefy the fuels. Plus there's the not so small problem of anode poisoning and mineral clogging. The water up there is probably going to be heavily contaminated with typical asteroid junk like sulphates and phosphates. Those will poison the electrolysis anodes and clog up the solar disassociator toote-suite.

The whole idea is really, really, far out, with a negligible efficiency at best and dismal chance of success.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110334)

For example, to break up water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, you can use

...solar radiation, which costs you nothing, and the interesting parts of which can be gathered with a large mylar-bag mirror.

The rest of your comment was dumb after I changed this part, so I ignored it.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

tophermeyer (1573841) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110498)

The rest of your comment was dumb after I changed this part, so I ignored it.

Maybe you shouldn't have. Hacker made some very good points that had nothing to do with the energy source itself. Namely, that there would need to employ incredibly sophisticated materials and engineering science to build any kind of long term functioning electrolysis system that (I assume) would need to operate semi-autonomously with minimal maintenance.

The power source of this system seems like the easy part.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110586)

Maybe you shouldn't have. Hacker made some very good points that had nothing to do with the energy source itself.

No, he did not. All of his points were related to the energy source except for compression of the fuel or they're just staggeringly, stupidly wrong. For example, "Or you're going to need a very large and complex solar collector with super-complex metallurgy to generate a high enough heat to disassociate the water." No, that's completely incorrect. You can use ordinary mylar to reflect sunlight, even in space. No complex metallurgy is required. The complexity is very low as well because fine aim is not required either. Unless you're using a design with a reflecting collector, of course... which is completely unnecessary in this context.

The power source of this system seems like the easy part.

And yet, he dedicates half of his main paragraph to it.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110892)

>No complex metallurgy is required.

Hows about the issues involved in building a a target that can stand the white-hot temperatures needed to dissassociate water, and keep it from melting down and reacting with the oxygen, sulphates, borates, and other contaminants. White hot steel does not last long in the presence of pure oxygen and sulfates.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111116)

Hows about the issues involved in building a a target that can stand the white-hot temperatures needed to dissassociate water,

The asteroid is the target.

and keep it from melting down and reacting with the oxygen, sulphates, borates, and other contaminants.

The asteroid is parked and given a steady spin. It's shielded from the sun, which allows its temperature to equalize. Then it's heated in a controlled fashion... You get the rest. It might conceivably be necessary to carve them into convenient pieces first, but this is hardly proven.

White hot steel does not last long in the presence of pure oxygen and sulfates.

As the asteroids are heated, different materials will "cook off".

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111500)

>As the asteroids are heated, different materials will "cook off".

Sorry, I added to the confusion. I was alluding to the improbability of making a solar disassociator-- the thingy that splits the water. It has to run white-hot to split water.

You're talking about a solar cooker, in order to heat the asteroid and drive off the water. Totally different thingie, and I wonder how you'd ever collect the water? Hmmm....

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112712)

Once you've got water, if you can figure out how to contain it, you can use it as the target for the sunlight, too. Your problem then will be reflecting the energy lost as radiated IR back onto it. So obviously the hard part is containing it. Currently I am imagining a very, very large spherical balloon with a single-angstrom layer of aluminum painted on a big circular portion of it as a reflector. Similar technology on a much smaller scale (yes, I do enjoy a good understatement) is currently used to produce biodegradable food packaging. Some sort of containment vessel into which water ice is placed is located therein. Currently I imagine a very large and incredibly thick pyrex sphere. Perhaps it's not impossible, though I fail to see how it could be done. If the balloon had the proper coating it would reflect at least a portion of the IR back inwards to the center.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (2, Insightful)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111040)

The Mylar solar mirror could be aimed at Titanium Oxide solar assisted electrolysis, making that process even more efficient.

Water would be prefiltered using existing NASA water filtering technology in use on the ISS now.

But what really strikes me about AH's answer is even with his engineering challenges which are overcomeable, and horrible energy to fuel ratio guesstimates.

This Rocket fuel assembled in space 24/7 in the asteroid belt would likely still be cheaper than if we created the fuel on Earth, and flew it out to the asteroid belt on a rocket.

It costs me $10,000 per kilo to get something to LEO, ususally assuming 80% of the rocket's mass is fuel the rest is the vehicle istself and payload, so we have at least 4 to 1 efficiency loss, probably more. It costs more to more to boost it to GEO, you use a transfer orbit, maybe even a solar sail to get to the belt but you're still burning fuel to stop and maneuver when you get there. How many kilos of fuel have I burned to get 1 kilo of fuel to my fuel depot in the asteroid belt?

ANY Explorer will have to learn to use indigenous resources at some point to stay in the field longer, or permanenetly. We cannot continue to rely on fuel made and shipped from Earth for any serious missions beyond our own orbit.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32111570)

The thing with engineering obstacles being "overcomeable" is, YOU have to SHOW us. We as a race don't have a CLUE as to where to _start_ any of this. Big Mylar reflector? Show me. How do you keep the curvature? How do you keep it aimed? How do you collect the gases after?

And even if we did, for what? There's nothing out there that we don't have right here under our feet!

Any technology to create fuel from water will work just as well here on Earth. Where you have an infrastructure. And paying customers.

"Explorer" is a laughable concept in a vacuum. Explore what? There's mostly nothing, with a few things here and there. Just send unmanned probes with their own fuel.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (3, Interesting)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112044)

Even your unmanned probes would work better with an unmanned fuel depot halfway to anywhere.

And no under our feet does not work, only a tiny percentage of the Earth's crust is mineable. And we've gotten all of the easy stuff already, if you look at how many tenths of an ounce per ton is considered profitiable for miners that then use acid solutions to reduce the ore down to what they want, and tailings (the waste) you end up with tons of industrial waster per ounce of useable material.

It has gotten so bad that many companies are now using current technologies to reprocess the tailings of mines/plants closed in the 1970s because those leftovers are richer in what they want than the new mines they are finding.

There IS more raw material in the belt than all of the Earth, and at higher concentrations than any mines being operated anywhere on the planet.

Now, tell me if you really believe what you've said, how much Helium / Helium 3 there is here on Earth, under our feet? What is the cost per ounce?

Helium 3 is $46500 per troy ounce.

Helium we get from Nuclear decay, Helium 3 we get as a byproduct from manufacturing Tritium for Nuclear bombs, we haven't made it in industrial quantities for a while, but there are numberous Medical Imaging and Fusion research uses for this limited resource.

How much is there on the moon?

How many Rare Earth Elements are available in the Belt that would make more efficient magnets for Hybrid Cars and High Speed Trains, but Neodymium is about $1 per Gram, and the price will go up the more demand for Hybrid and Electric vehicles goes up.

How many CD players and Cell phones would you have to recylce the magnets from to come up with the Kilo of Neodymium used in the motor of 1 Prius?

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110882)

>..solar radiation, which costs you nothing, and the interesting parts of which can be gathered with a large mylar-bag mirror.

Yep, in superficial theory at least. The tricky bits involve shaping the mirror to the required accuracy, aiming it, and building a a target that can stand the white-hot temperatures needed to dissassociate water, and keep it from melting down and reacting with the oxygen, sulphates, borates, and other contaminants. White hot steel does not last long in the presence of pure oxygen and sulfates.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

antirelic (1030688) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111952)

What part of 11% efficiency dont you get? It would be better to turn the solar radiation directly into a source of energy than to use that solar radiation to break down the H2O.

Cooling Systems (1)

g4b (956118) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110752)

Besides Solar Energy being more present in space (I think most of it gets "mirrored away" by the atmosphere), which would make solar energy far more efficient in space, than on earth, I can only think of the heat argument as somewhat questionable, since I always thought, that space is "somewhat" cold.

Correct me if I am wrong, but cooling systems should be far superior in space, too, or not?

I mean if you shield away sunheat with your solar collectors, behind that it should be pretty cold, or not?

Re:Cooling Systems (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110932)

>Correct me if I am wrong, but cooling systems should be far superior in space, too, or not?

Not.

There is nothing there to conduct or convect the heat away, such as the running water that we use to cool power plants down here.

All you're left with is the option to radiate it away, for which you require huge amounts of surface area of highly heat-conductive material. The deployment of several square miles of unobtanium is left as an exercise for the reader.

Re:Cooling Systems (1)

g4b (956118) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111216)

We use water since it takes away heat faster, than oxygen, but still we rely on transporting it into something, which is cooler, and therefore the air surrounding us, leading to the fact, that it is harder to cool things in hot surroundings and building hot things under the surface of the earth is better for cooling.

Water gets frozen in space, does it not? therefore cooling the water would be possible by transporting it away? Sorry, I never was in space and did not study astrophysics, therefore I only know what movies tell me :D

As far as I understand it, if that's not the case, space would be however more efficient in keeping heat, therefore requiring less energy input because nothing would take away the heat OR be more efficient in cooling. Each situation has it's benefits.

If energy dispersion is limited, you don't need as much energy to keep heated water hot, making energy input smaller.

Also, heat by movement as a factor would be smaller if there is no atmosphere? Okay, you still have to shield against solar radiation.

Unobtainium is hard to get however, since it is always guarded by big blue sexy hot chics.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (3, Informative)

johno.ie (102073) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110824)

Multiple citations needed.

I don't know where you pulled those numbers out of, but they're completely wrong. Depending on the process used electrolysis can have an efficiency rating of 30%-60%. Nuclear reactors are much better than 20% efficient, unless you think an RTG is a nuclear reactor. Solar thermal power is a better bet for generating large amounts of power for running a space factory. No fuel needed and a few square kilometers of mylar will set it up nicely.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111714)

> Depending on the process used electrolysis can have an efficiency rating of 30%-60%.

Citations needed. One has to differentiate among the THEORETICAL electron-volt efficiencies, and actual efficiencies. The numbers you gave are the theoretical ones.

>Nuclear reactors are much better than 20% efficient.

A ground-based nuke plant with unlimited weight and space and maintenance and unlimited heat-sinks to a cold river, yes those, when running, and watched over by hundreds of humans, yes, they can hit 30%. I was thinking more like a nuke that could be lifted by a Saturn V, dialled down in temperature and flux for safety, longer life without any maintenance, and to work with a heat-sink loftable by another few Saturn V's. You'd be lucky to get 20% from that. I'll even give you a break and assume no need for another 50 Saturns V's to lift the minimal shielding needed to keep humans within a few hundred miles of the place. I'll even spot you any maintenance requirements.

this is why i laugh at hydrogen cars (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110934)

people apparently think hydrogen powered cars are great because they only release water as a pollutant

except the amount of energy you are going to use just to make the hydrogen is going to produce significantly more pollutants and waste significant amounts of energy

so the most environmentally friendly and most efficient energy system will always be the system with the least amount of steps from source to use

solar->electricity->hydrogen->electricity->motion

is inherently worse than

solar->electricity->motion

or even

solar->electricity->battery->electricity->motion

the difference between the energy required to free hydrogen as opposed to the energy required to charge a battery is huge

hydrogen is a joke

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (1)

rockNme2349 (1414329) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111282)

IANARS, but I've always thought that in space, there was plenty of energy to be harvested from the Sun, via solar panels, or directly applying the radiation as another poster commented. From what I understand, the reason we require so much fuel is because we need more than just energy, we need something to push behind us, which is why ion propulsion is popular for long distance space travel. You use what little mass as effectively as you can. We're not trying to run a power plant here. Of course we're not going to generate energy by splitting and then recombining water. We're trying to collect something that we can usefully use to propel ourselves that we don't need to bring out of a gravity well in the first place.

Re:Mostly laughable concept. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32112302)

Your understanding of physics and engineering is entirely laughable, so if NASA thinks it's possible and you don't that's like a double endorsement.

Really? (3, Interesting)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110310)

IANARS, but "extract water in an environment lacking gravity" doesn't seem like that hard of a problem.

Water's a fairly easy substance to deal with - nonexplosive, liquid at easily reachable temps, possibly bound in the asteroid in nothing more significantly complex than an ice conglomerate.

Crushing/pulverizing the regolith and then tossing the mess into a gentle screen centrifuge with even moderate heating (ie above 0 deg C) would seem to do the trick - the water would just flow out the centrifuge walls...wouldn't even have to be 'batched' but could run as a constant process. The spin rate wouldn't even have to be significant, just enough to let inertia do its thing and force the water from the slurry.

At least to my ignorance, this seems at least an order of magnitude LESS difficult/dangerous than electrolysis in zero-g, something we've (AFAIK) got a pretty solid grasp of.

What am I missing?

Re:Really? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112260)

Well, the first flaw I see with your plan is that there is no way to clean the screens on the centrifuge. Over a given amount of time, depending on the contamination levels of the water, those screens are going to eventually clog and the system will stop working. That may not be a terrible thing, if a few of those craft could be made for cheap, then it could work out I suppose. But it's important to remember that you don't get to fix things once they are in space, so if if you have any sort of filtering device, its pretty much a one shot deal until the filter needs to be changed. At which point, the spacecraft's useful life is over since swapping a filter hardly justifies the cost of the trip to space.

extracting water (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110346)

but a large unknown is how to effectively extract water in an environment lacking gravity."

With a silly straw, Silly!

Two words.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110492)

... ICE PIRATES!!

asteroid colony. (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 3 years ago | (#32110698)

what you need is a forge, a metal shop, a greenhouse, living quarters, a large solar concentrator array, a sizeable asteroid with ice in it, and you could probably bloody well live on the thing.

let me see if I understood this well ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32110814)

So, the proposal is to extract ice (spending energy to do it), then thaw the ice into water (spending energy to do it), then electrolyze the water (spending energy to do it), then use obtained hydrogen and oxygen gases as fuel (to get energy).
Had these guys ever heard of First Law of Thermodynamics?

If energy allocated to achieve all that comes from an source which is external to the ship (say ... solar panels), why don't they just use the energy they have to accelerate and throw back any material they can get their scrapers on? Reactive propulsion works on the basis of conservation of momentum and it will work with whichever mass you have at hand, as long as you are able to hurl it in direction opposite of direction which you wish to go.
I understand that H+O can be made to get very high v in p = m*v when combusted, but some sort of mass driver (electrostatic for small particles, centrifugal for pebbles and rocks is fine too) could very much compensate missing v with more m.
Much cheaper energy-wise, too.

Lots of water and hydrocarbons in space (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111712)

There are vast quantities of water and hydrocarbons in space. The problem is free oxygen.

Re:Lots of water and hydrocarbons in space (1)

Anomalyst (742352) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112222)

free oxygen

Heck, I'd be willing to pay for it as long as it is open source.

Might be a ridiculous question but... (1)

ezbo (1596471) | more than 3 years ago | (#32111732)

... if we bring stuff from space to earth, we would be increasing the mass of the planet. Are we going to dump stuff of equal mass INTO space to balance it out? If so, what?

Re:Might be a ridiculous question but... (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112164)

Space Colonies of course.

Which despite their engineering challenges will be easier to build than to tell people not to have more kids.

asteroid mining a la slashdot (1)

Herve5 (879674) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112084)

OK, so, water is just the ashes of oxygen and hydrogen burning together, OK?
Burning together roughly the way we burn them in conventional rocket thrusters.
So, in order to succeed, the recipe will be:

1) get to icy asteroid, mine it, get water

2) magically turn back the water into its original components, before burning: O2 and H2 (???*)

3) burn them again together in your thrusters, and profit!!!

(*) yes, you can use a solar panel. Just let me bet that the mass of solar panel + water extractor + electrolysis apparatus is larger than the ordinary, earth-brought mass of fuel that'd bring the same thrust.

Sorry to be skeptical folks; please, do go playing with your asteroids while I develop actual, usable rocket science ;-)

news for morons (1)

slashdotjunker (761391) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112274)

"Wet" Asteroids Could Supply Space Gas Stations

Do we really have to have headlines like this? Why not just call it an "Ice Asteroid"? That would be accurate and there would be no need to resort to the 'Wet' label, as if this was some new kind of asteroid. Are we so stupid that we have to call it a "Gas Station"? Just say fuel. Did someone think that would be too confusing? Have we devolved to a state where most slashdot readers cannot comprehend that a fueling station serves the same purpose that a gas station provides for cars?

not just rocket fuel... (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#32112504)

but also fuel cells to drive the various electrical systems onboard.

That is, unless the plan is to lift a nuclear reactor out there, as is used in submarines.

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