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Billionaires and Polymaths Expected To Unveil a Plan To Mine Asteroids

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the why-couldn't-it-be-undersea? dept.

Google 531

dumuzi writes "A team including Larry Page, Ram Shriram and Eric Schmidt of Google, director James Cameron, Charles Simonyi (Microsoft executive and astronaut), Ross Perot Jr. (son of Ross Perot), Chris Lewicki (NASA Mars mission manager), and Peter Diamandis (X-Prize) have formed a new company called Planetary Resources, and are expected to announce plans on April 24th to mine asteroids. A study by NASA released April 2nd claims a robotic mission could capture a 500 ton asteroid and bring it to orbit the moon for $2.6 billion. The additional cost to mine the asteroid and return the ores to Earth would make profit unlikely even if the asteriod was 20% gold."

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A bad idea that "sounds good". (4, Insightful)

suso (153703) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758619)

A study by NASA released April 2nd claims a robotic mission could capture a 500 ton asteroid and bring it to orbit the moon for $2.6 billion. The additional cost to mine the asteroid and return the ores to Earth would make profit unlikely even if the asteriod was 20% gold."

And when the mission makes a mistake and an asteroid goes plummiting into a major city it will cause trillions of dollars in damage and massive loss of life and potentially create a cloud of dust that will cause an ice age.

I'm sorry, but no, this isn't a good idea. If you don't even have the technology to completely destroy an asteroid yet, then you can't fully control it and shouldn't be trying to "bring it to orbit". Maybe the first team will succeed because they have the smarts, but then when its shown to be profitable, the morons will get involved with fresh VC, etc.

It's even dumber than that. (2, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758645)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?

And a shorter distance.

And with an atmosphere.

And so on and so forth.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758663)

And a humungous gravity well.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (5, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758691)

the point of the plan is that it is possible.

not that it is profitable right now, but that it is a possible backup plan to get resources(ore) should we need them in the future.

why does that matter? to shut the fuck up people complaining that we will run out of mineral X in 20 years and all civilization will be doomed because of that.

overly right wing? I think my opinion on this is left wing, actually.

another thing is that we wouldn't necessarily want the resources to be dumped back to earth just to shoot them up to space again, but use them in space.

Huh? (-1)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758749)

overly right wing? I think my opinion on this is left wing, actually.

WTF? Where did that come from?

not that it is profitable right now, but that it is a possible backup plan to get resources(ore) should we need them in the future.

The rock we are sitting on right now is HUGE. In order to get a comparable amount of ore they would have to mine a comparable amount of material.

In other words, they'd have to mine an Earth's worth of asteroids to get an amount of ore currently available on Earth.

Fuck that. Mine the Moon first it getting ore is your goal. It's a LOT closer than the asteroids.

another thing is that we wouldn't necessarily want the resources to be dumped back to earth just to shoot them up to space again, but use them in space.

Yeah. There's the Moon already up there and close to us and it probably has the same materials as the asteroids do.

Compared to the moon (5, Informative)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758845)

To use lunar resources you have to land and take off in a gravity well. Distance matters much less than delta-V for space operations.

Asteroids are differentiated. Some are mostly pure nickel-iron. Never heard of that being available on the moon.

Re:Compared to the moon (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758927)

To use lunar resources you have to land and take off in a gravity well.

Yet the old lunar lander could do that. The Moon's gravity well is VERY weak. So weak that it cannot hold much of an atmosphere. If air gets blown off of the Moon then it's not really a factor for getting stuff off of the Moon.

Distance matters much less than delta-V for space operations.

You need a high delta-V for getting out of strong gravity wells.

After that, a high delta-V means that you can cover the HUGE distances in space faster than with a low delta-V.

But the issue really is distance. And the Moon is a LOT closer than the asteroids.

Asteroids are differentiated. Some are mostly pure nickel-iron. Never heard of that being available on the moon.

Why wouldn't there be a vein of iron ore on the Moon? There are veins of it on the Earth.

Sure, you might have to dig a bit for it. But digging on the Moon means a LOT less travel than scouting the asteroid belt.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (1)

RodBee (2607323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758707)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?.

Xenomorphs?

Re:It's even dumber than that. (2, Funny)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758787)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?

I heard they're looking for something called 'Unobtanium'.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (5, Insightful)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758835)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?

I dunno, maybe........resources that are not on this rock? i.e. in its gravity well?

Why does the bulk of humanity always have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future?

Re:It's even dumber than that. (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758983)

We fear change. It's a survival characteristic.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758881)

Digging up rocks on the planet isn't as cut and dry as you seem to think. The amount of environmental damage mining does means doing it in a way the government will allow is not that cheap. Even a lax country like China will put restrictions on things that can ruin valuable water sources or other such problems.

Then there's the problem that most cheap methods of mining ruin the area's real estate value and most countries are land starved as is. That alone means that eventually mining rocks in space is going to be the cheapest method at some point. Energy costs also make refining metal in space an attractive concept.

The real question is why now? If they're actually going to do it then they have a plan to do it far cheaper than Nasa has quoted.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758913)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?

More than what we have on this rock in space.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (5, Insightful)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758921)

Well, you know what they say in real estate: Location, location, LOCATION.

I'm thinking they don't want to bring 'Mineral X' down to Earth unless it's in ton lots. What they want is, the materials right where they are, in space, where they will provide materials to work with in space. Yes, it could take $2.6 billion to bring a random 500 ton asteroid to lunar orbit. It would cost over 10 billion to launch that 500 tons into orbit at the current guestimated going rate of $10,000 per pound. What can you do with 500 tons of materials in orbit? Lots of things. 500 tons of very high grade iron ore, the purity of which we haven't seen on Earth in almost a millenium, would make the basis for the frame of a decent sized space station. For comparison, the ISS at full buildout is about 37 billion plus overruns and weighs in approximately 450 tons plus about 13 billion so far in supplies etc to date. Grabbing a carbonaceous asteroid could offset some of that 13 billion on the 'next-gen' space stations, when we learn to 'convert' that carbon into foodstuffs in space.

Sure, we'd need to put a smelter assembly in orbit to refine the metals & scavange the carbon/etc from any asteroid, but add a machine shop as well, adn we can duplicate the factory complex and build out from there, at ZERO boost from Earth costs. Again, why would we want to send asteroidal material to Earth when we need it so badly in space?

Re:It's even dumber than that. (1)

Chris Pimlott (16212) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758959)

I don't know. It'd be cool to find out, though.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (5, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758961)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?

Raw materials that aren't at the bottom of a gravity well.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (1)

Ruie (30480) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758971)

A lot of our heavy metals are deep in Earth's core.

And gold is not the most expensive metal, Rhodium is 4x more expensive.

Re:It's even dumber than that. (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759015)

What are they going to find on a rock in space that is not already available on THIS rock in space?

Nothing.

And so on and so forth.

What they WILL find, however, is a bunch of metal and such that doesn't have to be lifted out of a deep gravity well to be useful in orbit.

Given that the cost to lift things into orbit is in the thousands of dollars per kg, a 500 ton rock is worth billions in Earth orbit, given that we have something useful to do with that much metal/whatever....

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758651)

Did you miss the part where it's going to be put into orbit around the moon?

Honestly, I think Slashdot has even stupider, more closed-minded people than the Westboro Baptist Church and the people who attend the Creationist Museum. For a place that's supposed to be a hang-out for tech-heads, the people here are pathetic.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (2)

Isaac Remuant (1891806) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758673)

Don't you understand? One non-technical paragraph is enough for me to make a completely informed decision about what a group of scientists does.

I don't even have to have studied any of that because I can use a mixture of quick, logic, common sense and, If I feel really smart, maybe even google something.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1)

kermidge (2221646) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758809)

Nicely put. I get the idea that a few things are coming together: improvements in robotics, hardware and software; blend of tech for getting decent energy generation and density; readily available boost a la Space X et al; and enough vision to see immense long-term profit potential with less risk than smaller minds find obvious. It's also a properly nerdy enterprise to boot.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758891)

But did you stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night? If you had, you'd be able to handle the rocket launch yourself.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758731)

Last I checked the moon was also in orbit around the Earth. Asteroids that close are usually cons
idered a hazard.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1, Informative)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758705)

The weight of the space shuttle is approximately four times as much as the 500-ton asteroid, and unfortunately we've recently seen what happens when it enters Earth's atmosphere (at the right angle to let it hit the ground). Pieces are scattered, and there's little damage to things on the ground.

At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities, consider Mir, which weighed about 150 tons. Its orbit was intended to break it up (though burning it entirely wasn't the goal), and it did so, with only a few fragments surviving to hit the ocean.

Causing actual damage with an asteroid seems to require far more mass (or at least significantly better aerodynamics than a space station). Even orbiting the moon, the Earth is very far away, and cities are very small. A failsafe rocket to deliver a slight nudge is enough to steer the rock into a much nicer entry orbit.

Disclaimer: I'm not a rocket scientist.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (4, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758791)

The space shuttle has a mass of around 100 tons and is very fragile. A 500 ton asteroid would have a much better chance of surviving re-entry, but then you'd just have a 500 ton rock. We've got plenty of those already.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758915)

Sorry... the 2,000-ton figure was launch mass, which I guess means fuel, boosters, and so forth. Wikipedia failed me.

I'll revise my statement: Though the 500-ton rock may be large enough to survive Earth's atmosphere, it requires a combination of incredibly bad luck, incredibly bad planning, and incredibly missing failsafes for the rock to actually reach Earth.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (2)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759025)

I'm a big fan of this project, but your thinking here is all wrong. When things deorbit they travel on a vast arc through many thousands of miles of atmosphere. The atmosphere is not really very thick, and it's possible for an asteroid to drill straight in vertically.

Breakup (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758925)

A 500 ton metallic rock will not break up and 'dissolve' in the atmosphere as well as a 500 ton space ship, and will still carry enough mass to obliterate what it hits. Sure, chances are low it will hit populated areas if the worst were to happen, but do you want to be responsible if it did ?

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759011)

There are some fun impact effect calculators on the web. A 500-ton sphere of iron would have major effects where it hit.

On the other hand, lunar orbit is a pretty safe place for it.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758761)

And when the mission makes a mistake and an asteroid goes plummiting into a major city it will cause trillions of dollars in damage and massive loss of life and potentially create a cloud of dust that will cause an ice age.

The former would probably require the mission planners suddenly forgetting Newton's and Kepler's laws en masse and all the trajectory-calculating computers to burn out simultaneously. For the latter, a 500 t asteroid is too lightweight.

Actual distance between earth and moon is huge (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758769)

The diameter of earth is less than 13'000 km. The distance between earth and moon varies (elliptical path) but even when the moon is at its closest, the distance is more than 363'000 km. That's nearly 30 times the diameter of earth. This picture [trickofmind.com] illustrates it pretty well. I think that a lot of people fail to grasp that scale due to having seen very deceiving images of the solar system (all planets and the sun presented relatively close to each other) at the classroom walls when they were young.

Even factoring in the earths gravity, you need to miss by quite a lot before you accidentally hurl something at earth.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (1)

stms (1132653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758817)

I defanatly agree this could be a very bad idea. However with NASA's budget cut and privatization of space travel this is the most viable idea I've heard to keep it alive. Otherwise it will not be able to attract investors.

Re:A bad idea that "sounds good". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758833)

Better then trying to Planet crack Mars.

Goldmember (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758627)

Somebody saw DR. Evil's plan in that film!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93gBDFPwgcA

dude can i have an astroid to mine (1)

laserdog (2500192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758637)

it would be tottaly cool thered be lots of astroid rocks u can mine from it and stuff

Ross Perot, Jr. et. al. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758643)

Well, I think those people are just indulging in a pipe dream, But hey, as long as it doesn't involve taxpayer money, more power to them.

Pork mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758647)

I suspect their real target is taxpayer subsidy.

"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (5, Insightful)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758655)

Do they understand what this would do to the price of gold (not to mention platinum and palladium)? Most of the gold bugs make themselves feel good about their investment with the mantra 'you can't print gold.' It's trading in the stratosphere as it is, and the Wolfram Alpha link in TFS uses the current commodity price of gold.

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (1)

Sancho (17056) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758849)

Good. Gold is horribly inflated.

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (1)

Eponymous Coward (6097) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758901)

Horribly inflated? By what measure?

It seems to me that gold is sitting at the intersection of the supply and demand curves.

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758963)

Everything that isn't externally regulated sits approximately at the intersection of the supply and demand curves. That hasn't prevented any "bubbles" from bursting so far. In this case, the reason gold could be considered horribly inflated is a demand that far outstrips its actual use.

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (3, Interesting)

netsavior (627338) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758981)

Horribly inflated? By what measure?

It seems to me that gold is sitting at the intersection of the supply and demand curves.

The primary driver of the high gold demand is artificial (Man made/imaginary role as a parking space for power/wealth). In this case the LACK of supply is what drives demand, and for that reason any large influx of gold would have a much larger influence on price than a simple supply/demand market. Gold is not "used up" in that we have far too much gold on Earth for the current prices if only aesthetic and industrial applications are taken into account. It is rare and it sits there, take away either of those properties and it is not useful anymore.

Gold isn't up at all. (1, Funny)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758951)

It's your currency that is heading towards worthless. The value of gold is a constant...

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758861)

And do you understand the monopoly that De Beers has on the gold market? And where most of that gold they possess comes from? Hint: Slaves mine it.

So seeing their gold monopoly crushed on this planet is a worthy endeavor and if in the process space travel benefits then so be it.

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758899)

Modification. That should read an assembly of gold mining companies instead of De Beers, who mines diamonds, but the point remains, the gold mining companies enrich themselves from slave labor, so crushing their monopoly by flooding the market with cheap gold is a worthy endeavor.

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (4, Informative)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758923)

They're not going to have the 20% gold problem, anyways. If you had bothered to read the study, you would have known that the asteroids targeted would be C-type, which are full of useful volatiles and organics that can be turned into handy things like water, and hydrogen, and oxygen (which also happen to be pretty good rocket fuels). Any asteroid mining isn't going to be returning stuff to earth. It's going to be using it for other purposes IN ORBIT. That's where the profit comes in: you don't have to launch 500 tons into lunar orbit at today's launch prices.

Plus, that 2.6 billion cost estimate was for a "Prime contractor design, test & build based on NASA-provided specs" with NASA insight/oversight. I'd be willing to bet that a wholly private effort could do a similar mission at a cost quite a bit less than that. (I would also point you to the NASA study that stated the cost difference between SpaceX's Falcon 9 and a NASA developed Falcon 9 was more than half [scientificamerican.com] .)

Re:"Even if the Asteroid was 20% gold." (1)

legont (2570191) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759005)

The real question is how much oil it would take. So called gold bugs do not necessarily like gold per se. They simply believe the classic definition: "money is a commodity used for exchange".

Asteroid Defense? Orbital Construction? (4, Insightful)

Fippy Darkpaw (1269608) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758659)

First, there are other uses for an asteroid in orbit with thrusters on it. Namely, ramming comets or asteroids on a collision course with earth. Second, why bring the resources to earth? They can be used for orbital construction.

Third: threaten to bring the whole thing to earth (2)

brokeninside (34168) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758735)

Control of a sufficiently sized asteroid could potentially make the men and women who control it rulers of the entire planet.

Re:Third: threaten to bring the whole thing to ear (3, Funny)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758865)

Great, now we're going to have an asteroid arms race. The U.S. and India will be threatening to crush Germany with a huge rock if it doesn't capitulate to their demands and cease "construction" of its own "weapon of mass destruction" aka their own huge orbiting rock.

Welcome to the brave new world of tomorrow....

Re:Third: threaten to bring the whole thing to ear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758893)

I doubt it. It's pretty much mutually assured destruction: even if they also had a spaceship and space station and were somehow certain those wouldn't be destroyed by the rest of humankind, they'd die much sooner living in space than they otherwise would. If they could wait out the planet to return to being habitable, they'd suddenly find their riches to be useless unless they had a self-maintaining and self-replicating platoon of robots to do everything required for maintaining their lifestyle. And if you've already got that, then asking ransom from the world seems pointless.
 
  If they're really that psychotic there's no reason to trust them not to do it anyway for shits and giggles. The main goals of everyone else on the planet would immediately change to a.) figure out how we could possibly stop or survive it b.) kill absolutely everyone involved, and in the meantime capture and possibly publicly torture (depending...) all of their known family and friends in the hope that might somehow help.

Re:Asteroid Defense? Orbital Construction? (1)

Gablar (971731) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758813)

Using it for orbital construction sounds great but processing all that ore up there might be expensive. I wonder how efficiently could be done.

building in space (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758675)

Wouldn't the major benefit be the availability of raw materials in orbit, so we don't have to launch 500 tons of material into space to build stuff?

Re:building in space (2)

mikael (484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758889)

Insightful point. To process all that metal, we would need some way of heating and melting it into containers, then some way of fabricating rocket and space station parts from that metal. If there is water, that could be split into hydrogen and oxygen.

Sounds like the perfect way to build a ring world. Send out one mining ship to the asteroid belt. Mining ship fabricates and builds more mining ships. This continues until there are mining ships all along the asteroid belt. The mining ships then proceed to start forming segments of the ringworld which are then sent on a trajectory to intersect with the other ringworld parts.

Re:building in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758897)

Asteroids are already in orbit.

the beginning of (2)

zerodl (817292) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758677)

Ultor Corporation. or maybe UAC.

Re:the beginning of (1)

Apothem (1921856) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758715)

More likely UAC, because you are the demons when it comes to towing around a gigantic rock.... I suppose. Okay okay, yeah the cost of doing all of this the first time is unlikely to be profitable. However, the first time doing stuff like this hardly ever is in the immediate short term. Think about our first missions to the moon, just the technology we got in the process of those initial missions made future missions possible because of the amount of spinoff of new ideas from this one endeavor. If they manage to accomplish this, regardless of the outcome, I think it will be a major change to the world as a whole.

Re:the beginning of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758995)

People are also forgetting that if it's not profitable it'll be a tax writeoff for all involved, assuming they don't find some way to get government subsidies as well.

Additionally they'll have lots of 'proprietary knowledge' which they'll no doubt patent, copyright, and trademark to ensure that any future endeavors by OTHERS will be paying them licensing costs.

So many people on slashdot don't look at the long term consequences of 'short term losses'. Even stuff that doesn't appear profitable now, can be, assuming you have enough money to weather out the interim, which is where the obscenely wealthy have the benefits: they can take losses now knowing that it'll become profitable 100 fold within their lifetime, and short term, while it might be a loss of financial power used to leverage other business ventures, it will provide them control over a future market when it becomes viable.

I'd be happy with a Kickstarter to reboot K240 (1)

Y-Crate (540566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758681)

But I'll take this, too.

The moon? (1)

emt377 (610337) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758689)

Why the moon? Why not bring it into low orbit around earth? What could possibly go wrong?

Seriously though, gold is a bubble metal. It has very limited practical value and is desirable only because it's desirable. Bring back billions of tons of the stuff and it ceases to be desirable, or at least will be no more special than iron or uranium. Mining an asteroid actually uses up real resources so is not a paper shuffling exercise that creates financial paper products. It had better result in something actually productively useful to pay for itself.

Re:The moon? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758751)

The summary added the gold bit. It's very unlikely they're planning on mining gold (exclusively). They're probably going to mine an asteroid for everything they can get out of it - every metal and mineral you can think of. I seriously doubt they're going to do a 500 ton asteroid either (unless it's as a demonstration). If you can move a 500 ton asteroid, you can move a 5000 ton one, and their press release specifically talked about adding "trillions" of dollars to the global GDP.

Not to mention a cheap source of resources in orbit is much more valuable than resources on the ground.

Re:The moon? (2)

jochem_m (1718280) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758895)

I think the most valuable thing to do with this asteroid would be to cut it up into chunks and sell it to spacegeeks for a ridiculous amount of money per kg...

Re:The moon? (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758907)

Good luck with that. Greenpeace and the other environmental wackos will shut them down.

Re:The moon? (1)

emt377 (610337) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758977)

I was being a bit silly. I think it actually sounds like a good idea, especially the notion of moving towards an automated, self-sustaining, robotic mining, smelting and manufacturing station. It could then produce bulk materials for more mining stations - fuel, structural parts, bodywork, the big heavy stuff. From earth we then supply electronics, optics, maybe parts of wiring, bulk rubber/plastics/anything organic in origin. Put together another mining station and send it to the next asteroid. Rinse, lather, repeat, until we have 100s or 1000s of these out there. Work towards reducing the dependency on earth-supplied parts, although that requires a bit of a design shift away from anything organic (rubber, plastics, etc).

Re:The moon? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759031)

Given lots of energy, you can synthesize organics, and as oil gets more expensive at some point it will be cheaper to do so. Electronics manufacturing would probably be much cheaper and easier in space, and we might even get to a point where the bulk of our electronics are manufactured there and shipped down.

Re:The moon? (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758777)

perhaps they could find a rock of titanium that hasn't been exposed to oxygen. Perhaps tungsten or other pure elements that are hard to mine here on earth may be found easily mined on an asteroid and the only difficult part may be the transportation. Perhaps there are rocks that have large amounts of elements that are only trace here that may be of great value if we had enough to actually test with.

Bad now, good later (1)

Mathias616 (2612957) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758699)

Going out to mine an asteroid may seem like a real bad idea at first, but for the exact same reasons that going to the moon seemed like a bad idea. There is no real monetary gain from doing so, in fact its a huge money sink. Also, it could be dangerous. However, the mission to the moon forced us to invent so many new technologies and research a lot of different avenues in order to make it happen. Without the mission to the moon there is no doubt we would not be as advanced as we currently are. I would argue that embarking on a mission to mine an asteroid would have a similar effect. In order for this to work we have to improve on the autonomy of robots, we have to figure out how to control an asteroid and establish an orbit around the moon (possible application not only for mining, but for preventing an asteroid collision with the Earth) and we also need to figure out a more efficient way to travel in space. All good things, and I don't doubt we would make all the money back by exploiting the new technology we have to develop.

um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758703)

So Titanic is is gonna be the funding for human expanse past the moon? So the women were right the whole time...

Ohhhhhh! (5, Funny)

mbadolato (105588) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758709)

Ross Perot Jr. (son of Ross Perot)

Thanks for explaining that; we would have never figured it out on our own!

Re:Ohhhhhh! (3, Funny)

immaterial (1520413) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758727)

Having the same name doesn't automatically mean you're related. Just ask my friend Michael Bolton...

Re:Ohhhhhh! (2)

mbadolato (105588) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758799)

No, but having a Jr on the end does typically mean it's the son of someone by the same name.

Re:Ohhhhhh! (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758841)

Pretty clearly, any Ross Perot Jr. has got to be the son of *somebody* named Ross Perot. (gp's point).

But the summary could indeed have warranted specification of "Ross Perot Jr. (son of the billionaire businessman)" (your point)

Re:Ohhhhhh! (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758935)

Ross Perot Jr. (who stands to inherit his father's ears)

That'd tell me all I need to know.

Re:Ohhhhhh! (1)

zAPPzAPP (1207370) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758843)

Being named "xxx yyy Jr." does however mean you are related to "xxx yyy".
Now which specific "xxx yyy" that may be, is another question.

Re:Ohhhhhh! (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759029)

For all we know the guy who ran for President in the '90s was "Jr." (he's not, but you see what I mean).

Awesome (5, Insightful)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758713)

If this does nothing else but push the science of rocketry and space travel further then I'm all for it. If they succeed though, I can't wait to see what comes next. Haters be damned, I love that people still want to explore and see what's out there. You can't move the species forward by taking no risk at all.

Questions that come to mind (1)

Gablar (971731) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758739)

1. How are they suppose to get 500 tons of anything to the ground? 2. What would be the best resource to get? Gold? for what it would just cause a drop in the gold market. Perhaps some resource that can be used in a massive scale to lower the cost of launching the mission ( both energetically and monetary) 3. How cheaply can they do it? Space X might simplify the math but it would still be in the hundreds of millions just to get stuff up. 4. how many times an already launched vehicle can be re-used?

Re:Questions that come to mind (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758941)

1. Gravity

Unobtanium (1)

giorgist (1208992) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758759)

Aaa but what if it was 20% Unobtanium ?

For once, slashdot readers... (1)

vjoel (945280) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758767)

...will be able to look up into the night sky and say "that's no moon".

Maybe we'll finally get that out of our system.

Side benefit (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758775)

Is not to particuarly mine for Earth, but for space. Having resources up there means not having to lift them from earth surface. And not only scientific space stations, or satellites, could be built up there, factories, solar panels and other ships could be built there too.

Re:Side benefit (1)

Xtifr (1323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758859)

Yup. Mining a single asteroid and returning the materials to Earth may not be particularly profitable, but mining the asteroid to seed further mining operations could well be a huge win, in the long term.

Sadly, people aren't very good at taking a long-term view, in general.

Scientists are naive (4, Insightful)

daemonenwind (178848) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758797)

You only make a small part of the money involved in capturing an asteroid on commercially-viable minerals/metals like gold.

What people will pay for a space rock is way more important than what people will pay for gold. A 500 ton asteroid could be 500 tons of rock. But that would make millions of lumps of Space Rock that could be sold by The Franklin Mint in a special collectors set.

Ownership Rights (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758821)

As far as I am aware, none of these people would have the right to mine asteroids as they do not own them, nor could they ever own them. The idea that ownership would go to those with the money to get there wouldn't go down well.

"Even if the asteroid was 20% gold" (4, Interesting)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758827)

The study wasn't talking about mining the asteroid to return the material to Earth! The asteroid mass would be used to generate water, hydrogen, and oxygen (primarily) for use IN ORBIT, where it is far more valuable than returning x amount of minerals back to earth. It would also be used as a test bed for advancing mining tech, becoming more efficient, and driving down the cost of the next operation.
However, long term, it could very well end up being economical to return materials to earth. If any initial effort at mining of materials that are useful in orbit succeeds, then there will be an existing industrial base for mining asteroids, and the incremental cost of the next one will be less. As mining methods are refined and become more efficient and the industrial capacity in orbit expands, it becomes possible to create more and more of what you need in orbit instead of launching it from earth (which is where much of the expense comes from). Then, when all you have to do is turn the less valuable parts of an asteroid into shipping containers, load it with the more valuable stuff, add an electric propulsion system, then it might be worth returning stuff to earth.
But the bottom line is that mining asteroids is going to be most useful for getting lots of useful material in orbit (be it lunar or Lagrange points or whatnot) without having to go through the process of getting out of earth's gravity well.

Re:"Even if the asteroid was 20% gold" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758947)

There's also the environmental aspect: Even if it is more costly in a naive sense to mine asteroids and ship the raw materials back to earth, once the negative externalities of environmental damage (e.g., from strip mining every available vein of ore on the planet) it might still be advantageous overall.

I'd still want to see a serious economic analysis.

Also, the names I recognize on the list of investors are seriously not stupid people. One seriously doubts that they're stupid enough to try to buy SpaceX flights, next week, but are almost certainly thinking longer term-- years, decades, maybe. Given Diamandis' involvement, it might be something more along the lines of a series of contests to put the major pieces of technology and demonstrators in place, or a foundation to spur the research and development necessary. Of course, that's all speculation because they haven't released their plans yet. I'm not willing to call a plan stupid until I've actually, y'know, seen it.

Re:"Even if the asteroid was 20% gold" (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758969)

If the goal is not to get valuable materials from asteroids to earth, than it would be far easier to mine the Moon itself, there are enough raw materials on it.

Guess who'll get stuck with the bill? (0)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758851)

"The additional cost to mine the asteroid and return the ores to Earth would make profit unlikely even if the asteriod was 20% gold."

Which means the Amurrican Taxpayer will get stuck paying for this boondoggle!

been there, done that (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758867)

It's too bad that my "Hephaestus Project" was developed thirty years ago.
My question to you is, Where do you plan to refine the ore? Good luck with that one.

sound like plot to a B moive (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758873)

sound like plot to a B moive

It's doubtful it'll ever be cost effective (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758911)

Odds are most of the asteroids are made of lighter less valuable elements and the rest are mostly iron. The majority seem to be made of loosely assembled gravel. The only way it becomes cost effective is if you have a permanent space colony mining the resources that is self sufficient. Most of the expense comes from the Earth based resources it takes to mine the elements and return them to Earth. The other issue is the most cost effective way to return them here is to let them fall like meteors do with a disposable outer crust that would burn away. Now get permission to do this? Good luck. Robotics sound attractive but you are still talking about vast resources from this planet used to mine questionable resources in asteroids. It would have to add greatly to what we have now to make any sense. It'd make more sense to mine magma or black smokers on the ocean floor. I'm all in favor of mining asteroids but sending out robots to make a quick buck will loose money and in the end kill off any hope of doing it for real. We need to take the baby steps. Build a space elevator then you can cheaply orbit what's needed and potentially have a way to return the resources. They also need to come up with better ways to determine asteroid composition or else you are playing the lottery. You're hoping for 20% gold and you end up with 95% rock. Rare earth elements really are the reason to do it. They are likely in higher concentrations in asteroids and they are worth more than gold.

Mining Asteroids: The Movie will make money. (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758933)

Sci-Fi at its best...& quicker than actual mining.

Return the ores to Earth? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758937)

Why would they do that?

One small problem: (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758939)

Until terrorist hackers drive the asteroid into Earth, sending humans the way of the dino's.

Re:One small problem: (2)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759019)

We've launched objects more massive than 500 tons into space before (2,030-ton space shuttle). Some of those objects have crash-landed. Humanity wasn't wiped out.

Space war! (1)

Right1488 (2614067) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758967)

Is it wrong that I hope to see a space war happen within my lifetime?

Why bring the gold to earth? (1)

rur (110111) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758987)

"The additional cost to mine the asteroid and return the ores to Earth would make profit unlikely even if the asteriod was 20% gold."
They could simply leave the gold on the moon (makes stealing it a big expense), prove that it exists, and sell it to central banks here on earth; AFAIK central banks have a lot of gold in storage. Then these no longer needed reserves could be put on the market, but an additional 100 tons of gold will make the price go down, making it even more unprofitable. Whatever their decision, price will go down.

These people are self-indulgent jerkoffs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758991)

There are PLENTY of problems which need solving right here on earth.

But those are problems which might not be fun for these jerkoffs to
chat about at the next party.

As long as there are hungry people sleeping under a bridge in the US,
all the idiots involved with this bullshit plan deserve to get incurable
cancer ASAP, in order that they taste hopelessness before they die.

Re:These people are self-indulgent jerkoffs. (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39759017)

I presume you hand your entire disposable income to 'hungry people starving under a bridge', right?

Meanwhile (3, Funny)

skipkent (1510) | more than 2 years ago | (#39758997)

A committee has asked Michael Bay to make a film depicting the worst case scenario of this project.

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