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Mining the Heavens: In Conversation With Planetary Resources' Chief Engineer

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the dream-big-or-go-home dept.

Space 80

cylonlover writes "It wasn't long ago that asteroid mining was only found in the pages of science fiction. Now, with increasing interest in the commercial exploitation of space, companies are springing up to turn asteroids from things that Bruce Willis blows up into raw materials for future travellers and colonists. One such firm is Planetary Resources, which is currently winding up a Kick Starter campaign aimed at raising public awareness about asteroid mining by offering the public access to a space telescope. Gizmag visits the company's Bellevue, Washington headquarters and talks to the President and Chief Engineer, Chris Lewicki." Long, but worth the time.

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so still scifi then? (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#44098593)

"It wasn't long ago that asteroid mining was only found in the pages of science fiction. Now [...] a Kick Starter campaign aimed at raising public awareness about asteroid mining..."

A Kickstarter campaign to raise money to raise awareness still seems like a few steps from mining asteroids...

Also their business model seems somewhat speculative. One of the main ideas seems to be that they can get around the return-it-to-earth problem by not returning it to earth. What good will the mining do then, you ask? Well, they'll just sell the resources to the Mars colony:

Space habitats, space stations are going to need hundreds of thousands or millions of liters of water, but there are some asteroids 75 meters across that are water rich. Just one has enough hydrogen and oxygen to fuel every Space Shuttle that’s ever been launched. It’s useful for fuel, its useful for supporting life and it’s full-blown radiation shielding for all those people talking about going to Mars. So, that is a resource that is of near-term interest.

Re:so still scifi then? (1)

Skinny Rav (181822) | about a year ago | (#44098713)

"It wasn't long ago that asteroid mining was only found in the pages of science fiction. Now [...] a Kick Starter campaign aimed at raising public awareness about asteroid mining..."

A Kickstarter campaign to raise money to raise awareness still seems like a few steps from mining asteroids...

Also their business model seems somewhat speculative. One of the main ideas seems to be that they can get around the return-it-to-earth problem by not returning it to earth. What good will the mining do then, you ask? Well, they'll just sell the resources to the Mars colony:

Space habitats, space stations are going to need hundreds of thousands or millions of liters of water, but there are some asteroids 75 meters across that are water rich. Just one has enough hydrogen and oxygen to fuel every Space Shuttle that’s ever been launched. It’s useful for fuel, its useful for supporting life and it’s full-blown radiation shielding for all those people talking about going to Mars. So, that is a resource that is of near-term interest.

Yes, it is speculative as any new and breakthrough business plan. It is very risky, very dependent on progress in other areas (like the trip to Mars and establishing a colony there), but it is potentially very lucrative.

And yes, it moved from the sci-fi pages to the realm of business plans and strategies. Far-fetched and speculative, but still business plans with financial backing, even if for the first step now.

The Weyland-Yutani Corporation will not be created in a day, you know.

Re:so still scifi then? (3, Funny)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#44098847)

And yes, it moved from the sci-fi pages to the realm of business plans and strategies.

So it got downgraded from hard sci-fi to soft sci-fi? ;-)

Re:so still scifi then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098831)

We need cyclic space craft that will continuously fly between Earth and Mars. A hollowed out asteroid will make a good spacecraft that will provide significant shielding. Then on both ends, one just needs Delta-V with a small craft to visit the asteroid. Pie in the sky though.

Re:so still scifi then? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#44099177)

You'd never get the orbits to work out for any craft with a halfway-decent journey time though.

Re:so still scifi then? (2)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#44099729)

Buzz Aldrin spent some time discussing this issue in his recent ISDC talk. [youtube.com] The trick is to have an entire fleet of "cycler" ships and only use the ones that are in the "just right" phase of their orbit. There are many possible configurations, but most have Earth/Mars transit times in range of 3 to 6 months. [wikipedia.org]

If you timed it right, you could have cyclers departing on a weekly basis with transit times of a few months. Then just leave the ship uninhabited during the long voyage back to the front of the queue.

Re:so still scifi then? (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about a year ago | (#44100499)

Hm... actually, I'm not sure about the "weekly departures" bit. It's dependent on the synodic period between Mars and Earth. There may be ways to get more trips into the lineup, but the "short" trips would only happen at synodic intervals.

Re:so still scifi then? (1)

niftydude (1745144) | about a year ago | (#44098949)

A Kickstarter campaign to raise money to raise awareness still seems like a few steps from mining asteroids...

Yes - It's kind of like saying a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to raise awareness of leukemia is suddenly going to cure leukemia...

Re:so still scifi then? (1, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#44099093)

"Just one has enough hydrogen and oxygen to fuel every Space Shuttle thatâ(TM)s ever been launched."

Providing you have a free energy source, and lots of time and gas storage, in which to convert it all.

Yes, you might get away with a solar panel churning through it for a thousand years, but more likely the energy you need to separate it from the water will cost you more than the energy you get from recombining it with an ignition source to go boom at a later date.

This is one of those "there's enough carbon in a pencil to make 50 diamonds" kinds of things - utterly true, and completely misleading at the same time.

You don't want to be using asteroid water to make hydrogen and oxygen, in space, in large enough quantities to fly a spaceship by the sorts of processes available today. From Earth - yes. But that's because you accept a certain amount of resource / energy loss to achieve orbit.

You can't get more out of banging H and O2 together than you have to put in to separate H and O2 in the first place.

Re:so still scifi then? (1)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44099115)

You have completely missed the point. The utility of having H2/O2 in space is not that it yields energy, but that it yields reaction mass. Energy is a lot easier to come by, especially if you are willing to operate nuclear reactors in space.

Re:so still scifi then? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44101475)

I hear you can even run them totally unshielded!

There is a big one doing just that not too far from us.

Re:so still scifi then? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44099487)

Solar panel? Solar panel? Have you ever heard of mylar? Are you aware that it is flexible and reflects light? You really think that photovoltaics are the only way to utilize solar energy in space? You don't even read science-fiction, let alone read what serious people have said about these problems, do you?

starving amid plenty (3, Insightful)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#44100201)

You stupid monkeys have a perfectly useful 3.839Ã--10^26 W fusion reactor only 93 million miles away. Get off your asses and figure out how to use it.

Re:so still scifi then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44102083)

Have you ever heard of light pressure? I know you think that reading one sci-fi novel is all you need to know, but in reality, you are as clueless and ignorant as an ant trying to understand a 747.

Re:so still scifi then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44101909)

"This is one of those "there's enough carbon in a pencil to make 50 diamonds" kinds of things - utterly true, and completely misleading at the same time."

There's a lot of that type of argument whenever Space Nuttery is being discussed.

Re:so still scifi then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44100223)

Investors of Planetary Resource according to wikipedia, estimated net worth in parentheses:

Larry Page (23bn)
Eric Schmidt (8.2bn)
James Cameron (0.9bn)
Charles Simonyi (1bn)
K. Ram Shriram (1.6bn)
Ross Perot, Jr. (1.4bn)

I really think they weren't after the money with the kickstarter campaign.

bitcoins! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098615)

Oh good, this ISN'T a bitcoin post.

Re:bitcoins! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098645)

Maybe you can contribute to the kickstater project by giving bitcoins though.

Also bitcoin might be the only currency useable in space right now.

Creepy libertarianism (3, Insightful)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44098659)

There seems to be an attitude amongst certain people that space resources should belong to those rich enough to grab them. There hasn't yet been a serious discussion of paying for this exploitation of nature, and I suspect that is because many of the people involved have a libertarian agenda, and see space as an opportunity to escape any form of public restraint on their activities, and construct their Randian utopia off world.

Given the immense resources of the solar system compared to those found on Earth, this is a recipe for immense, cruel and unfair inequality. Those of us Earthbound, who have motivations other than money and so are not billionaires, will be plunged into poverty by extraterrestrial energy magnates whose obscene resource wealth will make the Saudi royal family look positively frugal.

Quite timely then that someone appears to be making a movie on this theme :)

Re:Creepy libertarianism (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098701)

Mineable asteroids are nowhere near as scarce as natural resources here on earth. If we are going to discuss who should be able to mine asteroids we should also start to question how a single person can have the right to a patch of land.
Just because your grandparent was a little bit older and got a head start to grab some land doesn't mean that my grandparent didn't have the right to an equivalent amount of land.
While we are at it. The right to heritage makes it so that not everyone is born with the same opportunities. We need to get rid of that too.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44098715)

Even though you are sarcastic here, I agree on both points. The 'right' to land is extremely dubious, and some countries have tax regimes that represent this (i.e. in order to hold land, you have to essentially rent it from everybody else, via their government.)

And inheritance? Tax it heavily. Most people agree with this position - that money should be earned, not simply inherited.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098987)

I certainly don't agree with it - what's the difference between someone getting the money and the govt helping themselves to profit from the death of a citizen? Oh no my mother died - govt "grand, we'll step in and help ourselves to a few grand minimum, thanks. Or you can go to jail, whichever"
Family always want the best for their kids and simple begrudgery doesn't make it right to take it off them

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44099013)

Most people with nothing to lose believe that those with something to steal should give it to them by force. That's inheritance tax.
If people have no "right" to land, then why should people as an armed mob, call it a government, have the "right" to own land?

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44099073)

You assume private ownership of land to start with, and then end up calling it a conclusion. Sloppy, circular thinking at its worst.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44101519)

No, inheritance tax is about preventing the creation of immobile class structures. Most Americans are not in favor of setting up a new Aristocratic class.

People as in a nation have a valid right to land, the question is should anyone person get a monopoly on that land.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44099019)

Even though you are sarcastic here, I agree on both points.

AC here and I was probably not as sarcastic as you think.

It seems like we have a lot of opinions in common. The difference is that I think that we can ignore the problems with asteroid resources and focus on land ownership and inheritance regulation.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (4, Interesting)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44098749)

You've got it backwards. The unfathomable amount of raw materials and energy available in space will act as a great leveller, ushering in an age of post scarcity undreamed of. I'm not saying it's going to happen tomorrow, but it is inevitable, and while the first movers may make a lot of money in the process, ultimately when we've got deep orbit factories being fed an endless stream of ores by automated refinerminers that will hardly matter.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (2)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44098759)

What will us poor Earthlings trade for all this bounty? We won't have anything we could possibly offer to an off-world society, with comparable industrial capabilities but with incredibly larger energy reserves. Please not, that "trickle down" economics has failed every single time it has been tried on Earth.

This idea that if we let the greediest amongst us (not the most talented; being talented per se doesn't make you rich, you have to be specifically talented at making money and motivated to do it) do as they will, it will somehow benefit the rest of us is a discredited idea. I can't believe people are still proposing it, post-2008.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (3, Interesting)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44098807)

Please not, that "trickle down" economics has failed every single time it has been tried on Earth.

Good thing I'm not proposing it then. You can't just fly up there and start building cities in space, you have to finance each step as you go progressively, and you do so by first returning raw ores, then refined ores, then basic manufactured goods, then larger manufactured goods and ultimately agricultural/medical products.This stuff is wildly expensive, beyond belief, even if you disregard the fact that the technology doesn't exist to enable your randian outposts. Do you imagine some cabal of rich guys taking over the solar system and then chortling over the rims of their bubbly glasses at the rest of us below?

You really, really don't understand the scale of what we're talking about here.

The asteroid Eros has more metals including precious and semi precious than ever have been or ever could be extracted from the earth's crust, tons of gold for every man, woman and child on earth, and we have a giant nuclear reactor sitting there just waiting to help us take it apart. That's just one single asteroid out of millions, and not a very big one either. An embarrasment of riches doesn't begin to cover it. Once space manufacturing takes off do you know what happens to a global economy flooded with everything? I don't, but I'm looking forward to finding out. This is what's known as a 'post scarcity society'. I suspect it will start to look like Western Europe on steroids, with a very good basic standard of living guaranteed while still allowing options for those who want to excel.

Hell, they'll need to place restrictions on how many cars you can buy in a year just to stop the place being flooded with trash. Growth industry of the longest term future? Waste disposal.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (4, Insightful)

bertok (226922) | about a year ago | (#44098919)

You really, really don't understand the scale of what we're talking about here.

In reply, I posit that you really, really don't understand how much that doesn't matter.

Spot iron ore prices are about $120 per metric ton. Asteroids are unrefined, remember? They're full of ore, or a complex and impure mix of metals at best. For comparison, a typical four-door sedan, the biggest lump of metal most people ever buy, is about 1.2 metric tons. This would need about $300 of iron ore.

Do you seriously think that the primary limit on manufacturing, and hence overall wealth, are raw resources? My 10 year old car, if I were to sell it used is worth 20x the cost of the iron ore that originally went into making it!

If space mining somehow magically made iron ore 10x cheaper than it is now, I'd save a total of $270 on my next $50,000 car purchase. I'd save more by skipping the optional coffee cup warmer, or whatever. That's not even factoring in that something like 90% of all iron and steel is recycled, so the difference would be more like $3.

Space mining is a fantasy for rabid Star Trek fans who can't count, nothing more.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44098925)

Do you seriously think that the primary limit on manufacturing, and hence overall wealth, are raw resources?

Is there any compelling reason why you can't manufacture things in space? It would offer lots of advantages in fact - abundant free energy, pollute all you like, raw materials literally raining on you, and you can drop consignments next door to wherever they are meant to be going.

Space mining is a fantasy for rabid Star Trek fans who can't count, nothing more.

You just haven't thought this through.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about a year ago | (#44099687)

Is there any compelling reason why you can't manufacture things in space?

The immense costs of building, maintaining, and staffing factories in space, and the difficulties of returning finished cargoes to Earth.

abundant free energy

If you've got the tech base for orbital factories, you've got the tech base for orbital photovoltaic beamed down to Earth. So that free energy's down here too.

pollute all you like

Nope. Space junk is an issue already.

raw materials literally raining on you

Huh? If you're talking about meteorites, Terra receives tens of thousands of tons of "raw materials" every year. But as was pointed out upthread, raw materials aren't the limiting factor. Heck, our garbage dumps are full of them.

and you can drop consignments next door to wherever they are meant to be going.

Uh, no. You can drop consignments in the middle of the ocean or some areas of scubland, subject to scheduling constraints to not hit any planes or ships...and the first time a cargo goes off course and crushes someone's house, expect a fair chance for your whole operation to be shut down.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099887)

The costs have already been mentioned, which is why you scale things up over time. Staffing I wouldn't imagine to be a major issue at the end of the day, many factories even today are moving towards full automation. We're talking about manufacturing on a massive scale. Free energy on earth, true, but that doesn't remove the other advantages of working in space. Space junk is not pollution in the manufacturing sense, unless you're banging artifacts off one another in the open for some reason. Think more 'toxic industrial byproducts'. As for the comment upthread, when I can drive a car made completely of iron and nothing else, I'll admit that as a point. Also, what makes you think goods will simply be left to plummet to the earth willy nilly?

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44101567)

Space junk in Earth orbit is an issue, outside of that pollute away.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (2)

Ost99 (101831) | about a year ago | (#44099317)

The raw materials are never meant to be returned to earth.
While a ton of iron ore is worth less than nothing here, transporting it to LEO costs $10M (multiply that by 5 if you want it on the moon).
Our space capabilities are limited by the cost of getting stuff out of earths gravity well.

Asteroid mining would sell raw materials and water to other space ventures, private or public.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#44101723)

Asteroid mining would sell raw materials and water to other space ventures, private or public.

That's a nice theory... But the elephant in the room is the fact that there aren't any such ventures currently. Nor are their likely to be any of sufficient size to support an asteroid mining venture for decades, if not centuries.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Ost99 (101831) | about a year ago | (#44102811)

Chicken and egg problem. Who cares if the market is not there yet? We will get nowhere in any field if we let details like that stop us. And it's going to take decades just developing the tech and getting the first roids. The investors are in it for long term, and from what they've said publicly, it's just as much about enabling a space presence as profiting from it.

We cannot build a large scale infrastructure in space without either asteroid mining or a space elevator. There seems to be less technological unknowns that needs to be solved in order to start asteroid mining.

It makes more sense to start with the mining, then build whatever you need in space.
They are probably decades away from making the mining a reality. Eventually there will be a market for it.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#44104305)

Who cares if the market is not there yet? We will get nowhere in any field if we let details like that stop us.

That has to be one of the most (though likely unintentionally) hilarious things I've read all day - and the rest of the week will have to work hard to top it. Asteroid miner wannabees are in the same situation as someone setting up to injection mold iPhone cases in 1897 - it's not that the market doesn't exist, it's that practically none of the enabling technologies exist (for the case or the phone) and that someone lacks the capital to create them let alone even the foggiest clue what they actually are.
 
It's not a chicken-and-egg problem, it's a delusion and cluelessness problem.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Ost99 (101831) | about a year ago | (#44104937)

It's not a chicken-and-egg problem, it's a delusion and cluelessness problem.

Several of the worlds most successful businessmen are investing in this.
Take a look at the list of advisers and investors: http://www.planetaryresources.com/team/ [planetaryresources.com]
Clueless would not be the first word that comes to mind as characteristic for that group.

With plans for permanent lunar installations, probably within the next 10-20 years (China, India and Japan all have plans for permanent facilities on the moon - the US might also enter the race) the market will be there by the time the asteroid capture and mining is up and running. Add the possibility of Mars mission(s) (American, Chinese or private) before 2040 and the mining business looks good.

Any new space station (ISS replacement, moon logistics station at L1 or low moon orbit, mars staging station at Moon L2) would benefit tremendously from having materials available without having to pay the gravity tax.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

SixAndFiftyThree (1020048) | about a year ago | (#44108061)

it's not that the market doesn't exist, it's that practically none of the enabling technologies exist (for the case or the phone) and that someone lacks the capital to create them let alone even the foggiest clue what they actually are.

We know how to get to an asteroid, and we have some idea how to detect what it's made of. If you look, you'll see that these mining wannabees are working on the next few enabling technologies. The goal is to reduce one of the nastiest barriers to exploration and development of space for humans: the high cost of breathing, eating, and drinking. I'm glad we have machines like Curiosity that don't need to breathe, eat, or drink, but some day I'd like to go out there myself. A space civilization that gets its air, water, and food from Earth will never be independent (no matter what your political inclination) and is unlikely to even be viable, unless you count a few millionaire tourists as a civilization.

In its way, this is like the long-forgotten effort to invent and produce clothing, which made it possibly for humans to spread outside of the tropics.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44099577)

Right, because iron is clearly what people are interested in when they talk about asteroid mining...

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44100449)

Spot iron ore prices are about $120 per metric ton.

A metric ton? What is it with you metric types? You get all in a tizzy about non-metric units and then go and forsake SI at random times yourself. It's called a megagram, and frankly that's a term we need to hear more often because it's awesome.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44101551)

Think what would happen if platinum was now $120 per metric ton?

You don't think that would open up a lot of possibilities?

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44103117)

You are wasting your time. You are using logic against a faith. The rabid Star Trek fans, aka Space Nutters, have a religion with its core tenet that the species is doomed unless it gets off this rock. It's a puerile fantasy fed with myths and whopping inability to count, as you noticed.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (4, Interesting)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44099089)

You won't achieve a post scarcity society (if such a thing is even possible...) with rich guys holding all the resource wealth. Such people have demonstrated a willingness and an ability to ensure that the rest of us see very little of the profits they make - despite the fact said profits often exploit public resources. You haven't addressed the fundamental issue - you hand over the solar system to those selected primarily by their capacity for greed and then you think they will just hand over these resources? No, they will demand trade. If space manufacturing achieves what you think it can, what can Earth possible have to offer? We would become the Somalia of the solar system. Trickle down hasn't failed because of lack of resources, it fails because the rich are simply too good at hoarding the wealth - and when they and their puppets in government try to prop up dwindling consumer spending power with credit, they cause a crisis.

I do understand the scales involved. I'm an astronomer. Understanding things on a really big scale is kind of my job.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099127)

You won't achieve a post scarcity society (if such a thing is even possible...) with rich guys holding all the resource wealth.

No your problem here is that you're seeing 'rich guys' and having a fit of the commies. There are exactly three entities that could make a serious attempt to exploit the resources of the solar system at this point: The European Union, The United States of America, and the Peoples' Republic of China. And they would damn near bankrupt themselves in the attempt. No rich guy, no cabal of rich guys, no army of rich guys is going to make this happen. Even Planetary Resources themselves acknowledge this.

what can Earth possible have to offer?

In order to reach a position where you could be independent of Earth, you'd have to spend a very long time selling stuff to Earth. And by then why stop? In fact by then the barriers to entry would be reduced so much that system resource exploitation would be on the level of opening a factory. It is not possible to sidestep the middle of the process and somehow lay claim to everything above the atmosphere.

I do understand the scales involved. I'm an astronomer. Understanding things on a really big scale is kind of my job.

Try applying some of that understanding to economics next time, eh.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (2)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44099145)

No your problem here is that you're seeing 'rich guys' and having a fit of the commies. There are exactly three entities that could make a serious attempt to exploit the resources of the solar system at this point: The European Union, The United States of America, and the Peoples' Republic of China. And they would damn near bankrupt themselves in the attempt. No rich guy, no cabal of rich guys, no army of rich guys is going to make this happen. Even Planetary Resources themselves acknowledge this.

The entire solar system? No - but doing so will be within the reach of the first people to develop off-world resources and manufacturing, so wealth will continue to leverage more wealth and the overwhelming majority of humanity will not get a look in.

In order to reach a position where you could be independent of Earth, you'd have to spend a very long time selling stuff to Earth. And by then why stop? In fact by then the barriers to entry would be reduced so much that system resource exploitation would be on the level of opening a factory. It is not possible to sidestep the middle of the process and somehow lay claim to everything above the atmosphere.

You don't need to be independent of Earth's resources to economically dominate it. If you have such resource/manufacturing capacity as is supposed, someone from Earth can send you whatever you need. This won't enrich Earth, because the trading relation will be so absurdly asymmetrical.

Try applying some of that understanding to economics next time, eh.

I'm trying to keep my responses civil, but its hard whilst you keep trying to imply I'm stupid just because I'm questioning your conclusions. I do understand the issues at hand, you could do with paying more attention to what I understand.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099201)

The entire solar system? No - but doing so will be within the reach of the first people to develop off-world resources and manufacturing, so wealth will continue to leverage more wealth and the overwhelming majority of humanity will not get a look in.

Are you seriously imagining a group of waxed moustaches in top hats and tailcoats seizing asteroids then what, setting up private palaces in the sky and somehow locking everyone else out of space? What?

You don't need to be independent of Earth's resources to economically dominate it. If you have such resource/manufacturing capacity as is supposed, someone from Earth can send you whatever you need. This won't enrich Earth, because the trading relation will be so absurdly asymmetrical.

None of this makes any sense. The Earth is the largest and indeed only market in which to sell your goods. You build up a presence in space by selling your goods there. Why would you stop?

I'm trying to keep my responses civil, but its hard whilst you keep trying to imply I'm stupid just because I'm questioning your conclusions. I do understand the issues at hand, you could do with paying more attention to what I understand.

Be as uncivil as you like, it will only strengthen my argument. The only situation in which your points might have merit is if somehow a small group was allowed full legal title to the majority of the system's resources and this claim was recognised by the majority of the world's governments. Whatever about the likelihood of the former, the latter is right out. Even trying to claim a sizeable portion of the easily acquired resources would be laughable. Claiming one single asteroid like Eros, that might happen. And if it does we're on the threshold of post scarcity from just that one single asteroid.

Ultimately there will be private randian palaces in the sky. There will also be socialist paradises, islamic compounds, christian stations, all of these and more. Because by the time we're able to build such things, the barriers to entry will be low enough that a wide variety of groups will be able to take advantage of them.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

EdgePenguin (2646733) | about a year ago | (#44099463)

Your idea simply DOES. NOT. WORK

If it did, the developing world would not be so utterly screwed over by the developed world. Asymmetric power relations always become exploitative in trade, and the relation between a resource depleted Earth, and a massively resource rich solar system, is extremely asymmetric.

As for your utopian vision - you are proposing an extraordinary scenario (as opposed to me, proposing that essentially business as usual on a different scale) and have produced no proof it will come to pass. The burden of proof is indeed on you, as you are the one proposing something absurd. I am merely citing examples of real world economics and translating it to the new medium.

Your shocking arrogance and your ideological myopia are getting tiresome now, I'm done with you.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099719)

You're painting a picture of a gang of rich people seizing the basically limitless resources of the asteroids, pumping the earth full of cheap goods and then lording it over the huddled masses? Again, what?

Let's say I'm a company. Myself and many other companies, my competitors, have spent decades trying to harvest, refine and deliver raw materials to increasingly larger and more or less fully automated manufacturing stations. The process spent the first two thirds of this period being unprofitable, the next quarter of this period breaking even, and only in the last few years has it been making a profit. Now I can scale up these processes arbitrarily because in space there are no effective limits. I may only be making a hundred bucks profit on each Mercedes luxury car sold for three grand, but I'm moving ten million of them every year and they're going straight to the customer. And that's just one subset of one type of product. It's no longer economical to manufacture things on earth, unless governments apply tarriffs to orbital goods.

Now why would I want to try to hold earth to ransom? I'll lose my profits and they'll just send a bunch of muscly men with guns to take my stuff. Why would I want to start a war, murder millions of people by dropping rocks on them when the retaliation would vapourise me? Why would I stop selling? That's assuming there's one unified orbital polity to speak of, which is very very far from probable given the kind of independent minded people who are likely to make the first real steps into space.

It would be like China refusing to sell products to the west. It would hurt them a great deal more than it would hurt the west. What you're outlining might occur but it would require massive incompetence from the entire planet Earth and massive malice from putative astronaut-merchants.

There may even be nationalised stations up there once the process of using the resources of space becomes effective. Certainly in terms of defence I'd expect governments to keep their hand in. Maintaining a year's food supply in case of emergencies isn't difficult, the USA used to do just that, along with national stockpiles of other stuff in case the stations somehow stopped working.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44102193)

It's funny seeing this arguement back and forth.

It's like watching people argue about what dickheads the railroad barrons were in their heyday and whether or not it's worthwhile letting them pursue their ventures into the wild west and other exotic places less developed. Yet without them, there wouldn't have been as much economic activity with the freeing of resources and greater industrialization that helped bring about the modern world. Progress has it's price, but you still need those willing to front the cost.

And yes, most railroad barrons were complete dickheads as are most of their progeny today when it comes to doing stuff like hoarding wealth and doing some things which are assuredly unethical.

But look at it this way... Humanity could be pushing forth into space trying to make the best of it, or we could just simply wait for the next big asteroid to come around on it's own accord and go the way of the dinosaurs. Maybe with enough time, the next things to evolve may develop technology and have a better go at it.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

chihowa (366380) | about a year ago | (#44103017)

Yet without them, there wouldn't have been as much economic activity with the freeing of resources and greater industrialization that helped bring about the modern world.

This premise is unsupported, though, and forms the foundation of all of the pro-robber baron arguments.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44104103)

" Progress has it's price,"

Apostrophes are free, but that doesn't mean you should shove them anywhere you can.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44103519)

And your touching naivete and simple-minded beliefs are shocking coming from an adult.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44099525)

Are you seriously imagining a group of waxed moustaches in top hats and tailcoats seizing asteroids then what, setting up private palaces in the sky and somehow locking everyone else out of space? What?

It is time for you to at least read William Gibson, or better yet, Walter Jon Williams. Or hell, any military strategist since military strategy was a thing, who can explain to you the value of the high ground.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099737)

What makes you think national governments aren't going to maintain a military presence in space alongside the commercial ventures? These events will not take place in a vacuum.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44102187)

Yes they will.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44099507)

If space manufacturing achieves what you think it can, what can Earth possible have to offer?

What Earth has to offer is Earth. Even though we have been poor stewards of the biosphere, it's still the nicest place to live in the solar system. Anywhere vaguely near the equator a person can survive without clothing, let alone a habitat resembling a small submarine. This is probably going to be true for quite some time after asteroid mining commences. Terraforming is a big job.

I do understand the scales involved. I'm an astronomer. Understanding things on a really big scale is kind of my job.

Presumably, then, you should understand that even with a whole lot of energy and resources, it will take a long time to make another planet Earthlike. Except maybe Europa, but... you know.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44099707)

Do you understand the common industrial processes for extracting minerals for ores? Flotation processes suddenly sound expensive as hell when you have to run it in a close to zero gravity environment (although I guess that could be simulated with centripetal forces). The cost of oxygen for smelting processes would be expensive as hell also. Leaching, solvent extraction and electrodeposition processes would probably be most feasible, but entrainment losses for solvents would be higher in that type of environment. Not to mention the issues of acid supply. Also people don't realise how much maintenance these types of processes require. Sounds like an expensive place to produce minerals. Even given any transport savings that might be made long term by being at LEO.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#44100441)

Do you understand the common industrial processes for extracting minerals for ores.

Yeah, it took like three hundred years for us to work most of that out. This time. It might take a couple more years to come up with new processes suited to zero-G.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44102087)

Apparently you've never bought a diamond. Actual scarcity has nothing to do with the price, so it's a prime example of what happens when those with the riches control the supply.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44102235)

What will us poor Earthlings trade for all this bounty?

Soylent Green.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (2)

Princeofcups (150855) | about a year ago | (#44099347)

You've got it backwards. The unfathomable amount of raw materials and energy available in space will act as a great leveller, ushering in an age of post scarcity undreamed of. I'm not saying it's going to happen tomorrow, but it is inevitable, and while the first movers may make a lot of money in the process, ultimately when we've got deep orbit factories being fed an endless stream of ores by automated refinerminers that will hardly matter.

You forgot the land grab. All those resources will be owned by mega-corporations backed by government militaries, so don't think about trespassing on their asteroid belt or else you'll get a nuke up your mining ship.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099833)

As I mentioned earlier, one single asteroid contains tons of metals, including semi precious and precious, for every man woman and child on earth. The idea of any single group being given legal title recognised by every government on earth to the majority of the resources of the system is not, I feel, realistic. I would certainly oppose any attempt to do so.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44100521)

The top 0.1% of people on earth hold ~85% of the total wealth, more than they could possibly spend or use and enough to support almost every man, woman, and child on earth. There is no upper limit to greed.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about a year ago | (#44099591)

but it is inevitable...

Oh, it's entirely evitable. You get up out of the planet's gravity well basically on top of a huge human pyramid. If it turns out to be practical to snag wealth while you're up there (a highly questionable proposition, but let's assume), there is zero incentive to pass it back down the pyramid.

ultimately when we've got deep orbit factories being fed an endless stream of ores by automated refinerminers that will hardly matter.

Yuor deep orbit factories are not going to be making food or houses or providing energy to the people on Earth's surface. They have nothing to do with meeting the basic physical needs of the majority of humanity; there's nothing "post scarcity" about it.

Asteroid mining is a romantic notion based on a propertarian myth of the frontier, where a hard-working man can make his fortune with his own two hands and no government interference (other than the government he relies on to register and defend his property claims).

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#44099801)

Agristations could easily exist, no reason at all for them not to. Energy can be provided by microwave satellites (and please don't insult me by talking about 'death rays'). Building houses, yes that's a point, it wouldn't make any sense to do that in space. Just about everything else though, why not?

Re: Creepy libertarianism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44100221)

The 'opposition' to space exploitation schemes are those who believe that space exploration is worthless and irrelevant. So long as the money being spent is private, why should they care about the political motives of those who take the risk?

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

Zeromous (668365) | about a year ago | (#44102001)

You could always read, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for a twist on what you suspect.

Re:Creepy libertarianism (1)

LordLucless (582312) | about a year ago | (#44107359)

There seems to be an attitude amongst certain people that space resources should belong to those rich enough to grab them. There hasn't yet been a serious discussion of paying for this exploitation of nature

So what you're saying is they should belong to those rich enough to control the government instead...

My usual question, not answered thus far... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098833)

Is noone concerned (not short, but long term) that the earths mass could increase enough by constantly bringing stuff in from the outside that eventually our orbit begins to change in an unpleasant way?

Re:My usual question, not answered thus far... (2)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#44099077)

I know you're joking but...

Earth: 6 x 10^24 kg.
Weight of the Pyramid of Giza: 6 x 10^9 kg.

Thus, if you brought in enough stuff to weigh the same as a huge stone pyramid, you might alter the Earth's mass by:

0.00000000000001%

Re:My usual question, not answered thus far... (1)

thereitis (2355426) | about a year ago | (#44099269)

Suppose an asteroid's path is changed during mining, putting it on a collision course with Earth (not necessarily on the first pass).

Re:My usual question, not answered thus far... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#44099527)

The earth has been getting bombarded by asteroids since before it was earth. To this day, 1000 tons of material lands on earth per year, every year with no noticeable effect on our orbit.

Also, "heavy things" are not what we'll want to be mining. Iron ore, for example, we have plenty of. We may mine some, but eventually the price will be so low that it won't be worth mining. Rare minerals will be where the money is at. Rare gasses... that sort of thing. Also, disposal of waste on asteroids or into the sun would be a money maker as well. None of this is really viable without a space elevator though. I don't think we're too far off from seeing one in our lifetime.

Re:My usual question, not answered thus far... (1)

Ost99 (101831) | about a year ago | (#44104549)

We'll probably remove more mass than we add.
Asteroid mining is for getting materials for space based structures and industry.
Very few materials have a high enough value on earth to justify the cost of asteroid mining.

Interesting way of putting it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44098891)

Long, but worth the time.

That's what she said!

Risky and Challenging effort (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44099247)

Space Mining is going be a challenging effort for everyone involved. They got do some serious long-term investiments in infrastructure hand 'roids to be mined. I can't think that despite everything, there going be easy way to dismantle one and make profit moving a potential roid which could be years away by ion thruster to Earth smoothly and safely AND dismantle it to send it to Earth.

If there actual Mars colony or true orbital facility out there, using resources from 'roids maybe more practical than bring to Earth. Anyways, i have this feeling that only when things will get desperate resource wise on Earth, is when real productive profit will accure in space mining. We still have alot resources locked up under the oceans. Its how economical it is get at them and make the profit.

Oh, give me a break (3, Funny)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#44099453)

It wasn't long ago that asteroid mining was only found in the pages of science fiction.

Yeah, not that long ago, as in yesterday...and today...and tomorrow.

On the topic of Bruce Willis (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year ago | (#44100265)

Asteroids are hardly unique on the list of things Bruce Willis blows up.

wory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44199077)

will it not insrease earths mass? think about problems related to it. Orbital shift?

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