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First Survey of Commercially Viable Asteroids Estimates Only 10 Are Worth Mining

Unknown Lamer posted about 7 months ago | from the hope-they're-wrong dept.

Space 265

KentuckyFC writes "In 2012, Richard Branson, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt announced the launch of Planetary Resources, an ambitious start up with the goal of mining nearby asteroids for natural resources. Now an academic survey of ore-bearing asteroids estimates that only about 10 are likely to have resources worth mining. The new approach is to create a Drake-like equation that starts with the total number of asteroids and determines the percentage that are close enough to Earth, the percentage of these that contain valuable resources, the percentage of these large enough to pay for a space mining mission and so on. Each of these factors is filled with uncertainty but the bottom line is that when it comes to platinum group metals such as platinum, palladium, and iridium there are likely to be very few worth exploiting. That has significant implications for the future of space exploration. With so few commercially-viable space rocks out there, knowing which ones to pursue will be hugely valuable information, concludes the study. And that means the prospecting of asteroids is likely to become a highly secretive commercial endeavor in the not-too-distant future."

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265 comments

Baseballs... (2)

mythosaz (572040) | about 7 months ago | (#45899957)

...someday we'll have the technology to shotgun baseball sized probes at the hunks of rock and figure it out. [Citation needed.]

That said, the real question is what is the intersection of the availability of asteroid mining technology with the obsolescence of the need to mine these asteroids.

Re:Baseballs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900019)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: rather than go and mine the asteroids in space we should just send them to earth and mine them here. What could possibly go wrong?

Partly joking because the ability to bring asteroids to earth or earth's gravity would imply the ability to direct asteroids away from earth, which is ostensibly more useful technology in the long run.

Re:Baseballs... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#45900605)

Mining is the act of removing very small amounts of valuable minerals from large chunks of rock.

Bringing them HERE means the tailings all end up in earth orbit.

We've got enough crap orbiting the earth and taking [cnn.com] out Satellites [huffingtonpost.com] without adding to this mess.

Processing them on the mood might make more sense, but if you have the ability to do that, why not just mine the moon?

Re:Baseballs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900745)

One benefit of moving them into LEO (Low Earth Orbit) for local mining would be having a large number of reasonably-sized bodies we can access. Once we mount enough Laser weaponry or Railguns on board, we're ready for the Covenant! Or, we could just use them to trial extra-terrestrial agriculture and space refueling, but big guns are much more fun!

Re:Baseballs... (1)

Cryacin (657549) | about 7 months ago | (#45900865)

With the amount of asteroids you're talking about, you'll also combat global warming. Think asteroid fly screen.

Re:Baseballs... (1)

NF6X (725054) | about 7 months ago | (#45900783)

Mining is the act of removing very small amounts of valuable minerals from large chunks of rock.

Bringing them HERE means the tailings all end up in earth orbit.

That would only be true if we brought the entire asteroid to earth orbit and then began mining it. If and when it is ever practical to mine asteroids, we would process them in place, bring the valuable stuff to earth surface, and leave the tailings in the same solar orbit they're already in.

Re:Baseballs... (1)

Sir_Eptishous (873977) | about 7 months ago | (#45900841)

Don't put the moon in a bad mood.

Re:Baseballs... (1)

Cryacin (657549) | about 7 months ago | (#45900887)

Yeah, the man on the moon's already annoyed at being called crater face all the time.

Re:Baseballs... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#45900923)

Cold hearted orb that rules the night.

Re:Baseballs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900153)

Once we have some type of colony out of Earth's gravity well, this will become a bit easier. However, virtually anything that goes into space has to be dragged up there with a lot of energy.

Maybe if a working launch loop or space elevator ever gets done, this would be a significant advance and lower the expense, but until then, confirming how suitable for mining an asteroid is, would be expensive.

Of course, the first country that has one of these will be the first country whose people will survive any major disasters and wars, or just win any terrestrial battle by just chucking metal rods at cities.

Re:Baseballs... (1)

gnick (1211984) | about 7 months ago | (#45900575)

Be careful - The moon is a harsh mistress.

Need for materials (1)

crow (16139) | about 7 months ago | (#45900157)

You bring up a good point mentioning the "obsolescence of the need to mine these asteroids," but I disagree that we'll hit that point for two reasons.

1) Materials science keeps coming up with fascinating new things that we can do, but often requiring exotic (i.e., rare) elements. Sure, there's tons of things we can do with carbon, but there will always be things where other materials are needed. Unless you're going to argue that it will be cheaper to make elements on demand through nuclear reactions, new sources of rare materials is always a good thing. (And then there's the environmental advantage of mining asteroids over terrestrial mining.)

2) For space exploration, sources of materials off-planet are an advantage.

Re:Need for materials (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 7 months ago | (#45900527)

. (And then there's the environmental advantage of mining asteroids over terrestrial mining.)

What, pray tell, might the advantage be? I dare say that creating a rocket and fuel to launch tones of stuff far enough into space to reach an asteroid is going to be pretty rough on the local environment. Then add the ability to return at least some recovered mass and I'm thinking we are nowhere near an environmental wash for quite some time.

Re:Need for materials (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 7 months ago | (#45900709)

Check out Australia's iron mining for a reasonable example of what he meant. Launching "stuff" will get progressively easier (as it is doing right now). Building the infrastructure is the expensive part. Returning materials can be done with cheap drogue shoots. Environmental wash could easily be one generation away.

Uncertainty (4, Interesting)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 7 months ago | (#45899959)

This kind of estimating may have an order of magnitude error. So it could easily be only 1 asteroid worth mining. Let the asteroid war begin!

Re:Uncertainty (2)

Trepidity (597) | about 7 months ago | (#45900241)

Recent measurements estimate that 10 +/- 20 asteroids may be commercially viable to mine!

Re:Uncertainty (4, Funny)

shadowrat (1069614) | about 7 months ago | (#45900327)

Recent measurements estimate that 10 +/- 20 asteroids may be commercially viable to mine!

so there could be -10 asteroids worth mining? Somebody has to make the 10 asteroids first?

Re:Uncertainty (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 7 months ago | (#45900565)

Somebody has to make the 10 asteroids first?

Oh for MOD points! LOL..

I think you hit the problem square on. There is a LARGE chance that mining asteroids will never be viable.

Re:Uncertainty (2)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about 7 months ago | (#45900585)

First you need to split up larger asteroids. The most effective strategy is to position your ship in a corner.

Re:Uncertainty (1)

Mitreya (579078) | about 7 months ago | (#45900589)

so there could be -10 asteroids worth mining?

These are the Soviet Russia asteroids.

Because in Soviet Russia, the asteroids mine you!

Re:Uncertainty (1)

Cryacin (657549) | about 7 months ago | (#45900907)

Those aren't asteroids... they're Niblonian space stations!

Re:Uncertainty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900615)

If somebody made 10 asteroids first we'd have nothing left to mine.

Re:Uncertainty (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#45900657)

I've heard of of an asteroid in near earth orbit, filled with oxygen and useful industrial materials. It's apparently called "ISS" which must be some sort of ancient Babylonian goddess or something.

Re:Uncertainty (1)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#45900707)

so there could be -10 asteroids worth mining? Somebody has to make the 10 asteroids first?

Think of the tax write-offs!!! Negative Revenue! Negative Profit! Negative Inventory! Tax attorney Nirvana!

Re:Uncertainty (1)

danlip (737336) | about 7 months ago | (#45900937)

All of which will make a WOOSH sound as they pass over your head.

Re:Uncertainty (3, Interesting)

VernonNemitz (581327) | about 7 months ago | (#45900415)

I prefer to think that the definition of what is "valuable" is subject to change. This idea [halfbakery.com] describes a kind of "overview" regarding converting just about anything into a pile of resources. The main cost is Energy. And in space, solar energy can be very cheap. IF they bother to put a solar-power station into Space, that is, with the goal not of using it to beam energy to Earth, but to use it to "smelt" (for want of a more precise word) space rocks down into useful oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium, etc. Then it won't matter in the least if one of those space rocks happens to be full of platinum.

Re:Uncertainty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900541)

The first step in testing if an asteroid is worth mining. Look for signs written in blood reading "Red Faction". If found, run away as fast as you can!

Re:Uncertainty (1)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#45900675)

This kind of estimating may have an order of magnitude error. So it could easily be only 1 asteroid worth mining. Let the asteroid war begin!

Four guys doing back of the envelope calculations does not justify any mad rush to start mining.

Even the summary ends with a totally unwarranted suggestion:

With so few commercially-viable space rocks out there, knowing which ones to pursue will be hugely valuable information, concludes the study. And that means the prospecting of asteroids is likely to become a highly secretive commercial endeavor in the not-too-distant future."

The submitter suggests that since there are so few valuable asteroids and since its (currently) impossible to mine them, that a commercial mad rush to do so is bound to start any minute now.

That is just daft.

Drake (4, Insightful)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 7 months ago | (#45899963)

And much like the Drake equation if even one of the inputs is a WAG the final result is meaningless.

Re:Drake (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900209)

And much like the Drake equation since nearly all of the inputs are WAGes the final result is meaningless.

FTFE (Fixed that for everyone)

Re:Drake (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 7 months ago | (#45900789)

What does "WAG" stand for? The only thing I can find is "wives and girlfriends" which doesn't seem to make much sense in context.

Re:Drake (3, Insightful)

gman003 (1693318) | about 7 months ago | (#45900807)

Wild-Ass Guess.

Re:Drake (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 7 months ago | (#45900949)

Ah. Thanks,

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900871)

Wild ass guess

Why just look near Earth? (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about 7 months ago | (#45899973)

Why just look near Earth? Won't we want to build stuff far away from Earth too? Seems like having building supplies near Jupiter might be useful and a lot cheaper than bring them with.

Re:Why just look near Earth? (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | about 7 months ago | (#45900125)

Exactly, they seem to only be looking at it in terms of bringing materials down to Earth's surface. The biggest boon of this kind of work is that it will finally mean having access to inexpensive, relatively speaking, materials for construction in space and possibly on other planetary bodies.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (2)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 7 months ago | (#45900231)

With what energy? Short of fission or fusion, how exactly do you plan on smelting ore in space (let alone forge it)?! Perhaps fusion in zero-G might make it easier, but who knows at this point. It's not being done now.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 7 months ago | (#45900273)

I don't know, but there's a lot of solar energy in space that doesn't get reduced by an atmosphere. That said, why not fusion - Voyager was powered by a little plutonium, so its not like we can't send the required materials up there.

Chances are we'll be needing a moonbase before we get to the asteroids for anything other than science.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

rhook (943951) | about 7 months ago | (#45900671)

The amount of available solar energy decreases fast the further away from the Sun you get. This is why most of the planets are cold and lifeless. Jupiter only receives 1/27 the amount of sunlight that the Earth does.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 7 months ago | (#45900829)

Use gravity. We've been slingshotting satellites for decades. Just sling an asteroid towards Mercury where you built that big solar powered smelter and then slingshot the results back to Earth.

If you're going to build an industry, think in terms of an entire industry, not just the pieces.

Just for clarity, from Juipiter -> Neptune are gas giants and most likely wouldn't have life even if they were warm.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 7 months ago | (#45900687)

I That said, why not fusion - Voyager was powered by a little plutonium, so its not like we can't send the required materials up there.

Oh yea, that's a great idea. Let's put a nuke power plant into space. Do you know how much these things weigh when you add the necessary shielding so that humans can approach the thing? You don't have to shield the whole thing, like here on earth, but it's still going to be a lot of mass.

BTW, Voyager 1 &2 are powered using HEAT which is produced by radioactive decay, which is really not fusion in the chain reaction sense.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 7 months ago | (#45900981)

Not really. There are designs out there for pretty darned light reactors. The soviets had some designs specifically intended for space that were pretty light, TOPAZ-2 was half a ton, and I read about a Los Alamos design that was half that. Current nuclear reactors are generally not optimized for weight. Naval reactors are optimized for size.

Also, why would you want or need to approach a nuclear reactor in space? Shielding wouldn't be light, but you don't need to fully shield the reactor. You put shielding to block radiation from going in the direction of the crew compartment, and then you put it at the end of a long boom.

The reasons for not using nuclear power in space are political, not technological.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900297)

With what energy? Short of fission or fusion, how exactly do you plan on smelting ore in space (let alone forge it)?!

There's a pretty frikken big fusion reactor out there already, just need to focus some of the energy it's spewing out. The real problem is what to do with waste heat, since space is a pretty good insulator.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#45900305)

With fission and fusion. Why are you excluding them?

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 7 months ago | (#45900335)

With what energy? Short of fission or fusion, how exactly do you plan on smelting ore in space (let alone forge it)?! Perhaps fusion in zero-G might make it easier, but who knows at this point. It's not being done now.

Solar panels. Solar energy is quite efficient in space, especially when you don't have to worry about things like the Earth getting in the way of the sun. Granted, solar panels are less effective out in the asteroid belt, but it's still a viable method.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (3, Informative)

CreatureComfort (741652) | about 7 months ago | (#45900531)

Why waste time with that? For smelting, pretty much all you need is a good fresnel lens [instructables.com] .

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 7 months ago | (#45900727)

For smelting metals, I'd figure some mirrors would be more efficient than solar panels. Let's you do away with the inefficiencies of converting light into electricity and then into heat. I'm guessing that mirrors would be lighter too.

Re: Why just look near Earth? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 7 months ago | (#45900945)

With what energy?

Note the big ball of light in the sky.

It develops about 1.3 KW/m^2 above the atmosphere. So a parabolic mirror 2km across should give you ~4 GW at the focus.

If you can't melt an asteroid with that much heat available, you've got no business going into space.

Re:Why just look near Earth? (3, Insightful)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about 7 months ago | (#45900253)

The 10 asteroids idea is based upon the premise that the resources are going intended for consumption on Earth. For the first iteration of things this only makes sense. There's no benefit to Earth based investors in resources with delta-v requirements effectively locking them to the vicinity of the Jovian system. Nor is there any ROI on resources even from NEOs that isn't in the Platinum group. Even in iteration 2 we'll still be looking at NEOs as the resources will be required for Earth orbiting projects.

Re:Why just look near Earth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900619)

Even in iteration 2 we'll still be looking at NEOs

I know what you're trying to do...

Re:Why just look near Earth? (1)

garyoa1 (2067072) | about 7 months ago | (#45900571)

Pssst... the moon is a tad closer.

Gold and California. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45899989)

California did not get rich off it's gold reserves, neither did the Youkon. By the very nature of precious metals mining, they draw you in. California is great because it has great resources, at first mostly useful to living there, and oh, by the way there was some gold to draw in the crowds. The real economic payoff to come from space is most likely going to be in the form of energy production. Like California, if it takes the modern equiv of gold to draw in the crowds and investment, great. But how many gold rushes were there in the US? 3 or 4, California, Nevada, Colorado, Georgia, and Montana?

Re:Gold and California. (1)

tech.kyle (2800087) | about 7 months ago | (#45900161)

Alaska too, but decently good point none the less.

Re:Gold and California. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900401)

Gold created a short term spike of activity and created all kinds of damage for which we are still paying. California is all tech, agriculture, and movies now. None of that stuff runs on gold, but gold ran on mercury which still contaminates many of our bodies of water. Fish from Clear Lake (terrible misnomer) are almost inedible because of Hg contamination.

Mining sucks in the long run. Sustainable forestry, fishery, and agriculture are the true key to prosperity. That's not just California greenie hippie bullshit. It's the dogone truth.

Re:Gold and California. (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 7 months ago | (#45900889)

If for no other reason, the green movement should be behind belt mining because it would eventually remove the entire industry from the face of the planet.

That, however, might be expecting too much. I have actually had an environmentally concerned person ask me "What about that environment?" This will probably be the bigger inertia.

Re:Gold and California. (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 7 months ago | (#45900429)

Uhm, but the Comstock Lode [wikipedia.org] in now what's Virginia City, NV did make a lot of people rich. Also California has a lot of other resources to be sure, too bad it's lost its magic. I can say that to since I'm an expatriate born and raised in So Cal. It's a nice place to visit but I no longer want to go there.

Pure speculation on their part (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900025)

As anyone in mining can tell you, 'ore' is defined as mineral resources that can be mined at a profit. Binghman Canyon mine, for example, ran out of ore a few years ago, but then regained ore after they build a conveyer belt that let them move material more efficiently.

The number of asteroids that are 'ore' depends on the cost of mining and the price of metal, both of which are subject to change. The cost of mining, especially, is basically unknown at this point, given that we've never done it.

Star Wars economy (4, Interesting)

crow (16139) | about 7 months ago | (#45900045)

What we need for this to work is essentially the Star Wars economy. Wonder how they built the Death Star and all those massive ships? Droids. If we can launch something up there that can harvest enough materials and build what it needs up there to keep going, then it just takes one launch. It sends robots to the right asteroid. They extract metals, build more robots, build space ships, go to other asteroids, and keep repeating the process. Occasionally they send shipments back home.

We're a long ways away from that level of technology, but I don't think there's anything preventing us from getting there.

For energy, the robots could either build nuclear or solar power systems.

For manufacturing, 3-D printing is likely an enabling technology. It needs to advance way beyond where it is now, such as making full computers.

Refining the raw materials found on the asteroids is another obstacle.

I would guess it's 50 to 100 years out.

Re:Star Wars economy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900173)

>Refining the raw materials found on the asteroids is another obstacle.

I would guess it's 50 to 100 years out.

I would guess longer but unfortunately we really only have 200-300 years of easy energy left in this planet with the current demands and energy tech. So we'll either need to find much more efficient means of doing anything or find more energy before we reach a point to where we just can't.

Re:Star Wars economy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900311)

You do realize that there was not really a Death Star or massive ships, right?

Re:Star Wars economy (4, Funny)

tlambert (566799) | about 7 months ago | (#45900427)

You do realize that there was not really a Death Star or massive ships, right?

It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. You couldn't be expected to remember that from your non-AP History classes.

Re:Star Wars economy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900381)

What we need for this to work is essentially the Star Wars economy. Wonder how they built the Death Star and all those massive ships? Droids. If we can launch something up there that can harvest enough materials and build what it needs up there to keep going, then it just takes one launch. It sends robots to the right asteroid. They extract metals, build more robots, build space ships, go to other asteroids, and keep repeating the process. Occasionally they send shipments back home.

If we do it right, we won't need to send robots. All we need to send are nano-bots that can be used to build bigger bots using the material on the planet, which in turn ca build ships, space stations, etc. My thought is that it would be much easier to send nano-bot probes to a number of potential asteroids than fully built robots.

Re:Star Wars economy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900685)

But first! Picobots to assemble the Nanobots!

And then Femtobots and then Atoobots, don't even get me started on the Yoctobots

Eventually Turtles

Re:Star Wars economy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900523)

You're also underestimate how many people the Empire had to throw at a problem and how cheap life in the Empire was. The economy of the Empire is (cough...was) not only built on cheap production and ressources (droids used in manufacture and the mining of ressources) but also in massive amounts of cheap labour (including slavery) and a very "expanding" sytle of obtaining cheaply available ressources (meaning: warfare) with a standing army in the billions of actual lives being thrown at the problem.

Bad Assumptions (3, Informative)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 7 months ago | (#45900047)

These numbers are highly speculative and reflect bad assumptions.

The main bad assumption: That one would mine an asteroid for any one resource. Platinum/water etc.

Much more likely is mining whatever is there and refining it into things useful in space, at least at first. Particularly obvious is making fuel from water, but any asteroid with ice will likely also have useful metal.

Re:Bad Assumptions (3, Interesting)

cusco (717999) | about 7 months ago | (#45900279)

Just the sheer mass of an asteroid is valuable, first for radiation protection and also for reaction mass. Strap a small nuclear reactor on a big ingot of whatever you've mined, feed slag into a NERVA-type engine, and let the resulting plasma propel your product to its destination.

Re:Bad Assumptions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900909)

To me the problem with the whole idea is the goal to "cost-effectively mine resources in space... in a commercially viable way". I can't see this kind of thing being feasible so long as money is part of the equation. On a practical level, I always considered Star Trek to have been smart to work off the premise that mankind had moved beyond money as its foray into space began. If the only reason we're in space is to make a dollar, we'll simply destroy everything in our path the way we're already doing to our own planet. Not a world, solar system, or galaxy I want to live in.

Profit (4, Interesting)

iONiUM (530420) | about 7 months ago | (#45900081)

  1. Step 1. Pay an academic entity to release a study saying that it's not worth mining asteroids, even if it is
  2. Step 2. In the meantime, get ready to mine asteroids
  3. Step 3. Start mining asteroids while everyone else isn't
  4. Step 4. Profit

Re:Profit (5, Funny)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 7 months ago | (#45900901)

Son of a bitch, an actual step three.

Investment scam (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900089)

This is an investment scam. Plenty of idiots will not see through it though.

They got the idea from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 called "Rivals", where some alien lady was conning investors with an asteroid mining scheme. It was apparently an old investment scam in Star Trek lore.

When the wise man points at the moon... (0)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about 7 months ago | (#45900093)

...the idiot mines asteroids. The Chinese are not going to lose this one..

Re:When the wise man points at the moon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900185)

The Chinese are like Debian. Low risk, and slow to move to new versions. That's why you keep using it.

Re:When the wise man points at the moon... (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 7 months ago | (#45900445)

The Chinese are like Debian. Low risk, and slow to move to new versions. That's why you keep using it.

Mostly you keep using it because you've already invested all that time compiling, and you're convinced that it's *this close -> - to being done.

Survey of my garden says... (2)

bob_super (3391281) | about 7 months ago | (#45900147)

... most rocks have little commercial value.

Just because they have yet to get trapped by the earth's gravity well doesn't mean that most asteroids (especially the ones with the right orbits to mine) are fundamentally different in composition from what we find in the earth's crust.

Re:Survey of my garden says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900295)

Survey of my garden says most rocks have little commercial value.

Your example points to its own fallacy. Just because mining your garden is not profitable, it does not follow that mining the Earth, or other specific areas of the Earth, will not be profitable.

Even if there are only 10 profitable asteroids out there, mining those 10 will be profitable.

Re:Survey of my garden says... (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 7 months ago | (#45900451)

Exactly. I'm commenting on the "only" being some kind of discovery, when there was so much hype about trillions in ore value just waiting to be thrusted down to us by space pioneers.
The Gold Rush redux.

Re: Survey of my garden says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900931)

They 'only' want to make themselves rich and famous, not collapse the global economy by bringing back too much gold and platinum...

Re:Survey of my garden says... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900593)

Asteroids are fundamentally different in composition from what we find in the earth's crust. When the Earth was molten, most of the heavy stuff like platinum sank.

Idea!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900169)

All those involved should go watch the movie Armageddon.

Reads like a Discovery Documentary (1)

tech.kyle (2800087) | about 7 months ago | (#45900223)

Anyone else watch those TV Documentaries where the ads for it say "We answer mankind's biggest question. DO. ALIENS. EXIST. Tonight at 5, only on the Discovery Channel." and when you watch it, it concludes with "..so, are there aliens out there? The answer is a definite.. maybe." *roll credits*

Re:Reads like a Discovery Documentary (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 7 months ago | (#45900609)

Indeed.

So kids, what do we learn from this?
Nothing!

And that is just the point
But maybe just maybe that your time is too precious to waste it in front of a TV.
Just chuck it. I did years ago and have't regretted it one single moment.

Ignore the most precious mineral (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 7 months ago | (#45900263)

The most precious mineral you can get from an asteroid is dihydrogen monoxide. Although common on Earth, in space this is a precious substance with myriad uses.

Re:Ignore the most precious mineral (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about 7 months ago | (#45900369)

That assumes there's a buyer. Perhaps one day China might be one, but for now we're stuck with a chicken and egg type problem. This is why they're first going for the pragmatic strategy of targeting the Platinum group which might actually have a chance at yielding ROI even though they'll be shipping it back to Earth's surface.

Technology that does not exist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900329)

Clearly mining of astroids in space is going to be a much different business than mining on earth. I would suggest that the technology for mining astroids in space does not exist and therefore any cost/benefit analysis is probably not very acurate.

What will initally drive humans to mine in space is not profit but rather the human drive to do something that has not been done before (challenge/curiosity). As with any technology an initial loss would be expected, but with great challenge comes great opportunity and great reward.

One should also keep in mind that precious metals are not the most valuble space resource. Initially other resourcces such as water (hydrogen/oxygen), helium, etc. will be they are required for human space flight and especially any lengthy stay is space.

Interesting economics (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 7 months ago | (#45900363)

The value of information is going to be, at most, the value of the materials contained on the asteroid minus the cost of mining them. That means if there's a 5% ROI mining asteroids and you can get $100 million return out of the asteroid, then the value of information is going to be at most $100 million to mine a $2 billion asteroid.

Then subtract the risk. Let's say that, accounting for mission failures, failure to properly assess the asteroid's value (both finding more than expected and finding much less), and cost overruns for probable events, an extra $80 million goes into each mission. The value of the information is then going to be at most $20 million, otherwise it costs more than the risk and you're just gambling. The difference between gambling and investing is gambling has a probability of loss if carried out perfectly; investing has an outcome controllable with net-positive or break-even gain and an extremely low (unpredictable because it happens almost never) loss. The stock market is called "investing" because skilled traders can read the market well enough to consistently make a profit, enough to offset occasional black swans (the market is essentially skilled traders preying on unskilled idiots who don't know how to keep their shirts).

Then you have adjustments over time: scarcity of materials increasing commodity value, causing a great rise in price; this couples with risk, both in increased scarcity (makes you a profit, makes society poorer) and in someone finding themselves a bitchload asteroid and bringing back gigatonnes of platinum (makes your current mining efforts suddenly worth a lot less, causing a loss; makes society more wealthy). Improvements in technology--particularly in energy production and storage--make mining cheaper, so profit margins increase and risk decreases. These adjustments increase the value of prospecting contracts.

Then you have emerging markets. For example, a titan supply line would be highly valuable as a way to replenish CO2 in the earth's atmosphere. To facilitate space travel, an orbital collector could store microwave energy in power cells or flywheels, then sync transmit and tight-beam power down to a ground station. The ground station would then absorb CO2 from the air--carbon and oxygen--and H2O--hydrogen and oxygen--and produce gasoline or diesel fuel in a rather lossy process. With enough access to a huge store (i.e. the sun, which will burn out in 5-10 billion years) of high-flow (i.e. enough radiation from the sun to provide for space travel) energy, you could use this fuel--gasoline, hydrogen/oxygen, diesel--as propellant.

Accounting for this, your in-atmosphere propellant would be clean: it would release hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon originally collected from atmosphere, and not contain mercury or sulfur. Your out-of-atmosphere propellant would remove these things from the atmosphere--water, carbon, oxygen. Thus, eventually, new sources of hydrocarbon fuel would be required to replace the depleted oxygen and carbon in the earth's atmosphere. All high-altitude fuel would come from the methane hydrocarbon reserves of Titan, either as methane-propelled gas fuel rockets or processed into a more effective fuel source. Most of that hydrocarbon combustion products--and any allowable impurities (sulfur, mercury, etc.)--would spew into space instead of into earth's atmosphere. Clean fuel would be preferred in-atmosphere, but mined fuel would be brought in and burned--possibly in launches--when the atmospheric levels of CO2 and H2O and O2 were considered low.

Huge economic considerations.

I want to be a sci-fi writer; I can world-build fantasy and sci-fi, but I can't come up with plot. They've all been done; I'd feel like I'm copying someone else--anyone else--everyone else!

Re:Interesting economics (1)

a1cypher (619776) | about 7 months ago | (#45900681)

It's interesting enough that I might read it without a plot. I think if you just were to start writing about the possible future world stuff and the progression from now to then, you would have a plot. Think about the likely conflicts that might arise, the corporations that would take advantage of new technologies, and the likely response of governments and society to these changes and it could write itself.

I find this far more interesting Sci-fi than some of the crap you see on TV now a days with aliens, magic hammers, time travel, etc... For once I would appreciate a future sci-fi based on our own likely progression assuming we dont meet crazy high tech aliens and have to pave the way for everything ourselves. No easy breaks or glossing over the details that take us from where we are now to giant multi-system race. Even just the politics of multiple human colonies amongst the stars would be amazing to think about.

Like any mountain range (1)

Jonathunder (105885) | about 7 months ago | (#45900439)

If you think of asteroids as widely scattered mountains scattered through the solar system, they are going to vary as mountains do on Earth. Most are heaps of ordinary rock and ice. Some have more minerals, some less. A very few might have a lot of resources. But even the richest asteroid is very hard to get to compared to any mountain on Earth.

Speculation (1)

oldmac31310 (1845668) | about 7 months ago | (#45900483)

In the future, perhaps a long time from now, there will be orders of monks living beyond earth and they will predictably dwell on monasteroids.

Did we Learn Nothing from the Drake Eq.? (4, Informative)

Araes (1177047) | about 7 months ago | (#45900507)

In many ways, these equations are almost worse than useless. For years, the Drake Eq. gave everyone the impression there were 1 or 2 other planets in the whole universe that could support life, and reinforced the whole contingent for which space exploration is never a "cost effective" endeavor. Then we found out "oh, wait, all our guesses were wildly pessemistic." They get filled with extrapolated numbers about a place we've only begun to tip-toe into and then make dire predictions.

Some are also just wrong. For example, he uses 4.5 km/s delta-V but that doesn't even cover the maxima for Liquid Fuel Rockets (7 to 9 km/s). If you start to approach tech like Electrostatic or Hall Effect (Ion) Thrusters you get up into numbers more like 50-100 km/s, which would probably multiply his 10 number by a bit (most of the Oort Cloud becomes available over time).

There's just so much fuzziness here its hard to find the use in it.

Re: Did we Learn Nothing from the Drake Eq.? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900599)

not to mention we know nothing about the worth of asteroid rock. Even worthless rock could be resold as a novelty

Re:Did we Learn Nothing from the Drake Eq.? (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 7 months ago | (#45900689)

The Drake equation was meant to be a rule of thumb not unavoidable fact. The factors were changed as more data became available because frankly scientists use empirical data and not wild guesses. For example scientists have long suspected typical solar systems had planets; the problem was proving that they did. The types of planets is another issue; gas giants are easier to detect because of their size but smaller rocky planets may be more plentiful for all we know.

Re:Did we Learn Nothing from the Drake Eq.? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 7 months ago | (#45900999)

Rules of thumb usually come close to reality, that's why they're used. The Drake equation is so loose it yields a **huge** range, not narrow. As a list of variables to consider, fine, but it is worthless as a rule of thumb, otherwise it would yield close results to the earlier numbers with our current knowledge and it doesn't.

Commercially viable (2)

gmuslera (3436) | about 7 months ago | (#45900577)

The kind of investment needed to mine a single asteroid put a limit of what is viable and what is not, at least in the most straightforward way (launch a rocket to that asteroid, mine it, send the materials to earth, game over). But can that limit be lowered changing the goal? What instead of searching for a platinum rich asteroid the goal is iron or needed materials (fuel?) ones to build/resuply ships already in the asteroid belt, would that initial investment raise the bar in what is profitable and what not? One of the biggest costs should be the initial launch of the ships from Earth, where every pound matters.

Bruce Willis has already been contacted... (1)

bi$hop (878253) | about 7 months ago | (#45900607)

...since his drilling team [youtube.com] is the best.

Didn't they learn anything from... (1)

Sir_Eptishous (873977) | about 7 months ago | (#45900655)

playing Mass Effect 2?

Good luck sneaking a rocket launch... (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 7 months ago | (#45900697)

>> And that means the prospecting of asteroids is likely to become a highly secretive commercial endeavor in the not-too-distant future.

Given the large numbers of even hobby astronomers, the chances of sneaking a payload into space are pretty small. (See also: X37).

Asteroid mining is interesting in physics thinking (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 7 months ago | (#45900701)

This is just random low grade physics fantasy pondering:
Once you can get a hold of an asteroid, you have a place from which you can exert a force. So 2 things can happen:

You can use force to chuck little pieces of asteroid back towards Earth to be collected "somehow"
You can jump from asteroid to asteroid.
All this would take precise calculations, but it doesn't suffer from "weak thrust ion drives", "weak solar sails", or "limited conventional thrusters." If you do your math calculations correct to jump from asteroid to asteroid, you could be using "electricity gained from nuclear or solar." to propel you through space.

So if the goal is to take select pieces of asteroid and shoot them back to Earth, you just need some really intelligent algorithms to leap from asteroid to asteroid. The fudge factor would be using some "limited conventional thrusters.", but the better your algorithms, the less you'd need to use them.

Now I don't know if this is viable at all, but it really opens your mind up to a robot leaping from asteroid to asteroid, gripping it, chucking pieces back to Earth(albeit possibly slowly) and going from asteroid to asteroid. OH SNAP! Dude you could totally use an asteroid as a surf board. Just throw pieces away from you in order to get you exactly to the other Asteroid you want to dock with. Man this is just fun to think about. The total costs of doing this would be really low because you wouldn't have to refuel often.

Missing a big point (1)

pablo_max (626328) | about 7 months ago | (#45900805)

When companies and research teams look at things like asteroid mining, or space exploitation in general, they tend to look at thing purely from an monetary perspective. So, the "economics" if you will.

This, by and large is the outlook most folks have. Indeed, it is our nature to take the low hanging fruit without any thought to future ramifications.

The conversation should not be one of strictly money though. Instead, they should look at the long term effects of striping our planet of natural resources.
In the long run, is better to spend more effort now to mine "rare earth" metals in space, or to continue with strip mining and chemical leach mining because it costs less money now.
There is a butt load of stuff in space we could use, but it would be terribly expensive at first. Heck, Titan has more hydrocarbons than Earth could use in a billion years. Plus, who cares how bad we fuck up Titian when we spill a bunch? I would much rather destroy the moon or Titan than fuck where the one place we've got.

Also, the ort cloud is ridiculously huge. It seems a safe bet that there are more materials in there we could ever dream of using.

I ask you, is it right to only think about what we would need to spend today, whilst giving no thought at all to what it will "cost" us in the future?

Commercial Towing Ships (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#45900971)

We could just make commercial towing ships - have them refine the good stuff as they haul the payloads back. Name the class "Nostromo."

Just a guess - (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 7 months ago | (#45901007)

I'm going with Ceres and Vesta. You guys can have the other ones.

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