For-profit asteroid mining missions to start in 2016

18

Sci-fi? Mining startups plan to prospect for asteroid belt minerals beginning in 2016, but the big goal is air and water for future space travel, not gold.

Mining in space is moving from science fiction to commercial reality but metals magnates on this planet need not fear a mountain of extraterrestrial supply — the aim is to fuel human voyages deeper into the galaxy.

Within three years, two firms plan prospecting missions to passing asteroids. When even a modest space rock might meet demand for metals like platinum or gold for centuries, it is little wonder storytellers have long fantasized that to harness cosmic riches could make, and break, fortunes on Earth.

But with no way to bring much ore or metal down from the heavens, new ventures that have backing from some serious — and seriously rich — business figures, as well as interest from NASA, will focus on using space minerals in interplanetary "gas stations" or to build, support and fuel colonies on Mars.

Written By: Susan Thomas
continue to source article at news.msn.com

18 COMMENTS

  1. If miners are going to leave a mess, I would sooner they did it on an asteroid where they will not be destroying life.

    I kind of like the idea of a glut of gold making vaults full worthless. It strikes me as madness to destroy mountain valleys to extract the gold, then bury it again in vaults underground.

    My landlady wanted desperately to have a house of gold with gold countertops in heaven. Now she might get her wish early.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      If miners are going to leave a mess, I would sooner they did it on an asteroid where they will not be destroying life.

      I kind of like the idea of a glut of gold making vaults full worthless. It strikes me as madness to destroy mountain valleys to extract the gold, then bury it again in vaults unde…

      I did some gold mining work in the Yukon, before university. A girl gave me a hard time for “ruining the planet”. She was a saint, of course, and was tree planting before classes began. When she asked me why I did it, I told her the money was good and people insist on wearing gold earrings and necklaces just like the ones she was wearing. I told her, if she didn’t buy that shit, people like me wouldn’t dig it up. Supply and demand, baby.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      If miners are going to leave a mess, I would sooner they did it on an asteroid where they will not be destroying life.

      I kind of like the idea of a glut of gold making vaults full worthless. It strikes me as madness to destroy mountain valleys to extract the gold, then bury it again in vaults underground

      seconded

      This sort of thing gets me excited. I think the promise of gold is great, it serves to, as you say render the stuff worthless which it is in any real sense, but in the short term will drive a thriving industry.

      As for the big elephant in the room regarding if the worst happens…. I say we take off an nuke the entire site form orbit.. it’s the only way to be sure

      • In reply to #7 by SaganTheCat:

        I think the promise of gold is great, it serves to, as you say render the stuff worthless which it is in any real sense, but in the short term will drive a thriving industry.

        Before we all start selling off our gold shares here are some realities to consider. The current price of gold is apx. $22,560 per pound

        NASA recently paid Russia nearly $63M per seat for round trips for one astronaut Lets imagine an astronaut weight at 180 pounds. That means — and now this is with NO MINING COSTS — assuming there was an asteroid that was as easy to get to as the ISS with gold dust sitting in nice bags ready to be picked up and brought back it would cost you $63M for something you could sell on Earth for a little over $4M.

        Even if you imagine that Russia was ripping off NASA and cut the price in half it doesn’t make sense. Even if you reduce the price of a round trip by a factor of 10 it still isn’t viable. And that isn’t even considering the mining cost. This stuff may be fun to speculate about and some day I’m sure people will colonize space but right now it makes no sense from an economic standpoint.

        • In reply to #16 by Red Dog:

          The current price of gold is apx. $22,560 per pound

          NASA recently paid Russia nearly $63M per seat for round trips for one astronaut Lets imagine an astronaut weight at 180 pounds. That means — and now this is with NO MINING COSTS — assuming there was an asteroid that was as easy to get to as the ISS with gold dust sitting in nice bags ready to be picked up and brought back it would cost you $63M for something you could sell on Earth for a little over $4M.

          On the other hand if the mine was sending 2 packages a week of platinum and rare earths, for twenty years, it would be a very profitable enterprise.

          If they were also using asteroid materials for 3D printing spares to be fitted to satellites by robot service units, that would also generate $millions.

          If they were manufacturing fuel from water for interplanetary probes or missions, and for refuelling attitude jets and engines to refurbish old satellites, all these activities would reduce the need for expensive Earth to orbit rocket launches and replacement satellites in the longer term, while producing $millions in revenues.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      If miners are going to leave a mess, I would sooner they did it on an asteroid where they will not be destroying life.

      If they leave a mess in space, their supply ships and export products, will have to fly through the debris field!!! Meeting a floating waste heap of rocks at orbital speed tends to be rapidly fatal to people and machines!

  2. Mining in space is moving from science fiction to commercial reality but metals magnates on this planet need not fear a mountain of extraterrestrial supply — the aim is to fuel human voyages deeper into the galaxy.

    Be afraid, be very afraid… :D

  3. @OP – Mining in space is moving from science fiction to commercial reality but metals magnates on this planet need not fear a mountain of extraterrestrial supply — the aim is to fuel human voyages deeper into the galaxy.

    This is simply wrong! The long term aim is to use water for oxygen, hydrogen and rocket propellant, but there ARE plans to return valuable heavy metals to Earth. The earlier plans are also to provide resources for space-based manufacture and interplanetary travel long before interstellar travel.

    But with no way to bring much ore or metal down from the heavens, new ventures that have backing from some serious — and seriously rich —

    This is also nonsense! Slapping a heat-shield and parachute on to a piece of metal for return to Earth, is well tried and tested technology!

    http://www.iol.co.za/scitech/science/space/moguls-bankroll-gold-rush-to-asteroids-1.1282899#.UpXP2ycUtPY

    Not all missions would return precious metals and minerals to Earth. In addition to mining for platinum and other precious metals, the company plans to tap asteroids’ water to supply orbiting fuel depots, which could be used by Nasa and others for robotic and human space missions.

    http://www.iol.co.za/scitech/science/space/rare-earths-hunt-goes-to-space-1.1492117#.UpXQUicUtPY

    Yttrium, Lanthanum and the other 15 minerals which make up the group of elements known as rare earths are crucial to everything from wind turbines and hybrid cars to cruise missiles and the ubiquitous smartphone.

    @OP – business figures, as well as interest from NASA, will focus on using space minerals in interplanetary “gas stations”

    That is certainly on the agenda, with experiments on space-based 3D printers already under way for orbital manufacturing of components, for satellites’ spares, for mining equipment, crew accommodation, and for fuel production plant.

    @OP – or to build, support and fuel colonies on Mars.

    This is possible, but is a long way down the priorities list well below other items here! It is much simpler to build colonies on or near an asteroid, or on one of the Martian Moons, than to move the stuff to the surface of Mars where lift off back to space is so demanding of energy and resources!

    Here is a brief article and short video clip (2min26sec) from the company setting this up this mining survey and future operation:-

    http://www.planetaryresources.com/2013/11/heres-why-asteroid-mining-will-fuel-human-expansion-into-the-cosmos/

    • In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

      That is certainly on the agenda, with experiments on space-based 3D printers already under way for orbital manufacturing of components, for satellites’ spares, for mining equipment, crew accommodation, and for fuel production plant.

      Hi Alan4Discussion, am interested in how they are going to do 3D printing in zero gravity. All the printers I’m aware of would struggle in zero gravity particularly the laser sintering variety which use powdered materials and squeegee a fine layer down (need gravity here) then laser then lay down a new layer etc. The plastic spool variety can stick a layer of plastic to a base plate (if precisely aligned or there’d be spool everywhere). Do you have any good links?

      • In reply to #8 by Reckless Monkey:

        In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

        Hi Alan4Discussion, am interested in how they are going to do 3D printing in zero gravity.
        

        Rotation… wheel-shaped space station simulates gravity. Simples.

        Steve

      • In reply to #8 by Reckless Monkey:
        >

        Hi Alan4Discussion, am interested in how they are going to do 3D printing in zero gravity. All the printers I’m aware of would struggle in zero gravity particularly the laser sintering variety which use powdered materials and squeegee a fine layer down (need gravity here) then laser then lay down a new layer etc. The plastic spool variety can stick a layer of plastic to a base plate (if precisely aligned or there’d be spool everywhere). Do you have any good links?

        There is a good video with explanations of the ISS test on this link.

        http://www.space.com/23532-3d-printer-space-station-video.html
        >

        Starting next fall, astronauts on the International Space Station won’t have to wait months for replacement parts to be launched from Earth. Instead, they can use a newly arrived 3D printer to fabricate the tools and materials they need.

        “The 3D printer that we’re going to fly on space station will actually be the first-ever 3D printer in space,” Niki Werkheiser, 3D Print project manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a video about the space station 3D printer that posted online Oct. 30.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24329296

        US space agency Nasa is planning to launch a 3D printer into space next year to help astronauts manufacture spare parts and tools in zero gravity.

        It will be the first time a 3D printer has been used in space and could help reduce the costs of future missions.

        The device will have to withstand lift-off vibrations and operate safely in an enclosed space station environment.

        Nasa has chosen technology start-up Made in Space to make the microwave oven-sized printer.

        “Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station,” said Aaron Kemmer, the company’s chief executive.

        “Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?”

        In 1970, Apollo 13 astronauts had to cobble together a home-made carbon dioxide filter using a plastic bag, a manual cover and gaffer tape.

  4. Quote: “the aim is to fuel human voyages deeper into the galaxy…”

    Well, “solar system” would be more accurate, or at best “interstellar space”. Deeper into the galaxy would require faster than light travel, which we know with some certainty is impossible, OR the bending of space-time, which is theoretically possible, but waaay into the future.
    Unless we develop cryogenic technology, and accelerate our spaceships to like 98 – 99.9% of C. In which case it would still take us ages to get to the nearest star (excluding our own, naturally..)

    But still.. I find this to be good news… This is like EVE Online coming true. :) Next order of business, create acceleration jump-gates. :D
    Cryo-tubes and high sub-lightspeed ships = a good start.

    • In reply to #12 by kare.olsen.718:

      Quote: “the aim is to fuel human voyages deeper into the galaxy…”

      Well, “solar system” would be more accurate, or at best “interstellar space”. Deeper into the galaxy would require faster than light travel, which we know with some certainty is impossible,…

      Interplanetary space is obviously a first step but there are already plans to send probes to nearby stars. http://www.bis-space.com/what-we-do/projects/project-icarus

      http://100yearstarshipstudy.com/

      For interplanetary travel and trade with mined asteroids, the development of the VASIMR rocket needs to be scaled up.

      http://www.space.com/23613-advanced-space-propulsion-vasimr-engine.html

      Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket- Wikipedia

      This type of plasma driven electric rocket, can be powered by solar cells, radioisotope thermoelectric generators, nuclear reactors, and hopefully in the future, fusion reactors.

      I don’ think anyone will be approaching light speed any time soon, but current projections suggest that about 12% of light speed should (relatively) soon be possible, if the investment in development is made.

      One of the favourable features of mining asteroids or comets, is that they orbit the Sun as far out as a quarter of the way to the nearest stars, so not only could they be used as refuelling stations, but mining crews living on them, could move out to nearby stars, one step at a time setting up mining/refuelling stations as they go. Developing the technology could be self financing from commercial sales to Earth.

      We might even find one escaping the Solar system and heading in a convenient direction!

Leave a Reply