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Space Science Technology

New Asteroid Mining Company Emerges 148

Posted by Soulskill
from the a-challenger-appears dept.
coondoggie writes "A new company intends by 2015 to send a fleet of tiny satellites to mine passing asteroids for high-value metals. Deep Space Industries Inc.'s asteroid mining proposal begins in 2015, when the company plans to send out a squadron of 55lb cubesats, called Fireflies, that will explore near-Earth space for two to six months looking for target asteroids. The company's CEO said, 'Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development. More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century — a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.'"
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New Asteroid Mining Company Emerges

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  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @06:53PM (#42662453)

    if after they made their own mine tailings, they noticed that there were already mine tailings there.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      if after they made their own mine tailings, they noticed that there were already mine tailings there.

      Be even funnier if they find a lot of methane stored in these asteroids, under a layer of dust.

      "hey, we could pipe oxygen up from Earth and run big space engines!!!"

  • Meh (Score:4, Funny)

    by fellip_nectar (777092) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @06:53PM (#42662455)
    I bet you a hundred dollarpounds they get bought out by the Jupiter Mining Corporation
  • This is a joke. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @07:01PM (#42662543) Homepage Journal
    How much do you know about Asteroid Mining? Not much. And neither do these guys, because nobody has tried it before and there are still more unknowns than knowns. What I do know is that 2015, two years from now, is a totally and completely unrealistic goal. They would have to have surveys of potential candidates already done, launch windows nailed down, hardware completed and ready to go, support staff trained and ready, mineral recovery solution built, etc... You would be hard pressed to open a mine on Earth in just two years time, and Earth mining doesn't have astronomical launch costs. A 2015 timeline tells me that these guys are either insane or a scam.
    • Re:This is a joke. (Score:5, Informative)

      by LordLucless (582312) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @07:05PM (#42662597)

      As usual, Slashdot summary is wrong. They're not starting mining in 2015, they're sending out their "scout" sats to find potential candidates. You'll find that information in the second sentence, neatly contradicting the first sentence.

    • Re:This is a joke. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @07:11PM (#42662637)

      How much do you know about Asteroid Mining?

      Quite a lot, actually. It's part of the space systems engineering textbook I'm writing

      What I do know is that 2015, two years from now, is a totally and completely unrealistic goal.

      That is not an unrealistic goal to launch prospector spacecraft. Coondoggie's article summary mangles what they intend to do, and you misread it further. Their actual website lists three stages: Prospecting craft to find the asteroids, assay missions to bring back ~20 kg samples, and only then trying to actually mine. This is a sensible plan.

      In the mean time, I hope to start building prototype "seed factory" hardware this year. A seed factory is the minimal starter set of machines to start building *other* machines, which in turn becomes your industrial base. Think of it like a bootstrap compiler for hardware. Feed it plans for other machines, it starts making parts. I'm aiming for making 85% of the 2nd generation machines, because 100% is too hard a goal. The other 15% you just buy.

      • by PRMan (959735)
        Machines building machines? How perverse!
      • Aren't minerals concentrated by water moving through rocks? Doesn't that mean there won't be minerals concentrated in space debris?
      • How would you do the actual mining? My best bet is controlled demolition on asteroids to turn them into rubble piles, then come back in a few years when the dust has cleared as it were, before feeding the bits into a solar furnace/centrifuge for refining/seperation.

        • That's definitely an interesting question. I did some engineering for an asteroid sample and return mission, and the challenges involved are not trivial. Many of the asteroids we've looked at for missions are already just rubble piles, and have surface escape velocities of less than half a meter per second. So any type of demolition to break something more solid apart will definitely blow away significant mass. Would a drill even work if you didn't have a thruster on it, pushing toward the surface? I do

      • by Sperbels (1008585)

        How much do you know about Asteroid Mining?

        Quite a lot, actually. It's part of the space systems engineering textbook I'm writing

        I'm quite curious. Do you know of any good websites or books that talk about it?

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Looks like a lot of time till something more than a sample comes down to earth, if ever. A lot should be put up there to have enough to be able to search, then have to find the ones that provides the materials to build more, and then keep building things up there to give continuity to the operation, to start thinking on bringing something down to earth, and probably that something should be more processed than raw rocks (not sure about what can be manufactured at 0g with that kind of materials that could ma
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Most likely, utter failure.
          But, if it works, insanely profitable. It's like betting on "0" at roulette, only more so.
          Why? Because the plan is not to bring materials back to Earth! Any material is insanely expensive if it has to be hoisted out of earth's gravity well. If you can provide the material, already in space, even materials that are cheap on earth are ridiculously valuable. Tin, copper, nickel, iron, aluminum, all are worth more in orbit than gold, platinum, or palladium, etc are on earth.

      • Are "seed factories" even possible with current levels of tech? I thought we needed molecular manufacturing to build credible devices.

        The way I see it, currently we lack the "pre-requisite" technology to do practical space exploitation like this. If we had molecular manufacturing, we could mass produce rocket components autonomously in giant automated factories on earth that can self replicate the parts used in themselves. We could build true von neuman probes and spacecraft that could go out and build r

        • Are "seed factories" even possible with current levels of tech? I thought we needed molecular manufacturing to build credible devices.

          The way I see it, currently we lack the "pre-requisite" technology to do practical space exploitation like this. If we had molecular manufacturing, we could mass produce rocket components autonomously in giant automated factories on earth that can self replicate the parts used in themselves. We could build true von neuman probes and spacecraft that could go out and build real seed factories, etc to really do it.

          Large space stations with thousands of inhabitants, etc would all be possible.

          But step 0 is R&D in developing molecular manufacturing, which requires an enormous research effort. Right now, there's a few scientists poking around with simulations of a method to covalently bond carbon to other carbon on a surface. This should be where all the research dollars go.

          You don't. What you need is clever optimization of your tooling - basically finding out the minimal expected life of all your components, so you can launch something which can produce X number of sub-machines before breaking down and needing replacement.

    • The firefly that the summary mentions is the survey craft. They intend to launch the dragonfly in 2016. Of course that extra year makes all the difference. :-)
    • by tanujt (1909206)
      What's the worst that could happen? Another failed startup?

      What's the best that could happen? A mitigating effort towards Earth's looming resource problems?

      However shitty the odds of the latter happening, consequences of both are staggeringly different.
      DON'T PANIC
      • What's the best that could happen? A mitigating effort towards Earth's looming resource problems?

        There's no petroleum in an asteroid. Nor can their mining platforms bring back enough clean fresh water to make a significant difference. Other than that, we don't have any looming resource problems.

        Don't listen to the Club Of Rome, or their philosophical descendants, they fail badly at math and economics. ("Currently uneconomical to recover" != "shortage".)

    • I don't understand how asteroid mining could be profitable with current technology. What is the delta-V budget for sending engines+fuel+mining equipment to a near-earth asteroid and returning it to earth? I'd imagine the per-kg cost exceeds the value of whatever you could possibly return, even if you found an asteroid made of solid gold and all you had to do was de-orbit it.

      Gold = $50k/kg
      Delta-IV Heavy = 9000 kg to Earth escape velocity [wikipedia.org] @ $250 million = $28k/kg

      If the delta-V requirement to bring a NEO back

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Getting stuff from Earth to even low orbit is extremely expensive, you have to deliver a huge delta-V in a very small time window, but that's mainly a technological problem - the actual fuel consumption is only ~5% of the total cost. Once in free-fall delta-v gets vastly cheaper, especially as we move towards extremely high specific impulse systems like ion drives.

        As for bringing things down to Earth, the other high-energy, time-critical operation, that's much cheaper since a heat-shield+parachute reentry

      • by hoggoth (414195)

        You've got it all backwards. When they said they will be "bringing ore down for the highest bidder", they meant the highest bidder gets to decide where the target is. A million tons of iron raining down from orbit onto wherever the highest bidder says it should go.

  • Fireflies (the exploratory satellites), but then I remembered if there were any danger of a collision, they could simply make the jump to hyperspace [wikipedia.org]. Seems to work consistently well if I remember right...

    • Or, if they make the same modifications as Serenity, they can pull a Crazy Ivan if there's a convenient atmosphere nearby.

  • And now this... coincidence?

  • they're following a similar roadmap to Planetary Resources, but skipping the harvest-volatiles phase?
  • by Fubari (196373) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @07:54PM (#42663053)
    This is hugely cool, it gives me hope for our species' future. I hope they're wildly successful.

    Also cool was this blurb near the end of the article on zero-g 3D Printing

    Deep Space's construction activities will be aided by a patent-pending 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry, officials said. "The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density, high-strength metal components even in zero gravity," company co-founder and MicroGravity Foundry inventor Stephen Covey said in a statement. "Other metal 3D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength."

    • I really get annoyed when people describe something they've thought of (or something they've found) as something they've invented. Nice idea Covey, let me know when it exists.
      • I really get annoyed when people describe something they've thought of (or something they've found) as something they've invented.

        Then be prepared to get bent: When I was 10 years old I independently invented masturbation. I tried to keep it secret for almost a year, but only while I studied the effects because I thought I'd be rich beyond dreams someday after I patented the process... I even let a few of my close friends in on the revolutionary discovery, contingent upon their swearing to not reveal the technique.

        It was their own fault, but still you could imagine my parent's consternation: "Mom, Dad, I need $375 to file a patent... I figured out a new way to, um, touch... things that is really amazing! You're not going to believe this..."

        Now, when I look back I'm not embarrassed, I'm angry that the information wasn't readily available.
        The point is: Perhaps your annoyance is aimed in the wrong direction. I mean, either A) Everyone knows about 3D printing tech, and they're just describing for completeness, or B) They think they're Wanktomus Prime and can't wait to tell everyone about being the first wankers ever... Would you really be annoyed in either instance? Life's too short to be pissed off all the time; I suggest substituting humor in place of annoyance and sarcasm in place of outrage.

        • Outrage is not what I experience, annoyance at having wasted the time to read about someone claiming something they didn't actually do... that will probably always annoy me.

          In this case, there are 3D printing systems which don't rely on gravity the way he claims... but this guy's company doesn't have them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYbw1oSzPVA [youtube.com] is one example.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Announcing vaporware gives you hope for the species? Grow the fuck up, chucklehead. Tell you what, bookmark this comment and read it again in 2015.
      • by Fubari (196373)
        Geez, Cynical Sam. Save some room for me at the compound; I'll bring bullets and beans.

        Not that there isn't plenty of depressing stuff going on:
        Political gridlock? Can't get enough of that.
        US Debt ceiling? Nope, sky is the limit, keep printing money.
        Oil? The hell with global warming, we have this swell fracking thing that will let us out-produce Saudi Arabia. Carbon footprints be damned. Come on, what could go wrong?
        Oh, Global Warming is just too hard of a problem... we can't do anything about it
    • If they've actually developed a 3D printer with the capabilities described... But I can't even find a website for the company [that produces the printer], only blurbs related to this asteroid mining venture.

      That alone raises a red flag.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I get the impression that a hundred and odd years ago, you'd have been queueing up to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • I want to work for this company as their Material Defender. You know, just in case those robotic satellites malfunction and turn hostile.
  • Try to think about this solution with a blank slate view for a moment. Don't assign qualitative values as to whether an approach is "good" or not.

    Mining for resources ultimately comes down to (resources gained)/(labor + energy + fixed costs + materials).

    There are very huge amounts of resources available deeper in the earth's crusts, in the oceans, in the wilds of undeveloped countries, etc. All of them require somewhat more of one of the variables in that equation than mines that are open today.

    Consider

    • by jxander (2605655)

      Your missing the true end-game : Building things in space. Everything they have planned thus far is just foreplay.

      Adjust your equation with the final step of moving those resources into LEO or beyond. How much extra energy do you expend to lift your moon base off and break free of the gravity well known as Earth? According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], it costs roughly $10,000 to lift one pound of material into space. Bring that into the equation, and space mining suddenly seems a lot more worthwhile

    • by arkenian (1560563)
      I have to believe that it would be essentially impossible to get any sort of credit if your business plan included moving large rocks towards earth . . . given that it can't even be vaguely possible to get insurance for that sort of downside risk.
    • Now, there is one advantage to space mining : no one has legal claims that can be enforced on any of those celestial bodies.

      Actually, there is another advantage to space mining: It is IN SPACE.
      Value of a kg of aluminum on Earth's surface: $3.
      Value of a kg of aluminum in NEO: $10000.

      • by joh (27088)

        Now, there is one advantage to space mining : no one has legal claims that can be enforced on any of those celestial bodies.

        Actually, there is another advantage to space mining: It is IN SPACE.
        Value of a kg of aluminum on Earth's surface: $3.
        Value of a kg of aluminum in NEO: $10000.

        Only if you can find a customer for that. And it may be that the customer doesn't want to buy raw aluminum, but fuel tanks and pressure vessels. OUTFITTED and tested fuel tanks and pressure vessels. These may be worth $10000/kg, but good luck producing them for this kind of money there. You'll need much more than raw metal and 3D printers for that, you'll need an actual aerospace factory in space.

        Besides: There isn't much aluminum to be found on asteroids.

        • Where did the Earth's Aluminum come from? Remember: it's an element, not a naturally occurring alloy. That means that it all came from the same stellar dust cloud that made the earth, mars, and all the asteroids. Aluminum will be as common among asteroids. Just because we haven't seen it yet doesn't mean it's not there.
  • Great now I want to dig out and play Homeworld again. Send out the miners to the local asteroid field and commence harvesting, cue the ethereal music. Forget building capital ships, building anything from material harvested from an asteroid would be pretty cool (except kinetic weapons).
    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Heh, yeah. The one downside I see to near-Earth asteroid mining beyond the low-mass experimental proof-of-concept phase is that kinetic weapons are the *easiest* thing to build from a large asteroid, and potentially the most valuable. Who could possibly stand against someone with an arsenal of megaton to gigaton bombs that would leave no radioactive fallout to deal with? The threat of mutually assured destruction would perhaps keep governments in line, provided the major powers are all in on the game, but

  • How to evaluate a space related venture...

    Step 1: Evaluate how much of the projected funding requirements they have actually secured and have banked

    Step 2: For those from step 1 who have all the funding already in hand, evaluate where they will get the additional funding they didn't project that they'd need, that they'll actually end up needing. Disregard the rest.

    Step 3: For those from step 2 who have a very plausible source of additional funds, then begin to consider their business plan, the TR
  • How this could possibly be cost effective? I mean even in foreseeable future, the cost would be so much more than what ever they could gather.
    • How this could possibly be cost effective?

      Simple: Consider the huge gravity-well tax on Earth mining efforts. Asteroids are relatively tax free.

  • I am being serious here: what rights do they have to those minerals if by some miracle this actually 'gets off the ground'? Is international law really Finders Keepers? Hard to believe.

    Regardless, I could see the very real scenario of them being underwritten by someone with very deep pockets (ahem-China-ahem) in exchange for exclusive use of the minerals.
    • by cusco (717999)
      There currently is no applicable law, AFAIK. The Moon Treaty limits what you can do on our satellite, but until Barrak Mining or Halliburton see some grotesque level of short-term profits from asteroids it hasn't been worth their while to bribe legislators or UN reps to limit access to them.
    • The right they have is getting there first.

      What right does someone have to claim rights on something out in space? There is no point creating laws on earth to start allowing companies or countries right's to space stuff. Even if some paper on earth is written up its not going to stop someone from building a space ship and getting there first to actually mine it.

      If you can plant a flag on it, its yours, period. If you can put gun turrets onit to protect your stake, then you win.

    • I am being serious here: what rights do they have to those minerals if by some miracle this actually 'gets off the ground'? Is international law really Finders Keepers? Hard to believe. Regardless, I could see the very real scenario of them being underwritten by someone with very deep pockets (ahem-China-ahem) in exchange for exclusive use of the minerals.

      Hmmm...perhaps not "Finders Keepers" per se, but possession being nine-tenths of the law, I would wager that exploiting mineral resources is the same thing on or off of the Earth. Once a claim is made on some off-planet resource, it can be challenged and it will either be successfully defended or not, just like it is here on Earth. The framework of the challenge is pretty much irrelevant -- you can use lawyers or you can use guns, but the "rights" go to the guy who can successfully defend the claim. NB:

  • How hard would it be to nudge an asteroid toward Earth, then control its descent to the surface, in a non-wiping-out-a-major-city sort of fashion? It would probably be a lot cheaper to bring an asteroid to Earth first and then mine it, rather than send robots up to do it.

    .
    • by mdfst13 (664665)

      It would probably be a lot cheaper to bring an asteroid to Earth first and then mine it, rather than send robots up to do it.

      That's true of the first asteroid, but after that, you get too much loss from having to send out the scouts and sample collectors from the Earth's surface. The advantage with this system is that once it's set up, they can build their spacecraft in space. That saves the energy costs of a ground to space launch.

      It's also worth noting that energy is cheap in space. On the ground, you either have to worry about radiation (fission reactions) or atmospheric loss (solar power). In space, solar panels are effec

      • by RevWaldo (1186281)

        The advantage with this system is that once it's set up, they can build their spacecraft in space.

        The question then is how much of the spacecraft can be fabbed strictly from asteroid material. Converting the raw materials on the asteroids - metals, silicates, carbon, water - into the polymers, alloys, carbon fibers, ceramics, semiconductors, and the host of other processed materials to create more spacecraft isn't trivial. Not saying it can't be done, but still a tall order.

        .

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          I imagine initially it would initially be relatively "simple" metal components that would be created in space - if you could take your almost-pure chunks of asteroidial iron, aluminum, etc, grind them up, and 3D-print strong arbitrary structures then you've got a *massive* cost advantage for the most expensive part of the ship/robot/whatever to get from Earth - all the heavy structural stuff. All the complicated stuff can then be brought up from Earth, at least initially.

          I'd expect synthesis of some sort

  • Just what we need, Rogue Drones.

  • I guess this has the potential to go over cloud storage.
  • I am sure millions of people will happily throw money into this without any hope of return or success.

  • ...the fact that her father was a stellar cartographer, and in 2340, he conducted a full spectrum mineralogical analysis of the Vlugta asteroids. He never had the means to follow up on what he found. Alsia's plan was to carry out her father's dream.

    Wow has /. gone down hill, this article is a day old and I don't see one comment about ST:DS9 Rivals episode.

    Link, to a website I googled to get the summary, couldn't find this mining reference on the Wikipedia page for the episode, was really a sub-plot, I can't

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