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2014: Planetary Resources To Launch Their First Satellites 76

Posted by Soulskill
from the lucy-in-the-sky-with-diamandis dept.
symbolset writes "Planetary Resources wants to mine asteroids for their sweet, sweet minerals and make a business of it. The sparky little company has been writ up here on Slashdot numerous times. With the backing of such billionaires as Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, James Cameron, and many others, and such luminaries as major NASA project managers, engineers and scientists, you have to think they might have a good shot at it. Recently they picked up a huge engineering, procurement and construction partner: Bechtel. Their operations are already cash-flow positive by selling tech invented to pursue their goals, so they're a legitimate business running lean and intending to make good. Yesterday they announced the plan to launch their first space missions — the Arkyd Series 100 LEO Space Telescopes — as soon as next year. Beginning in 2014 their satellites will be scanning the skies from Low Earth Orbit for lucrative rocks that happen to be heading our way, and incidentally doing for-pay work to keep the lights on. For a reasonable fee they'll sell you the right to retask one of these telescopes to take a picture of anything you want that it can see, for a fair price. The plan is to follow up with harvester craft to go get these asteroids, mulch them, and sell their bits for profit. Some talk has been made of selling what are uncommon terrestrial minerals like gold and platinum, refined on orbit and deorbited at great expense as a business plan, but frankly that's absurd. 'Extraterrestrial Asteroid Bits' ought to go for a higher price on the collector market than gold or platinum ever would, and the temporal preeminence should draw a premium price. 'This 69 mg specimen (769 of 10,000) was one of the first commercially harvested bits of asteroid returned to Earth. Lucite embedded for permanent display, with case. Certificate of authenticity included.'"
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2014: Planetary Resources To Launch Their First Satellites

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  • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:27PM (#43561185) Homepage Journal

    platinum and gold have practical uses. it would freak out the goldbugs though if it became financially feasible to get them from space and to land them.

    so yeah asteroid bits maybe for one de-orbit test batch.. after that the collectible value would crash.

    • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:33PM (#43561257)
      No you crush the asteroid and leave the parts in a stable orbit then charge the government to clean up the mess. Or the government pays you to leave the debris field in the path of any ICBM launched from N Korea.
      • by sgt scrub (869860)

        Let me get this strait. You want to black mail a country with a multi-trillion dollar GDP that has no qualms about killing people with drones? Let me know how that works out for you.

    • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:36PM (#43561299) Homepage

      platinum and gold have practical uses. it would freak out the goldbugs though if it became financially feasible to get them from space and to land them.

      Gold?? Who's suggesting getting gold from asteroids?

      On Earth, gold veins are produced by aqueous processes. You wouldn't expect that on asteroids.

      Platinum, and platinum-group metals, on the other hand-- these are siderophiles, and hence depleted in the Earth's crust. Good elements to look for in asteroids-- in fact, iridium is the very signature of an asteroid impact.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Some meteorites are almost a solid hunk of metal (mostly iron-nickel), and some small asteroids are probably the same (broken pieces from a differentiated larger asteroid). But you're right, they don't have big veins of gold or platinum, which need some kind of hydrothermal or other system to concentrate them to economically useful amounts whether it is in veins or more finely disseminated. There's plenty of evidence that larger asteroids do have or did have hydrothermal systems that were active (there is

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        the summary was suggesting that.

        expecting and finding are two different things though... which is I suppose why the first part is surveying. my point was entirely just that it has to be something of practical use they're going to bring down, novelty items wouldn't bring a return on the money.

      • by wcoenen (1274706)

        On Earth, gold veins are produced by aqueous processes. You wouldn't expect that on asteroids. Platinum, and platinum-group metals, on the other hand-- these are siderophiles, and hence depleted in the Earth's crust. Good elements to look for in asteroids

        Um, gold is also one of the siderophile elements [wikipedia.org].

        • On Earth, gold veins are produced by aqueous processes. You wouldn't expect that on asteroids.
          Platinum, and platinum-group metals, on the other hand-- these are siderophiles, and hence depleted in the Earth's crust. Good elements to look for in asteroids

          Um, gold is also one of the siderophile elements [wikipedia.org].

          OK, point.

          Nevertheless, asteroidal compositions (well, meteoritic compositions, assumed to be indicative of asteroids) have significantly more platinum and palladium than gold, and hydrothermal processes concentrate gold into conveniently mineable veins on Earth, but probably not on asteroids.

    • There are 2500 tons of gold mined each year on earth with a total supply of 165,000 tons already mined. It will be quite a while before asteroid mining will make any appreciable dent in this supply, and until it does, it won't have much of an effect on it's price.

      Meanwhile, the most money to be made from asteroidal material won't be their importation to Earth. It currently costs $10,000. a pound to put material into orbit. I expect virtually everything mined off planet will actually be used for off planet

      • It currently costs $10,000. a pound to put material into orbit.

        Probably costs a lot less to get it out of orbit. Just sayin'.

        • by osu-neko (2604)
          Yeah, I was confused by that bit of the summary -- it implies that it's expensive to deorbit something. Getting something up is expensive. Getting something down is (relatively) cheap.
          • In LEO it's pretty much free if you have no particular timetable for it. The ISS will re-enter in what, about 6-10 years if it doesn't fire it's station keeping thrusters every once in a while?

      • by Khyber (864651)

        " It will be quite a while before asteroid mining will make any appreciable dent in this supply"

        I think you underestimate the usefulness of metals formed in high gravity and expelled out into space while still molten, under a low-gravity field. The crystalline structure alone will bring us majorly new insights into physics in space.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I expect virtually everything mined off planet will actually be used for off planet construction and manufacturing, including gold.

        I think that's the whole idea.

    • There was a time that table salt - NaCL - was a valuable commodity worth it's weight in gold. Personally, my demand for salt exceeds my demand for gold. Anyhow, today salt is a commodity. Hell, the Bloombergs of the world think there's too much of it.

      Food for thought. Take with a grain of salt.

    • by jfengel (409917)

      it would freak out the goldbugs though if it became financially feasible to get them from space and to land them

      That's good enough reason to do it, as far as I'm concerned. Getting usable metals out of it would just be gravy.

  • by NEDHead (1651195) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:27PM (#43561187)

    I have a small piece in a plastic case, with a certificate.

    It looks like concrete rubble from, oh, anywhere.

    Fortunately I got it at a discount.

    • And, why it won't work. Selling space gold at a higher rate is simply predicting the scandalous headline "Space Corp Fraud!"

  • Unless they announce when and on what vehicle they are going to launch, I'm not sure you can say "they announced the plan to launch their first space missions."
    It's not a plan to launch if they don't have a plan to launch.

  • by Jiro (131519)

    The first sale of extraterrestrial asteroid bits will go for a lot. But the market for those is smaller than for gold or platinum and will quickly be saturated. Even the twentieth bit probably won't go for more than gold.

    Furthermore, many space enthusiasts would want such a sample for what it symbolizes. So a collectible sample that is a gimmick rather than the start of a sustained exercise in space exploration that produces things other than just collectible samples may not sell for as much.

    • Have you read 'The Man Who Sold The Moon' by Robert Heinlein? That worked out all right.
    • by kermidge (2221646)

      If they did happen to find easily-gotten gold, or rich enough ore that would need smelting, one thing that could increase the collectors' item value would be to strike coins; it'd still be a one-off, but would bring a better price.

      As others have pointed out, the real value of getting metals form ore in orbit would be to build stuff in orbit. Offhand, the early uses are few - using metals for structure for low-g pharmaceuticals manufacture and for solar power sats. The obvious drawback is that you have to

      • by kermidge (2221646)

        Forgot to add:

        Somebody may have mentioned this, but the survey phase will be helpful to existing efforts to catalog Earth-crossing asteroids. It's easy enough to tot up the expense column. But how do you assess value if they find one that will hit unless we deflect it.?

  • There is not really a lot of profit in bringing raw materials back down to Earth, considering the costs.

    What I think you guys are missing is how awesome it would be to smelt metals in space and then 3d print them into spacecraft that is already in orbit. Its far more efficient than launching that full weight. The cost of those spacecraft (already launched) would be worth their weight in gold.

    Whatever components you could not build in space could be sent up in cargo rockets, with much less weight
    • The power to melt the metal could be generated from atomic batteries and solar panels.

      Or a parabolic mirror to concentrate sunlight until the focus is hot enough.

      • The power to melt the metal could be generated from atomic batteries and solar panels.

        Or a parabolic mirror to concentrate sunlight until the focus is hot enough.

        This. People forget frequently that space is a very different environment to Earth - no convection means that whatever gets hot, stays hot, a hell of a lot longer then it does down here.

        To that end though, the idea that nothing mined in space can be profitably returned to Earth is hardly a reliable observation at the moment either. The only thing we know is the capital costs are large but that says nothing about scalability once the initial spend and research is done.

    • Exactly! I do not understand why people are wasting their time writing about bringing this stuff back down the gravity well. We've got plenty of it here. What we don't have is any of it up there!

      They'll make money from the volatiles (read FUEL) and selling it to satellite operators. Extending the life of satellite so they don't have to launch more would save these operators money and make Planetary Resources the money to keep the lights on until they are finished building a whole industrial complex and colo

  • Oh Bechtel! Yeah, they did SO well in Iraq, why not let them loose in space? What could possibly go wrong?
  • Some talk has been made of selling what are uncommon terrestrial minerals like gold and platinum, refined on orbit and deorbited at great expense as a business plan, but frankly that's absurd.

    Are you crazy? Are you aware that this isSlashdot? That is pure unmitigated heresy around here! We don't want facts or lucid, rational arguments! We wan t space opera full of hot female astronauts!

  • Those sweet, sweet ass minerals! So sweet.
  • De-orbiting shit is dumb as hell. Raw material is worth a lot more in space. If it can be "mulched" and refined in space then you can simply use it IN SPACE to make more spacecraft. The cost of getting things out of this gravity well greatly increases the value of any usable materials NOT on Earth. De-orbiting them devalues the material greatly by re-adding the gravity tax.

    That said, I can see that since they might not have the infrastructure to process or utilize the first bits of asteroids anywhere

  • Going through some old website bookmarks, I found this comment about private groups instead of govt going to Mars from imipak (edited below to show key point) and I have agreement with this. It seems setting up infrastructure to mine asteroids by governments seems logical but others think private industry should lead the way. Maybe there are holes in this comment but it does raise discussion regarding who will send a person to Mars, of if current NASA plans to retrieve an asteroid are squelched by budget cu

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