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Space Science

Asteroid Resources Could Make Science Fiction Dreams and Nightmares a Reality 223

MarkWhittington writes "With two private companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, proposing to set up asteroid mining, the prospect of accessing limitless wealth beyond the Earth has caused a bit of media speculation about what that could mean. The question arises, could asteroid resources be used to create the greatest dreams — and perhaps the worst nightmares — of science fiction?"
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Asteroid Resources Could Make Science Fiction Dreams and Nightmares a Reality

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  • We have no clue (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @11:47AM (#42715503)

    We tend to have a naive feeling that we understand the solar system, that it is really just like Earth, but with craters or whatever. It isn't, and we don't.

  • Re:In a word: no (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:00PM (#42715697)

    The value of everything is purely subjective not just precious metals. The specific value (Price/weight) is what is high compared to other things because of many factors rarity being one of them. But you are right if tons are brought back it will lower the price. This happened many times in history during gold and silver rushes. Pretty soon the market adjusts to the new supply.

  • Re:Hello, economics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:21PM (#42715981)

    The piece that everyone forgets about this is that while the raw mineral resources themselves have some value, they have another feature that is extremely valuable, which is that they are outside of a deep gravity well. Current cost to LEO is ~$15k depending on launch system. If you can combine resource extraction, refining, and zero-G 3D printing (which is exactly the secret sauce that DSI claims to have), then every new strut for the ISS or successor research platforms becomes very low-cost to produce. Whoever got there first could just undercut the lowest reliable cost-to-orbit and make mad bank.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:33PM (#42716135) Homepage Journal

    > And since we don't even have the technology to move an asteroid yet

    Yet it's essential that we develop that technology. The Earth has been hit before - and odds are that it is going to be hit again, it's just a matter of time. It's a simple matter of long-term self-preservation that we need to be able to adjust asteroid orbits. Asteroid mining is an excellent idea, because it lets us learn those techniques - and it may defray some of the costs.

    It doesn't stop at precious metals, either. Even if SpaceX hits its target launch costs of $150/lb, that means that a ton of anything we bring back to Earth orbit has a starting value of $300,000. (Today the numbers are closer to 10X that.) Even if it's "worthless rock", others could call it "radiation shielding" or "thermal mass" and it becomes valuable. Given an adequate supply of focused solar energy, I suspect just about anything can be refined, in orbit.

  • Re:Hello, economics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @01:29PM (#42716813) Journal

    Building a large space station (say, 100x bigger than the ISS) would cost a silly amount of money if everything was lifted from Earth into orbit, but if you can get the raw materials into place from another source then some of the basics, like water and metals, become far, far cheaper, regardless of the Earthbound costs of these materials.

    The space shuttle threw away every single external tank (the big rust colored one) even though they were brought to the point we more or less consider 'outer space'.
    Each main tank weighed from 55,000 to 77,000 (the oldest version) and was destined to splash down somewhere unrecoverable, in the ocean.

    We could have built something 100x bigger than the ISS.
    What a waste.

  • Re:Hello, economics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Monday January 28, 2013 @05:19PM (#42719771) Homepage

    I would hope your thought is modded up. I had similar thoughts over the many years of both the Shuttle program and ISS. My goodness, those tanks could have been lifted that last leg and been retro-fitted as living or cargo space.

    No, both of your "thoughts" should be modded down into oblivion - because they're fantasies borne of sheer ignorance.
    To take a tank to orbit would require the Shuttle flying essentially empty of all other cargo. And once you've got the tanks in orbit, your problems have just begun... The ET's insulation isn't specced to survive on orbit, and it would take three to four flights (tossing away their tanks) just to put on a barrier to stop it from flaking off and becoming orbital debris. (And really, you want to remove and replace it, because it breaks down over time... so, yet more flights). Then you need some kind of robust debris protection, and thus another three to four flights (at least, and tossing their tanks away too). Now you need power, and environmental controls (five to eight flights, tossing their tanks)... And we haven't even started to consider attitude control and reboost, let alone installing anything useful inside the tank... (Oh, did I mention there's no airlock or other access? That will have to be provided too.)

    Even if they did one out of ten the station would be far more robust.

    Only if somehow, magically, it didn't require a dozen or more flights just to begin to turn the tank into something useful.

    Logistics would be an issue in the beginning, but imagine just one tank turned into a hydroponics farm, another manufacturing.

    Logistics never stops being an issue. A hydroponic farm would need steady inputs of various supplies to remain in operation. A manufacturing plant is pretty useless without raw materials, and pointless without a market...

    Somewhere along the line We stopped thinking big.

    No, using the tanks was examined several times in the early days... and the whole idea was eventually shelved when it became abundantly clear that it was much cheaper and easier to boost completed modules than it was to try and refit a tank on orbit.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.