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Space Businesses

Mining the Heavens: In Conversation With Planetary Resources' Chief Engineer 80

cylonlover writes "It wasn't long ago that asteroid mining was only found in the pages of science fiction. Now, with increasing interest in the commercial exploitation of space, companies are springing up to turn asteroids from things that Bruce Willis blows up into raw materials for future travellers and colonists. One such firm is Planetary Resources, which is currently winding up a Kick Starter campaign aimed at raising public awareness about asteroid mining by offering the public access to a space telescope. Gizmag visits the company's Bellevue, Washington headquarters and talks to the President and Chief Engineer, Chris Lewicki." Long, but worth the time.
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Mining the Heavens: In Conversation With Planetary Resources' Chief Engineer

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  • by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @03:45AM (#44098659) Homepage

    There seems to be an attitude amongst certain people that space resources should belong to those rich enough to grab them. There hasn't yet been a serious discussion of paying for this exploitation of nature, and I suspect that is because many of the people involved have a libertarian agenda, and see space as an opportunity to escape any form of public restraint on their activities, and construct their Randian utopia off world.

    Given the immense resources of the solar system compared to those found on Earth, this is a recipe for immense, cruel and unfair inequality. Those of us Earthbound, who have motivations other than money and so are not billionaires, will be plunged into poverty by extraterrestrial energy magnates whose obscene resource wealth will make the Saudi royal family look positively frugal.

    Quite timely then that someone appears to be making a movie on this theme :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @04:15AM (#44098701)

    Mineable asteroids are nowhere near as scarce as natural resources here on earth. If we are going to discuss who should be able to mine asteroids we should also start to question how a single person can have the right to a patch of land.
    Just because your grandparent was a little bit older and got a head start to grab some land doesn't mean that my grandparent didn't have the right to an equivalent amount of land.
    While we are at it. The right to heritage makes it so that not everyone is born with the same opportunities. We need to get rid of that too.

  • by bertok ( 226922 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @05:47AM (#44098919)

    You really, really don't understand the scale of what we're talking about here.

    In reply, I posit that you really, really don't understand how much that doesn't matter.

    Spot iron ore prices are about $120 per metric ton. Asteroids are unrefined, remember? They're full of ore, or a complex and impure mix of metals at best. For comparison, a typical four-door sedan, the biggest lump of metal most people ever buy, is about 1.2 metric tons. This would need about $300 of iron ore.

    Do you seriously think that the primary limit on manufacturing, and hence overall wealth, are raw resources? My 10 year old car, if I were to sell it used is worth 20x the cost of the iron ore that originally went into making it!

    If space mining somehow magically made iron ore 10x cheaper than it is now, I'd save a total of $270 on my next $50,000 car purchase. I'd save more by skipping the optional coffee cup warmer, or whatever. That's not even factoring in that something like 90% of all iron and steel is recycled, so the difference would be more like $3.

    Space mining is a fantasy for rabid Star Trek fans who can't count, nothing more.

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:08AM (#44099093) Homepage

    "Just one has enough hydrogen and oxygen to fuel every Space Shuttle thatâ(TM)s ever been launched."

    Providing you have a free energy source, and lots of time and gas storage, in which to convert it all.

    Yes, you might get away with a solar panel churning through it for a thousand years, but more likely the energy you need to separate it from the water will cost you more than the energy you get from recombining it with an ignition source to go boom at a later date.

    This is one of those "there's enough carbon in a pencil to make 50 diamonds" kinds of things - utterly true, and completely misleading at the same time.

    You don't want to be using asteroid water to make hydrogen and oxygen, in space, in large enough quantities to fly a spaceship by the sorts of processes available today. From Earth - yes. But that's because you accept a certain amount of resource / energy loss to achieve orbit.

    You can't get more out of banging H and O2 together than you have to put in to separate H and O2 in the first place.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:44AM (#44099201)

    The entire solar system? No - but doing so will be within the reach of the first people to develop off-world resources and manufacturing, so wealth will continue to leverage more wealth and the overwhelming majority of humanity will not get a look in.

    Are you seriously imagining a group of waxed moustaches in top hats and tailcoats seizing asteroids then what, setting up private palaces in the sky and somehow locking everyone else out of space? What?

    You don't need to be independent of Earth's resources to economically dominate it. If you have such resource/manufacturing capacity as is supposed, someone from Earth can send you whatever you need. This won't enrich Earth, because the trading relation will be so absurdly asymmetrical.

    None of this makes any sense. The Earth is the largest and indeed only market in which to sell your goods. You build up a presence in space by selling your goods there. Why would you stop?

    I'm trying to keep my responses civil, but its hard whilst you keep trying to imply I'm stupid just because I'm questioning your conclusions. I do understand the issues at hand, you could do with paying more attention to what I understand.

    Be as uncivil as you like, it will only strengthen my argument. The only situation in which your points might have merit is if somehow a small group was allowed full legal title to the majority of the system's resources and this claim was recognised by the majority of the world's governments. Whatever about the likelihood of the former, the latter is right out. Even trying to claim a sizeable portion of the easily acquired resources would be laughable. Claiming one single asteroid like Eros, that might happen. And if it does we're on the threshold of post scarcity from just that one single asteroid.

    Ultimately there will be private randian palaces in the sky. There will also be socialist paradises, islamic compounds, christian stations, all of these and more. Because by the time we're able to build such things, the barriers to entry will be low enough that a wide variety of groups will be able to take advantage of them.

  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @10:12AM (#44100201) Homepage Journal
    You stupid monkeys have a perfectly useful 3.839Ã--10^26 W fusion reactor only 93 million miles away. Get off your asses and figure out how to use it.

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