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First Survey of Commercially Viable Asteroids Estimates Only 10 Are Worth Mining 265

KentuckyFC writes "In 2012, Richard Branson, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt announced the launch of Planetary Resources, an ambitious start up with the goal of mining nearby asteroids for natural resources. Now an academic survey of ore-bearing asteroids estimates that only about 10 are likely to have resources worth mining. The new approach is to create a Drake-like equation that starts with the total number of asteroids and determines the percentage that are close enough to Earth, the percentage of these that contain valuable resources, the percentage of these large enough to pay for a space mining mission and so on. Each of these factors is filled with uncertainty but the bottom line is that when it comes to platinum group metals such as platinum, palladium, and iridium there are likely to be very few worth exploiting. That has significant implications for the future of space exploration. With so few commercially-viable space rocks out there, knowing which ones to pursue will be hugely valuable information, concludes the study. And that means the prospecting of asteroids is likely to become a highly secretive commercial endeavor in the not-too-distant future."
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First Survey of Commercially Viable Asteroids Estimates Only 10 Are Worth Mining

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  • Bad Assumptions (Score:4, Informative)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:39PM (#45900047)

    These numbers are highly speculative and reflect bad assumptions.

    The main bad assumption: That one would mine an asteroid for any one resource. Platinum/water etc.

    Much more likely is mining whatever is there and refining it into things useful in space, at least at first. Particularly obvious is making fuel from water, but any asteroid with ice will likely also have useful metal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:14PM (#45900401)

    Gold created a short term spike of activity and created all kinds of damage for which we are still paying. California is all tech, agriculture, and movies now. None of that stuff runs on gold, but gold ran on mercury which still contaminates many of our bodies of water. Fish from Clear Lake (terrible misnomer) are almost inedible because of Hg contamination.

    Mining sucks in the long run. Sustainable forestry, fishery, and agriculture are the true key to prosperity. That's not just California greenie hippie bullshit. It's the dogone truth.

  • by Araes ( 1177047 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:29PM (#45900507) Homepage

    In many ways, these equations are almost worse than useless. For years, the Drake Eq. gave everyone the impression there were 1 or 2 other planets in the whole universe that could support life, and reinforced the whole contingent for which space exploration is never a "cost effective" endeavor. Then we found out "oh, wait, all our guesses were wildly pessemistic." They get filled with extrapolated numbers about a place we've only begun to tip-toe into and then make dire predictions.

    Some are also just wrong. For example, he uses 4.5 km/s delta-V but that doesn't even cover the maxima for Liquid Fuel Rockets (7 to 9 km/s). If you start to approach tech like Electrostatic or Hall Effect (Ion) Thrusters you get up into numbers more like 50-100 km/s, which would probably multiply his 10 number by a bit (most of the Oort Cloud becomes available over time).

    There's just so much fuzziness here its hard to find the use in it.

  • by CreatureComfort ( 741652 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:31PM (#45900531)
    Why waste time with that? For smelting, pretty much all you need is a good fresnel lens [].

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur