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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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  • Uncertainty (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Russ1642 ( 1087959 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:32PM (#45899959)

    This kind of estimating may have an order of magnitude error. So it could easily be only 1 asteroid worth mining. Let the asteroid war begin!

  • Star Wars economy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:39PM (#45900045) Homepage Journal

    What we need for this to work is essentially the Star Wars economy. Wonder how they built the Death Star and all those massive ships? Droids. If we can launch something up there that can harvest enough materials and build what it needs up there to keep going, then it just takes one launch. It sends robots to the right asteroid. They extract metals, build more robots, build space ships, go to other asteroids, and keep repeating the process. Occasionally they send shipments back home.

    We're a long ways away from that level of technology, but I don't think there's anything preventing us from getting there.

    For energy, the robots could either build nuclear or solar power systems.

    For manufacturing, 3-D printing is likely an enabling technology. It needs to advance way beyond where it is now, such as making full computers.

    Refining the raw materials found on the asteroids is another obstacle.

    I would guess it's 50 to 100 years out.

  • Profit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iONiUM ( 530420 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:42PM (#45900081) Journal
    1. Step 1. Pay an academic entity to release a study saying that it's not worth mining asteroids, even if it is
    2. Step 2. In the meantime, get ready to mine asteroids
    3. Step 3. Start mining asteroids while everyone else isn't
    4. Step 4. Profit
  • Re:Drake (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @02:54PM (#45900209)

    And much like the Drake equation since nearly all of the inputs are WAGes the final result is meaningless.

    FTFE (Fixed that for everyone)

  • Re:Bad Assumptions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:03PM (#45900279)

    Just the sheer mass of an asteroid is valuable, first for radiation protection and also for reaction mass. Strap a small nuclear reactor on a big ingot of whatever you've mined, feed slag into a NERVA-type engine, and let the resulting plasma propel your product to its destination.

  • Re:Uncertainty (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VernonNemitz ( 581327 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @03:16PM (#45900415) Journal
    I prefer to think that the definition of what is "valuable" is subject to change. This idea [halfbakery.com] describes a kind of "overview" regarding converting just about anything into a pile of resources. The main cost is Energy. And in space, solar energy can be very cheap. IF they bother to put a solar-power station into Space, that is, with the goal not of using it to beam energy to Earth, but to use it to "smelt" (for want of a more precise word) space rocks down into useful oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium, etc. Then it won't matter in the least if one of those space rocks happens to be full of platinum.

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