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Could this be the next big milestone in human space exploration?
Posted: 25 April 2012 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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traveler - 25 April 2012 05:17 AM
Quest of Knowledge - 24 April 2012 04:54 PM

The current going rate for platinum is approximately $1500/ounce, which could justify going to mine an asteroid for say 200K of platinum. 

 

I thought the article made it clear that this part of the endeavor was not profitable.

I do not see how the article makes anything clear because it does not provide a detailed business plan with cost/benefit analysis.  The article simply expresses an opinion, “their plan is not to simply mine precious metals and make millions or billions of dollars– though that’s a long-range goal. If that were the only goal, it would cost too much, be too difficult, and probably not be attainable.”

I did not speak about the article per se.  I expressed my own perspective based on my knowledge of business and the information that I have read and heard.provided by this and a few other reports on the subject.

That said, the essence of what I expressed is that the venture would not likely be directly profitable in the long or short run.  What it might do is raise GDP and create shifts in the precious metal supply curve.

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Posted: 25 April 2012 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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macgyver - 25 April 2012 06:38 AM

I can’t help wondering how they expect to get the resources they mine down to earth. Not the water of course as the whole purpose of that is to use it in space, but the valuable metals would need to be brought down here to be of any use. The problem is that it requires just as much energy to bring something out of orbit as it takes to put it into orbit. You would need a cargo ship of some sort which would have to be launched into orbit to retrieve specimens and de-orbit them once they were delivered into earth orbit from the asteroid. This in itself would be an expensive proposition especially if we are talking about large amounts of materials.

 

Gravity is directly proportional to mass and the mass of some asteroids is about the size of a football field.  That would have minimal gravitational force and it would require little force to place the pieces in orbit.  There might be more force required to mine the metal.

The size of the space craft would not need to be very large.  The current price of platinum is about $1500/ounce which represents about $5300/km.  An average fit man weighs about 80-90 kg. If an unmanned space craft able to carry 1000 kg (the size of 10 larger than average fit man), it would mean it could recover about 10 million in platinum bullion.  It the mission is able to carry out some paid scientific research, and some advertisement simultaneously, the trip could break even.

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Posted: 25 April 2012 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Quest of Knowledge - 25 April 2012 03:22 PM
traveler - 25 April 2012 05:17 AM
Quest of Knowledge - 24 April 2012 04:54 PM

The current going rate for platinum is approximately $1500/ounce, which could justify going to mine an asteroid for say 200K of platinum. 

 

I thought the article made it clear that this part of the endeavor was not profitable.

I do not see how the article makes anything clear because it does not provide a detailed business plan with cost/benefit analysis.  The article simply expresses an opinion, “their plan is not to simply mine precious metals and make millions or billions of dollars– though that’s a long-range goal. If that were the only goal, it would cost too much, be too difficult, and probably not be attainable.”

I did not speak about the article per se.  I expressed my own perspective based on my knowledge of business and the information that I have read and heard.provided by this and a few other reports on the subject.

That said, the essence of what I expressed is that the venture would not likely be directly profitable in the long or short run.  What it might do is raise GDP and create shifts in the precious metal supply curve.

From the article: “If that were the only goal, it would cost too much, be too difficult, and probably not be attainable.” But since you weren’t speaking about the article, it’s not important I suppose.

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Posted: 25 April 2012 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Quest of Knowledge - 25 April 2012 03:51 PM
macgyver - 25 April 2012 06:38 AM

I can’t help wondering how they expect to get the resources they mine down to earth. Not the water of course as the whole purpose of that is to use it in space, but the valuable metals would need to be brought down here to be of any use. The problem is that it requires just as much energy to bring something out of orbit as it takes to put it into orbit. You would need a cargo ship of some sort which would have to be launched into orbit to retrieve specimens and de-orbit them once they were delivered into earth orbit from the asteroid. This in itself would be an expensive proposition especially if we are talking about large amounts of materials.

 

Gravity is directly proportional to mass and the mass of some asteroids is about the size of a football field.  That would have minimal gravitational force and it would require little force to place the pieces in orbit.  There might be more force required to mine the metal.

The size of the space craft would not need to be very large.  The current price of platinum is about $1500/ounce which represents about $5300/km.  An average fit man weighs about 80-90 kg. If an unmanned space craft able to carry 1000 kg (the size of 10 larger than average fit man), it would mean it could recover about 10 million in platinum bullion.  It the mission is able to carry out some paid scientific research, and some advertisement simultaneously, the trip could break even.

See the discussion above. This would work if they can extract the minerals from the ore in space but that has its own set of costs. I agree that it probably would be the more economical solution rather than trying to bring down the ore itself, but someone who knows a lot more about the economics of this would have to figure that one out. We also discussed above that doing it in low earth orbit is probably not a viable solution. If this is going to be done in space it would need to be done far enough away that the waste does not become a hazard in its own right. It might be best to just bring the mining factory to the asteroid rather than trying to bring the asteroid closer to earth.

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Posted: 25 April 2012 05:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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What makes them think the asteroids are any different from earth composition, mostly silicacious minerals with small amounts of iron ore, etc?  I’d guess that most of them wouldn’t be worth mining.

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Posted: 25 April 2012 05:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Asteroids have a variety of compositions. Obviously they would need to do a lot of reconnaissance to determine if there is anything worth mining but there are reasons to think there might be something worth exploring there. First of all their main goal is simply to extract water which is probably one of the most valuable resources in space exploration. It can be split into oxygen and hydrogen and used as a fuel or n fuel cells, but also as a source of oxygen for breathing and of course water for drinking. There has been some data from recent missions to suggest that asteroids may contain vast quantities of water. Water has even been found on the moon and as odd as it seems, on scorched mercury.

There is reason to believe that precious metals might be more accessible on asteroids than on earth. Some asteroids are mostly silica but many have high metal content. Iron and nickel are not precious metals but they are very common ingredients in meteorites although certainly not valuable enough to mine and transport to the earth surface.  As the earth formed, a lot of these heavier metals sunk to the center of the molten planet but asteroids are broken pieces of larger objects and the “core” of those objects are now floating around as asteroids. It is theoretically possible some of them may have significant and easily accessible quantities of valuable metals that here on earth are deep and hard to find and extract.

Unless there is a major technology breakthrough though it seems their best bet for making a commercial go of it is mining the water.

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Posted: 25 April 2012 06:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Some asteroids are the remnants of blasted planetoids. If so, and if you can get the parts towards the ex-planetoid’s core, you can get solid iron or even (theoretically?) solid gold, since the heavier elements precipitate towards the center.

Those would be a very small percentage, but there should be ways to tell which is which.

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Posted: 27 April 2012 03:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Yes, water is a valuable commodity in space.  I suppose, if precious metals or gems were found, they might be given a greater “value” than the respective earth mined commodities, as some persons would be willing to pay more for gold or jewels from space.

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Posted: 27 April 2012 06:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Quest of Knowledge - 25 April 2012 03:51 PM

Gravity is directly proportional to mass and the mass of some asteroids is about the size of a football field.

Do you realize that sentence is absolutely meaningless?

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Posted: 27 April 2012 06:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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DarronS - 27 April 2012 06:25 PM
Quest of Knowledge - 25 April 2012 03:51 PM

Gravity is directly proportional to mass and the mass of some asteroids is about the size of a football field.

Do you realize that sentence is absolutely meaningless?

Yes, the size of a football field is two-dimensional and therefore has no mass, and an asteroid is three dimensional and does have mass.  I thought of saying “the diameter”, but asteroids are not spheres, I thought of saying, “the length”, but asteroids would most likely have an irregular shape, and after those and a few other quick thoughts, my sentence came out like that.

My point is that asteroids are small and that for that reason their gravitational force would be negligible, and leaving it would require a small amount of power.

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Posted: 27 April 2012 07:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Occam. - 25 April 2012 05:17 PM

What makes them think the asteroids are any different from earth composition, mostly silicacious minerals with small amounts of iron ore, etc?  I’d guess that most of them wouldn’t be worth mining.

Occam

Astronomers think that here are three general types of asteroids:  More than 75% of asteroids are C-type which are similar to the Sun in composition without the hydrogen, helium and other volatiles.

About 17 percent of asteroids are S-type and they contain deposits of nickel, iron and magnesium.
 
An even smaller number of asteroids are the M-type, and contain nickel and iron.

Astronomers assert that they can determine the composition of asteroids and other objects in space by use of telescopic spectroscopy.

Many scientist claim that some asteroids contain water, oxygen, water, platinum, and gold in addition to iron, nickle, and magnesium.

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Posted: 27 April 2012 11:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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And if we’ve got those elements on earth, wouldn’t it be more economical to mine it here than to spend the huge amount of money to go into space and mine it there?

Occam

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Posted: 28 April 2012 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Occam. - 27 April 2012 11:47 PM

And if we’ve got those elements on earth, wouldn’t it be more economical to mine it here than to spend the huge amount of money to go into space and mine it there?

It’s a good question, but not one that can be answered in a vacuum, so to say. The advantage of mining asteroids is that they may be very nearly pure in that element. (E.g., nickel iron). But I think the main reason to mine them eventually will be to have material to build things in space, rather than to return it to Earth. Obviously that won’t be an issue for the near future, since we have nothing to build yet.

There are certain ‘rare earth’ minerals that exist in such tiny quantities on Earth (IIRC one of them is used for cellphones and China has virtually all the world’s supply) that if they could be found even in relatively small amounts, in a purer state, the price per gram might make it feasible to return the material to Earth profitably. I don’t know. Certainly it could be both profitable and less environmentally harmful than strip mining down here ...

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Posted: 28 April 2012 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Occam. - 27 April 2012 11:47 PM

And if we’ve got those elements on earth, wouldn’t it be more economical to mine it here than to spend the huge amount of money to go into space and mine it there?

Occam

I think the answer is yes, but history tells us that going to “other worlds” has been a human quest.  The expression “it always looks greener on the other side of the valley” tends to hold true.

The financial investments and resources necessary to find most rare metals on the surface of the Earth, including the bottom of the oceans, would most likely pale in comparison to those necessary to develop and implement the necessary technology to mine asteroids, but the latter is a sexier endeavor, and it is more likely to attract investors.

At the same time, the free publicity that mining Earth could harness would pale in comparison to the same about meteorite exploration.  At the end, a rational investor would look at all the benefits, revenue, free advertising, and other benefits versus fixed and variable costs for both options, before making a decision.

An irrational investor with a flare for the latest sound bite would choose the space mining.

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Posted: 28 April 2012 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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dougsmith - 28 April 2012 05:02 AM
Occam. - 27 April 2012 11:47 PM

And if we’ve got those elements on earth, wouldn’t it be more economical to mine it here than to spend the huge amount of money to go into space and mine it there?

It’s a good question, but not one that can be answered in a vacuum, so to say. The advantage of mining asteroids is that they may be very nearly pure in that element. (E.g., nickel iron). But I think the main reason to mine them eventually will be to have material to build things in space, rather than to return it to Earth. Obviously that won’t be an issue for the near future, since we have nothing to build yet.

There are certain ‘rare earth’ minerals that exist in such tiny quantities on Earth (IIRC one of them is used for cellphones and China has virtually all the world’s supply) that if they could be found even in relatively small amounts, in a purer state, the price per gram might make it feasible to return the material to Earth profitably. I don’t know. Certainly it could be both profitable and less environmentally harmful than strip mining down here ...

I agree with most of what you say, but the environmental assessment would probably wait until the damage is done.  There is no precedent of human contact with asteroids in space, and the presence of water may be of great risk to living organisms on Earth.

Ever since I learned about the existence of water in comets and asteroids some time ago, I have asked myself the question if this could be the way life travels in the universe.  It appears that life on Earth started in water and that it evolved from simple organisms to complex ones.

If asteroids contain life, it could be the type of life that could take hold in even adverse conditions, like seeds do.  That life could be in the form of viruses and bacteria with aggressive DNAs.  This is pure speculation, yet a real possibility and that is why extensive exploration of asteroids should be conducted before bringing any preserved material to Earth.

When meteorites enter the Earth, they enter through the atmosphere which burns a large percentage, or all of it, and probably most living organisms if they existed.  That process would be bypassed if portions of the meteorites where brought to Earth encapsulated.

[ Edited: 28 April 2012 10:10 AM by Quest of Knowledge ]
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