[ExI] De-Orbiting Gold

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sun May 20 20:33:15 UTC 2012

On 20/05/2012 19:08, BillK wrote:
> Nobody will be allowed to send a large object towards earth with the
> intention of aerobraking it into orbit. Safety precautions would have
> to assume the worst case scenario that something could go wrong and
> the asteroid might dive straight into the atmosphere. Energy = mass x
> velocity.

Energy = 0.5 mass x velocity ^2 ! Always remember that square. Speed 
kills. And in space everything moves fast, even when it seems to be 
gently going nowhere.

> I think Spike's 7 meter total diameter is too big. You don't want
> anything that makes a crater.  :)

I was thinking that too. After all, dumping it on the White House, the 
Great Hall of the People or Wall Street might have some consequences... 
and hence blackmail potential.

This is one of the big issues with private space flight and space 
industrialisation. It also means that we are privatizing weapons of mass 
destruction. After all, a ballistic missile is just a spacecraft with an 
Earth-intersecting orbit and any ground delivery system can deliver 
other things than gold. It might not be an argument against space, but 
it certainly implies that we should want to think through how to keep 
these capabilities from being misused.

(The standard libertarian argument that private space companies would 
not misbehave because they would lose customers only works if we are 
assuming a single global market. If the misbehaving company doesn't have 
any business with (say) North Korea and drops an ore load on Pyongyang 
normal market mechanisms would be weak in punishing them for it. In the 
real world they would of course be punished by various state actors 
acting in an international system. But it is not entirely clear that 
this fixes the problem since now companies aligned with some of the 
great powers would have a chance to act with impunity - especially if 
governments are their main customers rather than individual citizens or 
other companies.)

I think energy (either beamed or He3 is we ever get fusion anywhere) is 
the main thing to export Earthside. Maybe platinum since it might have 
unique catalytic properties (I dare the nanotechnologists to beat this 
one!) and is very rare on Earth compared to space (hence the mines in 
the Sudbury impact basin). Most other compounds that can be extracted 
are valuable mostly because they are matter up there, not because they 
would sell at high prices down here.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford University

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