[ExI] Gold

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Sat May 25 17:37:10 UTC 2013

On Fri, May 24, 2013 at 12:00:45PM -0700, Dan wrote:
> On Friday, May 24, 2013 5:18 AM Eugen Leitl <eugen at leitl.org> wrote:
> > On Thu, May 23, 2013 at 10:04:51PM -0600, Kelly Anderson wrote:
> >> One of the things Brent's cannonizer position said was that
> >> if Nasa (or SpaceX?) found and brought back a large quantity
> >> of gold from outer space
> >
> > Space is expensive. Space is really, really expensive.
> > It costs about 0.4 MUSD/kg of payload to Moon and 
> > back, 0.5 MUSD/kg for Mars.
> That's for now. With the SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, etc. entering the launch market 

In terms of launch costs, an order of magnitude improvement would be

In terms of mass transfer between high delta-v points, you'll
need to burn at least half for reaction mass even for advanced
(electric) propulsion. In absence of real breakthroughs like
fusion rockets no hauling kilotons and megatons around, sorry.

Your next bet is linear motor launch with minimal rocket burn
for Earth-Moon. There you can actually have a lot of matter
transport, and could even deliver some by aerobraking.

> -- actually, with trimming back space agency involvement -- that 
> might change. There's nothing inherent in space transport that 
> means it must forever be high-priced or a boutique industry. 

Oh, the physics makes it an inherently expensive proposition.

> (One might think that someone in the 1950s might have talked 
> about computing power the same way -- or a better analogy, 

There's certainly nothing inviting exponential improvement
in the rocket equation.

> airline travel, since the rates were set by the government 
> and it was only when deregulation took hold that the affordable 
> air travel regime we have today came into play.)

Space travel is nothing like air travel.
> > If you can mine resources in space, they will be used in
> > situ. Earth would be a backwater, a nature park.
> That's probably true, though what gets sent back to Earth might also be determined by what prices it will fetch on the "backwater." :) It's also true that the prices of commodities on Earth will likely be impacted by being able to economically extract them in space -- even if none actually are sent to Earth. This is simply because the potential is always there and, eventually, if the terrestrial economy simply becomes part of larger solar system economy, local prices will be affected by system-wide prices -- in the same way that the price of gold in Morisville, Vermont is not wildly different than the London spot price even though I've never heard of anyone lugging around huge quantities of gold through Morisville. (At least, not while I lived there.:)

Assuming we don't collapse and manage to bootstrap a
space fabrication (not at all obvious we can manage it)
Earth becomes rapidly insignificant for reasons of scale
but also because it's a gravity well shrouded in volatiles.
> > I think there will be never large amounts of anything
> > travelling in the local system. It's stupid. It makes
> > no sense.
> Maybe so, but maybe not. And it need not be huge quantities to have a huge impact. 

If you could mine and refine a megaton of platinum or iridum
(from what exactly? iron-nickel? by which methods?) , why
sending it to a remote backwater at a great expense they
cannot possibly pay, due to their tiny, insignificant economy? 

> The expectations alone of even small quantities can change 
> things a lot, altering prices in a big way. If anything, 

Nothing can be "a lot" or "big way" if you're talking
of a single planet.

> the availability of gold, platinum, oxygen, water, etc. on orbit 

Right now volaties in LEO are a lot more important than so-called
precious metals.

> or wherever will likely mean that space enterprises and space settlers 

There won't be any space settlers. All the settling and processing
will be done by solid state.

> won't be bidding up the prices of these from Earth, which does impact 
> the Earth price, all else being equal.

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