[ExI] Mining the Sky SL Talk I gave today

samantha sjatkins at mac.com
Tue Apr 27 21:43:56 UTC 2010

Adrian Tymes wrote:
> --- On Tue, 4/27/10, samantha <sjatkins at mac.com> wrote:
>> How much?  How much money and what kind of personnel
>> and other resources are needed to fund and flesh out early
>> NEO asteroid mining?   That is the first
>> critical question.  Given the numbers then figure out
>> how to get the funding.
> Exactly.  But even if the questions needed to answer this
> are at least identified, that itself can go in your
> presentation.
> With the plan I outlined, that breaks into 4 major steps:
> 1. Survey.  Get reasonably certain of a target's mineral
> composition.  Be prepared to survey multiple targets, if
> the first choice either can not be verified enough or
> turns out not to have the desired target composition.
> The goal is that whoever funds the rest will agree, "We
> believe that W amount of X can be sold for $Y, which is
> greater than the $Z this costs, and we believe that we
> can obtain at least W amount of X from this specific
> asteroid."  This step may have to be preformed
> pre-funding; fortunately, it is also something NASA is
> capable of doing, if they can be talked into sponsoring
> this step (see Centennial Challenge suggestion).
> Expected cost: less than one million USD.  (Satellite
> telescopes have run from tens of millions to billions
> of USD, but this can use existing hardware without
> buying new, and may be doable with far cheaper ground
> telescopes.)

What is reasonable?  Based on meteorite data we have a good rough ideas 
of composition of various types.  Do we actually need to land on 
multiple targets or just get close enough for better spectographic data? 
    How much composition data already exists?  I ran across a "Mining 
the Sky" ppt that was interesting in that it gave a lot of information 
about data mining the information already gathered from various sources. 
  It is here:

There is also  MPA/ESO/MPE symposia with that title that puts out sort 
of pricey proceedings.  And I found the following link to something up 
my alley which is the type of object persistence system needed for such 
large data navigation.  OK, not that germane but I enjoyed it a lot.  :)


> 2. Capture.  Design, build, and launch a tug to move the
> asteroid into high Earth orbit, possibly L4/L5.  Solar
> sail might be the best technology here, both for
> robustness and delivering delta-V to a massive target,
> and for lightness of probe (meaning less mass to launch,
> which substantially reduces costs; there is also less
> mass to accelerate to the target, and thus even less
> mass to launch).  Remote operation of the tug needs to
> be considered, but will likely only take a few people
> part-time work.  Coordinating third party efforts
> (other people making sure your asteroid is on track),
> among other PR activities, may also a significant cost
> component.  Expected cost: tens of millions of USD
> (based on cost of previous solar sail missions).

Well, I disagree with your step 2.  I don't plan to move it before doing 
  at least some processing in situ. So I would substitute the design of 
a minimal space processing unit or set of units.  I would not use a tug 
per se to move the results or a partial or whole asteroid in any case. 
Sling shot around the moon can help a lot with the delta V.  Put 
trimming thrusters on the targets being moved where possible rather than 
an expensive tug.

> 3. Processing.  Design, build, and launch something to
> break down the asteroid, build iron-lined recovery
> meteorites, and load them with high-priced payloads.
> This equipment is likely to be unavoidably heavy, even
> if one uses solar power as much as possible, although
> since it only needs to be sent to L4/L5 at most,
> launch cost is reduced.  Reuse the space tug to nudge
> these meteorites into precise landing trajectories,
> preferably entering the atmosphere at a steep angle to
> minimize the chance of bouncing off the atmosphere
> (and to narrow down the radius of possible landing
> zones).  Expected cost: tens to hundreds of millions
> of USD (most mining machines are thousands or tens of
> thousands of kilograms, and launch is to high orbit -
> not just to LEO, which is cheaper - so this is
> primarily launch costs, though design and manufacture
> of processing machinery will likely be in the same
> range).

Any hollowed meteor (except the mushier slush balls) will do for rad 
hardened storage / habitat and possible reentry ablation.  Stone seems 
as good as iron for the outer shell.  L4/L5 may not be the immediate 
target as we need this material much closer to earth for building out 
space infrastructure around the planet.

I am wondering if we can put up very light weight processors that have 
one task, to process out volatiles for more fuel.  Nudge this stuff into 
LEO orbits to fuel move out to GEO.  I don't know if that is possible 
very early on but it would be sweet if it was.

The costs is too mushy of course.  With what kind of launch?  Putting up 
what kinds and how much material?  What sorts of trained personnel?

> 4. Recovery and sale.  Rent ships to screen the
> expected landing zone of other traffic during the
> splashdown, and to quickly recover the meteorite.
> This will likely be a media event, so media relations
> may also be a significant cost component - or they
> could be a minor, supplementary source of funds.
> Then, actually sell the platinum and ship it where it
> needs to be shipped.  (In theory, the simplest part of
> the deal.  In practice, the biggest potential money
> loss.  Recruiting someone with experience selling bulk
> precious metals is practically mandatory, though it
> can wait until this step so long as no agreements are
> made regarding distribution of the metal before this
> person is available to review them.)  Expected cost:
> single digit million USD (based on cost of renting
> salvage tugs).

Why would you drop a heavy rock into the ocean?  Why not in remote 
desert or some such where it at least will not sink?  Why only platinum 
or precious metals?  Thousands of tons of high grade iron and nickel is 
also a substantial commodity.

- samantha

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