# How should asteroids be mined?

1. Jul 8, 2012

### DahnBoson

I know that mining asteroids will be a real possibility in the future, but I want to know what the most efficient and safe way of doing that is. Would it be easier to bring the asteroid to earth? or mine it in the belt? etc.

2. Jul 9, 2012

### Staff: Mentor

Orbital transfer is probably out of the question, as the energy and fuel it takes to do that is phenomenal.

3. Jul 9, 2012

### Staff: Mentor

Well, you have to bring the material to earth in some way (unless we talk about scenarios with extensive expansion in the solar system). Small asteroids might get disassembled completely, in this case the required energy is nearly the same in both cases.

For larger objects, I could imagine some launch system for mined material on the surface. Waste can be disposed with it, too, and over time the orbit might get modified in this way to move it closer to earth. Probably not too close, to avoid the risk of an impact.

4. Jul 9, 2012

### phinds

I think that asteroid mining is so far in the future (particularly in terms of technology knowledge increases) that it is utterly pointless to speculate right now as to what will at that time be seen as the most efficient methods.

5. Jul 9, 2012

### DahnBoson

That is exactly what I was thinking which leave mining it in the belt (which I don't think is possible) and bringing it to earth.

If we bring the asteroid into earths orbit will we be able to get to it and mine it cost effectively? The only way I can think of to get up that high enough times to mine it without burning a ridiculous amount of fuel is a space elevator, but that is a ways of itself.

I don't think so I have already heard of groups trying to figure out how to do it in our life time (Planetary Resources) due to the potenial profit.

6. Jul 9, 2012

### phinds

Yes, there was a thread here about that recently. Bottom line consensus was that the folks who seem to be planning it are either fruitcakes or are SERIOUSLY deluding themselves as to the practicality.

7. Jul 9, 2012

### Staff: Mentor

What potential profit?!?! Forget the transportation and fuel costs, you will have to pay and train miners to astronaut standards, plus insurance, OSHA standards, hazard pay, supplies, living quarters, etc. You won't even be able to recoup your labor expenses, let alone the transport and fuel.

8. Jul 9, 2012

### D H

Staff Emeritus
OSHA standards cover people, not robots, plus robots don't demand benefits, hazard pay, and the like.

Whoever said it had to be people?

9. Jul 9, 2012

### Staff: Mentor

Good point. Of course, I am not sure that robot miners are feasible. They would have to be able to repair themselves or produce new robots onsite. I don't think that either of those technologies have been developed.

10. Jul 9, 2012

### D H

Staff Emeritus
I am pretty quick to shoot down nutty space exploration / space utilization ideas. So is Astronuc. So is twofish_quant. All of us posted in that thread. None of us shot down the idea of asteroid mining per se. We did shoot down the silly notion of soft landing an asteroid on Earth, but that isn't what asteroid mining proposals intend to do. At least not any serious proposals.

11. Jul 9, 2012

### AnTiFreeze3

NASA is training both American and British astronauts at the bottom of the ocean to simulate the conditions of an asteroid for a future mission.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/9261863/Nasa-trains-astronauts-for-asteroid-mission.html [Broken]

Don't think that an article from telegraph is reliable? On NASA's very own channel, I watched an American, female astronaut training underwater in the base to better prepare for the very low gravity of asteroids, while also testing equipment that will be similar to that used on the actual mission.

I see no reason to so readily dismiss asteroid mining. I don't doubt that those billionaires who were throwing out money for projects like this were overly zealous with some of their claims, but this is something that we are capable of in the relatively near future. As far as actually moving an asteroid for ease of access, I think that idea has already been suitably taken care of by others.

In regards to the human/robot situation: both are being considered and planned for. Japan is working on sending a robot to an asteroid to collect samples, while NASA is, as previously mentioned, training humans for such a mission.

EDIT:

I just re-read phinds statement though, and I think we need to realize that he used the word "practicality." There's obviously no money to be made from this, currently, due to the fact that we would be pushing our technology to the very limits to accomplish this. I do disagree though, that this is entirely unfeasible to even consider.

Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
12. Jul 9, 2012

### DahnBoson

You all make good points and I have no delusions that mining an asteroid is an easy task, but I still see it as possible within the next 100 years. Also Dalespam an asteroid can have material worth of over a trillion dollars now I can assume that the excess material would bring down price substantially but that is still a lot of money especially if you can aquire more than one asteroid at once. Do you think that any attempt to mine an asteroid would cost that much? and I am legitimately asking because I have no idea. Oh and anyone who knows the title for a thread with this topic please post it so I don't ask questions that have already been answered.

13. Jul 9, 2012

### Staff: Mentor

Unless it is brought into an earth (or moon) orbit somehow, the key point would be to send as few material as possible to the asteroid, and try to build something in place.

While there are some ideas how to launch stuff cheaper than now, taking the material back to the surface is another issue, too. As far as I know, a space elevator and maybe tethers are the only structures which can do this without requiring a spacecraft every time. Of course, if launching costs are low, you can use a lot of heat-resistant shields for descent.

As far as I can see, we now have several different concepts here:

1) leave it in its orbit, use robots
2) leave it in its orbit, use humans
3) use robots to bring it into earth orbit, use robots to mine it
4) use robots to bring it into earth orbit, use humans to mine it
5) use humans to bring it into earth orbit and mine it there

2 looks quite impractical in the next decades, and 5 would require expensive and long manned missions, too. 4 might be an interesting concept, if robotic mining is too tricky, but a simple mass driver can be installed without humans.

14. Jul 9, 2012

### Pkruse

I’ve spent a lot of years working in aerospace, and recognize many of the top people in Planetary Resources as top in their field with a long history of top performance in the space business. They are very smart people. They have the understanding of what it will take to get the job done, and they have the funding. Even though it is a new company and they have many years of work before them, they are already operating in the black. This is not a high dollar charity.

We don’t have to develop much new technology to mine the asteroids, and there are many side projects the company can take on that will pay good money.

But why is everyone assuming that we need to take the material home to Earth? I’m expecting that most of it will be mined, processed, converted into manufactured products, sold, delivered, and used entirely in space without any part of that happening on Earth. One of the most valuable products will be rocket fuel. That would save a huge amount of money not having to transport it from Earth to space. That would also greatly reduce the cost of many space projects over the next five or six decades.

But small amounts of very high value products could very easily come back to Earth. It is a whole lot easier getting them down than transporting them in the opposite direction.

But the idea of transporting whole asteroids to Earth, or even large amounts of raw material to be processed on Earth? That sounds rather silly and very dangerous.

15. Jul 9, 2012

### phinds

Yes, I do not argue that the technology doesn't exist (I'm not convinced it IS but that's not an arguement I want to get into). My point is, as you noticed, that it is just ridiculous to think that this is practical in any economic sense in anything like the near future.

I worked for NASA from 1962 to 1978 and somewhere in there I made a prediction that a particular program would exceed the budget submitted to congress by a factor of 10. Everyone I talked to about it thought I was nuts. A factor of 2 or at a real stretch, even 3 was conceivable to them but a factor of 10 was just lunacy. Just a few years ago I read a thorough study of the program and the conclusion was that to everyone's surprise it had exceeded the original budget but a factor of 10. The program was the Space Shuttle.

I gather that not everyone agrees w/ me, but I am utterly unconvinced that asteroid mining will be commercially viable any time soon and without commercial viability it will not happen.

Even rich people get tired of throwing money at a lost cause after a while and investors get tired of it WAY quicker.

16. Jul 9, 2012

Staff Emeritus
Doubtful. The market cap of the entire mining industry - that includes coal - is just under a trillion dollars. That, in a real sense, is what what we have valued the world's total mining resources to be worth - i.e. what people are willing to pay.

It's true that I can sell one ounce of gold for $1500. I can't sell a million ounces at$1500, though. There just isn't that much demand - and that's the problem with doing these kinds of extrapolations.

17. Jul 9, 2012

### D H

Staff Emeritus
That's false economics. It's a simple computation to multiply the mass of iron and nickel in an M-type asteroid by the market value of iron and nickel. It ignores the immense cost of developing the infrastructure to mine the asteroids, and much more importantly, it ignores the astronomical expense of bringing that material from solar orbit to Earth orbit and then down to Earth. It's a bogus number.

To make a profit by bringing materials mined in space down to Earth you need to be targeting items that are valued in many tens of dollars or more per gram. Precious metals are at the low end of this scale. Iron (hundreds of dollars per metric ton) and nickel (tens of thousand per metric ton) just don't cut it.

That isn't false economics. It's worse. If they are claiming to be running in the black, this is the kind of voodoo economics used in the late 1990s when .coms were coming out left and right and making a killing with but the vaguest idea for a product. That bubble burst.

Now were getting somewhere.

The first thing that will produce a profit isn't precious metals. Precious metals require extensive space mining, refining, and transportation infrastructures. What's needed is something that is very valuable in space but is at the same time commonplace.

That something is ordinary water. Very abundant, yet very expensive because every drop needs to be launched from Earth.

18. Jul 9, 2012

### DahnBoson

I see what you are saying and it is a good idea that could be very useful for future deep space mission, but do we have the equipment that it would take to mine and convert the asteroid's material into something useful while it is in space and so far away? And also I don't see it being useful for space missions closer to home I am sure we don't want to go to the asteroid belt to get to mars granted there may be a few closer I'm not sure how many.

I understand that and I agree which is why I posted right after that that the excess material would bring prices down substantially, however with that much material you could potentially monopolize a market, sell to your competetors or even make money off of the fact it came from space. If I was going to buy one gold necklace between two and one came from earth and the other came from space and if they cost the same give me the space necklace :) My point being you could still become insanely rich.

19. Jul 9, 2012

### DaveC426913

That figure doesn't live in a vacuum. There are two issues, gross value and net value:
1] gross value: how much potential valuables are actually present,
2] net value gross value minus the cost of extracting those materials.

Let's say your trillion dollar asteroid is a 1km3 cube. What is the gross value in a 1km3 cube of Earth's crust?

It is not by any means a given that an asteroid has any more valuable materials in it than a comparable volume of Earth. (Though I'll entertain arguments that it does).

So the issue may come down to expenses. Is it less expensive to fly out to the asteroid belt and mine those materials than it is to simply dig a 1km3 pit here on Earth?

20. Jul 9, 2012

### DahnBoson

I understand that which is why I asked in my earlier post if any attempt to mine an asteroid would cost as much as the value you would get from it I'm not sure but do you think it would cost more? Also they don't have to guess at which asteroids will have the highest worth; asteroids with the materials desired can be targeted with spectroscopy.