Plans for asteroid mining

Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

--- http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-24/google-chiefs-back-startup-mining-asteroids-for-metals.html [Broken] ---

It's an interesting article that apparently indicates a lot of big money backing about to be thrown at the problem.

Of course, imho at least, few of them have attempted to do the math ... while thankfully others among us have:

--- http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/10/why-not-space/ ---

Open for discussion, but imho there are more pressing needs and better ways to spend the money at the moment.
 
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Astronuc

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I have a feeling that at first and probably for a long time mining the asteroids will not be "worth it" however the technology developed to do such a thing probably will be more likely to be. Kinda like how going to the moon was not really "worth it" but the technology gained in doing so was more or less.
 

Ryan_m_b

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I'll believe it when I see it. Sounds like a PR stunt to me, especially the projections of just a few decades ahead. Bear in mind the astronomical (pun intended) cost of the Apollo project just to get a brace of men on the Moon. I can't see a collection of companies wanting to spend the necessary tens of billions of dollars for decades on something that wont really pay off. I say wont really because economically they could invest those billions elsewhere to achieve their goals cheaper and more efficiently. There are plenty of recycling or mining technologies that could be developed and give far greater results.

Going to space to a large extent is ideological. There is really no good economical argument.
 
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It's pretty clear their only real intention for now is to survey asteroids for their potential mineral contents, and the assumption is that future technology will make the venture cost effective. That's a pretty standard practice. For example, the US and the Russians surveyed Afghanistan for its minerals estimated at over a trillion dollars in value despite the fact no one has figured out to ship them from the land locked country. As prices go up and technology improves, so does the viability of shipping over longer distances. That's just how long term planning works in these modern times where technology advances so fast it would be foolish not to take such things into account when talking about ventures decades in the future. With the kind of money and influence involved in this one you can be sure the government will support them as well.
 

jim hardy

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I'll believe it when I see it. Sounds like a PR stunt to me, especially the projections of just a few decades ahead.
I'm old enough to remember Howard Hughes' "Glomar Explorer", a cover story for deep ocean venture. The stated purpose was to pick up exotic mineral nodules from seafloor but what they were actually after was a Russian ballistic missile sub sunk out past Hawaii someplace.

What can you hide on an asteroid? Have we already lost something out there?

Where's our poster nsaspook?
 

D H

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Re: Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

Of course, imho at least, few of them have attempted to do the math ... while thankfully others among us have:

--- http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/10/why-not-space/ ---
There are always naysayers. Sometimes those naysayers are right. There's no future in tulip bulbs. But more often than not they are very wrong. Sailing to the Americas is a waste of money. There's a world market for maybe five computers. There's no money to be made on the internet.

Open for discussion, but imho there are more pressing needs and better ways to spend the money at the moment.
Since it's private money at stake here, it's really none of your business.

Most of these new space startups will fail. That's the nature of startups. A few won't, and they'll make a killing. That's also the nature of startups.
 
Re: Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

But more often than not they (naysayers) are very wrong.
...
Most of these new space startups will fail.
So which is it? Most succeed or most fail?
 

Office_Shredder

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Re: Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

So which is it? Most succeed or most fail?
Most fail, but the claim that nobody will succeed is wrong.
 
These guys could save a lot of money on rocket fuel by just camping out in Evo's back yard.
 

Ryan_m_b

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Re: Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

Sailing to the Americas is a waste of money.
I was hoping our resident space expert would see this thread :biggrin: I agree with you on the general point that we don't really know what tomorrow will bring but regarding this specific point about the Americas (I know you didn't mean it how I am responding to it but it's an interesting point).

I frequently encounter space enthusiasts (I use that term to mean people who grew up idealising John Wood Campbell stories and counting the days until they can move to Martian Domed City One) who compare manned exploration/colonisation of space to the settlement of the Americas. It's an attractive analogy but a deeply flawed one IMO. The cost of building a wooden sailing ship was negligable for a European nation. They also had free life support on the journey, a working ecology when they arrived and their technology base was primitive enough that a few hundred people could fufill the roles prevelant in society. Whatever the future of manned space travel is it will not ressemble this at all.
 
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I'm old enough to remember Howard Hughes' "Glomar Explorer", a cover story for deep ocean venture. The stated purpose was to pick up exotic mineral nodules from seafloor but what they were actually after was a Russian ballistic missile sub sunk out past Hawaii someplace.

What can you hide on an asteroid? Have we already lost something out there?

Where's our poster nsaspook?
That's a good point. A large number of rocket launches would require some kind of explanation to avoid escalating a new arms race. The X37 has been in orbit for over a year now without the public having the slightest clue what it is doing. The Pentagon is soliciting designs for disposable on-demand satellites, working on rocket designs to replace even the Saturn V, etc. while NASA scales back everything. I'd have to say it's pretty obvious the US government is more interested in dominating orbital space at this point then exploration.
 

Ryan_m_b

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Re: Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

the claim that nobody will succeed is wrong.
That can only be established after the fact. The claim that nobody could succeed is different, all you have to do to falsify that is show that the science and technology are physically possible. Whether or not there will ever be a group that has a motive, will, means and resources is another matter.
 

russ_watters

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I'll believe it when I see it. Sounds like a PR stunt to me....
I'll believe it when I see it. Sounds like arrogance to me.
 

russ_watters

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Re: Google Chiefs Back Startup Mining Asteroids for Metals

Most fail, but the claim that nobody will succeed is wrong.
I'm still waiting for the first to succeed! SpaceX is almost there, but as cool as it is that they have nearly reached their goal of becoming the first commercial space flight company, it is also a long, long way from being able to mine an asteroid. Just don't make the mistake of believing that if an internet billionaire can get a satellite into space that they can therefore mine an asteroid. They are nowhere close to equivalent tasks. Relative to that, the Spacex guys are just kids playing in a sandbox.
 
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Ryan_m_b

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I'll believe it when I see it. Sounds like arrogance to me.
Indeed, have you seen some of the timescales floating around?
BBC Article said:
They even aim to create a fuel depot in space by 2020...
...The inaugural step, to be achieved in the next 18 to 24 months, would be launching the first in a series of private telescopes that would search for asteroid targets rich in resources...
...The intention will be to open deep-space exploration to private industry...
...Within five to 10 years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services.
Not only that but apparently the budget is only in the range of millions. Considering the long development struggle that private companies have had even to launch to LEO such figures are optimistic to the point of stupidity. Having said that I'm not ruling out the idea that one day a company might put into orbit some probes that periodically foray out to chip away at nearby asteroids but definitely not within these time scales without orders of magnitude more finnancial commitment (which begs the question why not spend that money on more efficient means of achieving the goals i.e. recycling/mining on Earth).
 
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I'm old enough to remember Howard Hughes' "Glomar Explorer", a cover story for deep ocean venture. The stated purpose was to pick up exotic mineral nodules from seafloor but what they were actually after was a Russian ballistic missile sub sunk out past Hawaii someplace.
Indeed. And officially the mission that found the Titanic was an oceanographic scientific research, but truth is that it was a cold war mission to look after a nuclear submarine wreck. The Titanic was discovered only because they had some time left to look after it.
But having said that, I don't know what kind of interest military could have in asteroids... do they?
 
Not only that but apparently the budget is only in the range of millions. Considering the long development struggle that private companies have had even to launch to LEO such figures are optimistic to the point of stupidity. Having said that I'm not ruling out the idea that one day a company might put into orbit some probes that periodically foray out to chip away at nearby asteroids but definitely not within these time scales without orders of magnitude more finnancial commitment (which begs the question why not spend that money on more efficient means of achieving the goals i.e. recycling/mining on Earth).
...The inaugural step, to be achieved in the next 18 to 24 months, would be launching the first in a series of private telescopes that would search for asteroid targets rich in resources...
...The intention will be to open deep-space exploration to private industry...
I Think the only reasonable idea and goal that could be acheived is exploration and surveying asteroids. And the time scales they predict would not be sufficient for it. However it is one small step better than nothing (i.e. surveying asteroids). As to claims such as deep space mining they could decades even if they don't factor in recession. 0What would be the payoff. Companies don't invest in technologies that mature decades later . what is a reasonable time for a silicon valley start up to show profitability ? I think that should answer the question.
 

Ryan_m_b

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Indeed. And officially the mission that found the Titanic was an oceanographic scientific research, but truth is that it was a cold war mission to look after a nuclear submarine wreck. The Titanic was discovered only because they had some time left to look after it.
But having said that, I don't know what kind of interest military could have in asteroids... do they?
Apart from the fact that this would violate Article IV of the Outer Space treaty there is no military advantage beyond orbit. Putting my moderator hat back on let's ensure that we don't head down the road of space/military conspiracy.
 

Ryan_m_b

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Re: Question about Google's plan to mine asteroids

I Think the only reasonable idea and goal that could be acheived is exploration and surveying asteroids. And the time scales they predict would not be sufficient for it. However it is one small step better than nothing (i.e. surveying asteroids). As to claims such as deep space mining they could decades even if they don't factor in recession. 0What would be the payoff. Companies don't invest in technologies that mature decades later . what is a reasonable time for a silicon valley start up to show profitability ? I think that should answer the question.
I agree it is a good thing if the technology is developed. A major caveat to this for me though is whether or not it is the best way of achieving the goal of acquiring further resources. There are plenty of technologies on Earth (many that may benefit from this investment anyway) that could achieve this without the complication of going to space. Only a few years ago the material resources of Afganistan were estimated to be worth somewhere near $1 trillion but at the moment they are innaccessable due to economics. Why not work towards improving technologies (possibly automated) for mining on Earth?

Not to get too off-topic but ideally I'd like to see investment in better technologies, again possibly automated, for mining on land and sea as well as recycling. It would be great if we could send relatively cheap bots into a landfill site and have them (perhaps with a factory as well) strip everything down to component parts. Such technologies would also be a boon towards any effort for automonous in-situ resource allocation for a space mission whose justification is essentially ideology. In other words invest in Earth based technologies that may have space applications rather than the other way round.

Of course it's private money so they can do what they like with it but that's still my desire eitherway.
How will the probes send the large quantity of materials back to Earth? Because the news journals do not specify how this will be done.

Sources:

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-04-24/google-chiefs-back-startup-mining-asteroids-for-metals [Broken]

http://news.yahoo.com/asteroid-mining-venture-backed-google-execs-james-cameron-011205183.html
I don't think there are any firm designs yet but the impression I get is that the probes scavange fuel from the asteroid so as to return with supplies.
 
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Re: Question about Google's plan to mine asteroids

How will the probes send the large quantity of materials back to Earth? Because the news journals do not specify how this will be done.
The mined asteroids will be in near earth orbit, so any "sending" will mostly consist of "falling" :p
Granted, successful and safe reentry is not as trivial as I make it sound, but it is still uncomparably cheaper than the opposite - launching a payload to orbit.
Speaking of which, what makes you think they will even want to land the materials at all? They can instead just make use of them in space, saving us the huge expences that launching the same materials from earth would involve. Of course, making use of minerals or metals directly in orbit is clearly a very long-term prospect, but so is the whole idea of the new organization. And at the same time water and fuel can also be "mined" from some asteroids, and these can be put to use right now.
 

Astronuc

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Re: Question about Google's plan to mine asteroids

The mined asteroids will be in near earth orbit, so any "sending" will mostly consist of "falling" :p
Granted, successful and safe reentry is not as trivial as I make it sound, but it is still uncomparably cheaper than the opposite - launching a payload to orbit.
Speaking of which, what makes you think they will even want to land the materials at all? They can instead just make use of them in space, saving us the huge expences that launching the same materials from earth would involve. Of course, making use of minerals or metals directly in orbit is clearly a very long-term prospect, but so is the whole idea of the new organization. And at the same time water and fuel can also be "mined" from some asteroids, and these can be put to use right now.
Some materials (namely those of the Pt-group) would be returned to earth. Others would remain in space for application to structure or as fuel or as water.

The idea of mining asteroids and the moon has been around for decades, and there are numerous symposia and reports on the subject.
 
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What I understood from the press conference is that the mining will concentrate mostly on (a) water, which is intended to stay in space, and (b) minerals that are extremely rare on Earth but presumed frequent on asteroids, i.e. platinum; for the latter, it was mentioned that it is one of the few materials which cost more than the price to put them in orbit. It doesn't sound like large volumes need to be brought back to Earth for the business to be profitable.

Edit: Astronuc just got ahead of me. :)
 

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