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Community asteroid mining  if the world has not enough to offer | Upload Society

Asteroid Mining: If The World Has Not Enough To Offer

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by: Sharai Hoekema
asteroid mining  if the world has not enough to offer | Upload

In my previous article on the futuristic sounding concept of asteroid mining, I explained why it is such a promising idea. It works using the leftover debris from the formation of our solar system, heavy metals and minerals that have embedded themselves in the surface of planets through the collision with metal- and mineral-rich asteroids.

If we could find an effective way of mining those asteroids and comets, of which there are still some 150 million in our inner solar system alone, we will find a rich supply of resources that are currently scarce on Earth - including iron, nickel, gold, cobalt and platinum. This second article (part 2 of 4) in the series will look at the technical feasibility.

Operating a cost-effective asteroid mining activity is much harder than it already sounds. This is the main reason that we are not yet out there, gathering up valuable resources in space - unless you count the various glorifications that Hollywood has concocted. This does not mean that we are not actively trying to make it a reality. How should it - theoretically - be done? And what are we doing already? Let’s take a closer look.

Asteroid Prospecting

Before anything else, we should start with the so-called ‘asteroid prospecting’. This process entails the identification, cataloguing and assessment of asteroids, in order to find out how much they have to offer. Basically, this is the profit analysis. What is the total value of minerals and resources? This will determine whether it is a good prospect worth pursuing.

How much does it cost to mine an asteroid?
A Caltech study put the cost of an asteroid-mining mission at $2.6bn – perhaps not surprisingly the same estimated cost of NASA's erstwhile ARM. It might sound a lot, but a rare-earth-metal mine has comparable set-up costs of up to $1bn and a football-field-sized asteroid could contain as much as $50bn of platinum

 

NASA is one of the parties already looking into this. The Robotic Asteroid Prospector (RAP) project, that started back in 2012, is actively assessing asteroids on their economic returns as a part of their fourfold mission to determine the feasibility of asteroid mining (with the other three being the actual mining/retrieval, the processing, and the transportation). 

Firstly, telescopic observations will be used to roughly classify and seek out asteroids. After that, robotic missions to asteroids of interest are used to confirm their size, structure, and composition;  while releasing probes to identify the actual supply of minerals and metals. These missions may even bring back samples of material for further analysis on Earth. Not only will this provide governments with valuable input on the premise of asteroid mining, it also serves as a warning mechanism for potentially Earth-threatening asteroids.

Recommended: Rainforest Gonne In 100 Years: Nasa’s Earth Observatory

Setting Up Asteroid Infrastructure

Successfully identifying a rich asteroid is one thing, actually mining it for its riches is something completely different. This is where we are currently at, with various parties investigating the best way of doing so. In a nutshell, it would entail the construction of a significant amount of infrastructure in our Earth’s lower orbit and beyond. We would need a fleet of mining robots, to be stationed on the asteroids, and haulers, which can shuttle loads back and forth between the base station and the mining locations.

One popular idea is to 'outsource' the building of those mining and transportation vessels, with a construction and repair facility in outer space. This would take on the form of assembly platforms, with robots taking care of the actual building and maintenance. Additional platforms are needed for the docking, offloading and refuelling of those vessels. Not to mention the station that is needed to transport the obtained goods to the factories. Or foundries, allowing for immediate processing of minerals and metals in space.

It would be quite a sight. And, if we are to branch out beyond our immediate area, we will have to build several of those stations - in orbits around the Moon, Mars, or wherever our mining operations take us. Hello, real-life version of The Expanse.



                                                   Asteroid Mining: If The World Has Not Enough To Offer
                                Manufacturing in space could save life on Earth | James Orsulak | TEDxMileHigh

Starting Mining Activities

Once prospecting is done adequately and the infrastructure is in place, we will finally be able to start the mining process. Here, we will have a choice between various techniques, some rather simple and others extremely complicated. These include straightforward surface mining (using nets and scoops to remove surface minerals) or shaft mining (drilling into asteroids to extract minerals). Yet other, more sophisticated proposals are discussing the use of steam-propulsion to harvest oxygen in water ice, manufacturing propellant while doing so, making the robots self-sufficient and providing them with indefinite mining power. Or a concept where heat is applied to asteroids, after which ores or ices are collected as they melt. 

Some proposals are looking at fully automating the process, by using the harvested resources to create more robots, vessels, and factories. This way, operations will be self-sustaining and even able to expand exponentially as self-replication becomes a possibility. Through a process known as in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU), self-replicating spacecraft and vessels will be able to make more copies of themselves - copies that will once again make copies of themselves, and so on.

Studies have indicated that, with our current knowledge of robotics, miniaturisation and nanotechnology, this creation of a self-sufficient and self-replicating supply chain could already be realised in a few short decades. 

Recommended: Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence And Robots In Our Society

Solar System Bodies

Great in theory, but in reality we are still very much at the first step - actually finding resource-rich asteroids. As said before, estimates of the number of asteroids in our inner solar system alone range around 150 million of ‘em. Astronomers are working hard to zoom in on a number of those in the near-Earth space and the Main Asteroid Belt. 

What is the most valuable asteroid?
The most valuable known asteroid is estimated to be worth $15 quintillion, according to Asterank, a database owned by Planetary Resources, a company that aims to mine asteroids. That represents the world's total gross domestic product (about $80 trillion) 192,283 times over.

Psyche, Ryugu, Bennu, Didymos, Anteros, Lutetia, Kleopatra. Not your usual suspects on the baby name top 100 list, but the illustrious names given to near-Earth asteroids that are or have been closely examined and determined to be great candidates for asteroid mining. These guys contain anything from iron, nickel, gold, platinum and cobalt to aluminium, hydrogen, ammonia, nitrogen and water. Tapping into those virtually unlimited supplies of resources will be a dream come true for many.

In the next article in this series, I will zoom in on those advocates who are pushing hard to make asteroid mining become a reality.

Before you go!

Recommended: World Environment Day: Natural Capital Is Currently Looted

Did you find this an interesting article or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below.
We try to respond the same day.

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Click on 'Register' or push the button 'Write An Article' on the 'HomePage'

Asteroid Mining: If The World Has Not Enough To Offer

In my previous article on the futuristic sounding concept of asteroid mining, I explained why it is such a promising idea. It works using the leftover debris from the formation of our solar system, heavy metals and minerals that have embedded themselves in the surface of planets through the collision with metal- and mineral-rich asteroids. If we could find an effective way of mining those asteroids and comets, of which there are still some 150 million in our inner solar system alone, we will find a rich supply of resources that are currently scarce on Earth - including iron, nickel, gold, cobalt and platinum. This second article (part 2 of 4) in the series will look at the technical feasibility. Operating a cost-effective asteroid mining activity is much harder than it already sounds. This is the main reason that we are not yet out there, gathering up valuable resources in space - unless you count the various glorifications that Hollywood has concocted. This does not mean that we are not actively trying to make it a reality. How should it - theoretically - be done? And what are we doing already? Let’s take a closer look. Asteroid Prospecting Before anything else, we should start with the so-called ‘asteroid prospecting’. This process entails the identification, cataloguing and assessment of asteroids, in order to find out how much they have to offer. Basically, this is the profit analysis. What is the total value of minerals and resources? This will determine whether it is a good prospect worth pursuing. How much does it cost to mine an asteroid? A Caltech study put the cost of an asteroid-mining mission at $2.6bn – perhaps not surprisingly the same estimated cost of NASA's erstwhile ARM. It might sound a lot, but a rare-earth-metal mine has comparable set-up costs of up to $1bn and a football-field-sized asteroid could contain as much as $50bn of platinum   NASA is one of the parties already looking into this. The Robotic Asteroid Prospector (RAP) project, that started back in 2012, is actively assessing asteroids on their economic returns as a part of their fourfold mission to determine the feasibility of asteroid mining (with the other three being the actual mining/retrieval, the processing, and the transportation).   Firstly, telescopic observations will be used to roughly classify and seek out asteroids. After that, robotic missions to asteroids of interest are used to confirm their size, structure, and composition;   while releasing probes to identify the actual supply of minerals and metals. These missions may even bring back samples of material for further analysis on Earth. Not only will this provide governments with valuable input on the premise of asteroid mining, it also serves as a warning mechanism for potentially Earth-threatening asteroids. Recommended:  Rainforest Gonne In 100 Years: Nasa’s Earth Observatory Setting Up Asteroid Infrastructure Successfully identifying a rich asteroid is one thing, actually mining it for its riches is something completely different. This is where we are currently at, with various parties investigating the best way of doing so. In a nutshell, it would entail the construction of a significant amount of infrastructure in our Earth’s lower orbit and beyond. We would need a fleet of mining robots, to be stationed on the asteroids, and haulers, which can shuttle loads back and forth between the base station and the mining locations. One popular idea is to 'outsource' the building of those mining and transportation vessels, with a construction and repair facility in outer space. This would take on the form of assembly platforms, with robots taking care of the actual building and maintenance. Additional platforms are needed for the docking, offloading and refuelling of those vessels. Not to mention the station that is needed to transport the obtained goods to the factories. Or foundries, allowing for immediate processing of minerals and metals in space. It would be quite a sight. And, if we are to branch out beyond our immediate area, we will have to build several of those stations - in orbits around the Moon, Mars, or wherever our mining operations take us. Hello, real-life version of The Expanse. {youtube}                                                    Asteroid Mining: If The World Has Not Enough To Offer                                 Manufacturing in space could save life on Earth | James Orsulak | TEDxMileHigh Starting Mining Activities Once prospecting is done adequately and the infrastructure is in place, we will finally be able to start the mining process. Here, we will have a choice between various techniques, some rather simple and others extremely complicated. These include straightforward surface mining (using nets and scoops to remove surface minerals) or shaft mining (drilling into asteroids to extract minerals). Yet other, more sophisticated proposals are discussing the use of steam-propulsion to harvest oxygen in water ice, manufacturing propellant while doing so, making the robots self-sufficient and providing them with indefinite mining power. Or a concept where heat is applied to asteroids, after which ores or ices are collected as they melt.   Some proposals are looking at fully automating the process, by using the harvested resources to create more robots, vessels, and factories. This way, operations will be self-sustaining and even able to expand exponentially as self-replication becomes a possibility. Through a process known as in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU), self-replicating spacecraft and vessels will be able to make more copies of themselves - copies that will once again make copies of themselves, and so on. Studies have indicated that, with our current knowledge of robotics, miniaturisation and nanotechnology, this creation of a self-sufficient and self-replicating supply chain could already be realised in a few short decades.   Recommended:  Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence And Robots In Our Society Solar System Bodies Great in theory, but in reality we are still very much at the first step - actually finding resource-rich asteroids. As said before, estimates of the number of asteroids in our inner solar system alone range around 150 million of ‘em. Astronomers are working hard to zoom in on a number of those in the near-Earth space and the Main Asteroid Belt.   What is the most valuable asteroid? The most valuable known asteroid is estimated to be worth $15 quintillion, according to Asterank, a database owned by Planetary Resources, a company that aims to mine asteroids. That represents the world's total gross domestic product (about $80 trillion) 192,283 times over. Psyche, Ryugu, Bennu, Didymos, Anteros, Lutetia, Kleopatra. Not your usual suspects on the baby name top 100 list, but the illustrious names given to near-Earth asteroids that are or have been closely examined and determined to be great candidates for asteroid mining. These guys contain anything from iron, nickel, gold, platinum and cobalt to aluminium, hydrogen, ammonia, nitrogen and water. Tapping into those virtually unlimited supplies of resources will be a dream come true for many. In the next article in this series, I will zoom in on those advocates who are pushing hard to make asteroid mining become a reality. Before you go! Recommended:  World Environment Day: Natural Capital Is Currently Looted Did you find this an interesting article or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your own article about sustainability? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage'
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