Asteroid/Comet Resource Utilization

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emudude

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Hey,

Just wondering if anyone knew what kind of surveying has been done to date on useful materials in asteroids and comets, and which of these are reasonably close?

It would be very interesting to see a vehicle that takes ~2-3 launches to send from LEO bring back useful materials from one of these objects, and I'm kind of curious as to why we don't shift to a more economical mission such as this...launches for global weather satellite are interesting, but something practical like bringing an amount of frozen water that would normally take 10 or more launches to equivalently bring into LEO is what we really need right now. It doesn't even need to be the manned mission that NASA is pushing for in 2025 to be groundbreaking, a robotic craft would get there much faster and with less fuel spent.

Even more tantalizingly, if we could send a small ice=>water=>'H2 and O2 separation and storage' unit with the craft, perhaps the fuel to send the craft and the object could itself be derived from the object itself.
 
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rockett

Guest
If you are interested in mining asteroids, here is a good place to start:
Mining and Processing an Asteroid
http://www.permanent.com/a-mining.htm

The possibility of water on asteroids is a fairly recent discovery, and how much is really unknown:
Icy asteroid may shed light on where Earth's water came from
SOLAR SYSTEM
April 29, 2010|By the CNN Wire Staff

http://articles.cnn.com/2010-04-29/us/asteroid.water_1_asteroid-belt-solar-system-themis?_s=PM:US

If you want fuel, you'll find plenty of water on the moon.
 
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samkent

Guest
This has been done to death.

Bottom line it’s cheaper to launch what you need.

If you think otherwise show us the numbers, in finished product dollars.
 
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emudude

Guest
samkent":1vvd7vds said:
This has been done to death.

Bottom line it’s cheaper to launch what you need.

If you think otherwise show us the numbers, in finished product dollars.
If it were possible to extract fuel from the object and then fire a rocket, slowly accumulating speed aimed at putting the object in, say, lunar orbit (hurtling it at Earth is probably going to be more political trouble than it's worth, if you could ever find the funding for such an idea), then the amount of money is constrained by launching a robotic booster into orbit, then launching maybe one or two fuel tanks, and sending it off...I can't see something like that costing more than a few billion dollars, with the payoff being more mass than we could launch in hundreds of years (current technology).
 
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emudude

Guest
On a sidenote, you could also send it to a lagrange point if you can harvest enough fuel to slow it down as well...one of the five possible lagrange points in the earth-moon system would work particularly nicely
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
emudude":2axz4x1a said:
samkent":2axz4x1a said:
This has been done to death.

Bottom line it’s cheaper to launch what you need.

If you think otherwise show us the numbers, in finished product dollars.
If it were possible to extract fuel from the object and then fire a rocket, slowly accumulating speed aimed at putting the object in, say, lunar orbit
ROFL, spoken by someone who hasn't looked at the actual physics. With the moon's tiny gravity and orbit around the earth-moon barycenter, it would require far more energy to put something in lunar orbit. And BTW, lunar orbits are not stable for more than a decade or so...

Again, that nasty ol' real physics.
 
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SteveMick

Guest
samkent":2oem2byv said:
This has been done to death.

Bottom line it’s cheaper to launch what you need.

If you think otherwise show us the numbers, in finished product dollars.
I find this statement astonishing. Are you saying that we will never find it more economical to use materials derived from Neo's than to launch it from the surface of the Earth?
I would turn your challenge around and remind you that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I believe the burden of proof is on you if you think that it is easier to accelerate to 4.5 km/s through the atmosphere as opposed to 1 km/s in a vacuum.
I notice you said that the economic case for NEO's must include finished product dollars. Is this compared to the 18 billion or whatever it is estimated the development of a new HLV?
I, like John Lewis author of "Mining the Sky", favor solar thermal rockets as prime movers for NEO derived material. Since they can use anything as propellant be it ice or oxygen derived in-situ from regolith; I'm not really sure what you need in the way of numbers and I'm only marginally capable of providing any. The most efficient round trips take a year or more but the solar thermal transfer vehicle can operate for extended time accelerating the NEO redolith it has gathered for most of that time. If you imagine a solar thermal rocket having a concentrator specific power of .2kg/KW thermal (and I think it could be way better), and that it requires 100 KW-hr./kg to extract the O2 and then heat it to over 2500 C ( I'm probably way overestimating) or so to produce an exhaust velocity of what - 5000 m/s or so?
If the deita V needed is 1000 m/s, then the mass ratio is 1.2 to 1. If the STR operates for 5000 hours, a 1000 KW thermal STR will process 50,000 kg and move 250,000 kg back to the vicinity of Earth for aerocapture to a highly elliptical orbit perhaps using an inflated aeroshell. The mass of the STR's concentrator would be only 200 kg. I don't know the mass of the aeroshell, but the regolith processing equipment would probably be left at the NEO and the STR engine and other equip. would likely be under 100 kg. So 300 kg of transfer vehicle plus an inflatable aeroshell's mass; you get 250,000 kg back and depending on the NEO this could be water. The vehicle would make perhaps 10 trips over it's lifetime and deliver a total of 2.5 million kg. If the NEO was an old comet the energy needed to produce a kg of thrust would be far less and the mass of ice delivered far more than 2.5 million kg
What the cost of the system I describe is I can only guess, but it is well suited to mass production Iridium style and I contend under 100 million is realistic including operation costs. If this is indeed the case, this is 40 dollars per kg. HLV's are at least 50 times as expensive even if you ignore their much higher development cost.
I realize my numbers are crude but a factor of 50 or more is significant and I believe concentrators can improve in specific power by more than a factor of ten over what I cited.
A fleet of STR transfer vehicles could jump start the industrialization of space.
Steve
 
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emudude

Guest
MeteorWayne":28dtdhxn said:
emudude":28dtdhxn said:
samkent":28dtdhxn said:
This has been done to death.

Bottom line it’s cheaper to launch what you need.

If you think otherwise show us the numbers, in finished product dollars.
If it were possible to extract fuel from the object and then fire a rocket, slowly accumulating speed aimed at putting the object in, say, lunar orbit
ROFL, spoken by someone who hasn't looked at the actual physics. With the moon's tiny gravity and orbit around the earth-moon barycenter, it would require far more energy to put something in lunar orbit. And BTW, lunar orbits are not stable for more than a decade or so...

Again, that nasty ol' real physics.
With all due respect, I wasn't suggesting the moon from a physics point of view ;) I was referring to the political nightmare of trying to convince people to launch an asteroid at their planet. I major in electrical physics being a computer engineer, so I would have to read up on some advanced dynamics to provide you with a reliable set of numbers regarding energy efficiency.
SteveMick":28dtdhxn said:
samkent":28dtdhxn said:
This has been done to death.

Bottom line it’s cheaper to launch what you need.

If you think otherwise show us the numbers, in finished product dollars.
I find this statement astonishing. Are you saying that we will never find it more economical to use materials derived from Neo's than to launch it from the surface of the Earth?
I would turn your challenge around and remind you that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I believe the burden of proof is on you if you think that it is easier to accelerate to 4.5 km/s through the atmosphere as opposed to 1 km/s in a vacuum.
I notice you said that the economic case for NEO's must include finished product dollars. Is this compared to the 18 billion or whatever it is estimated the development of a new HLV?
I, like John Lewis author of "Mining the Sky", favor solar thermal rockets as prime movers for NEO derived material. Since they can use anything as propellant be it ice or oxygen derived in-situ from regolith; I'm not really sure what you need in the way of numbers and I'm only marginally capable of providing any. The most efficient round trips take a year or more but the solar thermal transfer vehicle can operate for extended time accelerating the NEO redolith it has gathered for most of that time. If you imagine a solar thermal rocket having a concentrator specific power of .2kg/KW thermal (and I think it could be way better), and that it requires 100 KW-hr./kg to extract the O2 and then heat it to over 2500 C ( I'm probably way overestimating) or so to produce an exhaust velocity of what - 5000 m/s or so?
If the deita V needed is 1000 m/s, then the mass ratio is 1.2 to 1. If the STR operates for 5000 hours, a 1000 KW thermal STR will process 50,000 kg and move 250,000 kg back to the vicinity of Earth for aerocapture to a highly elliptical orbit perhaps using an inflated aeroshell. The mass of the STR's concentrator would be only 200 kg. I don't know the mass of the aeroshell, but the regolith processing equipment would probably be left at the NEO and the STR engine and other equip. would likely be under 100 kg. So 300 kg of transfer vehicle plus an inflatable aeroshell's mass; you get 250,000 kg back and depending on the NEO this could be water. The vehicle would make perhaps 10 trips over it's lifetime and deliver a total of 2.5 million kg. If the NEO was an old comet the energy needed to produce a kg of thrust would be far less and the mass of ice delivered far more than 2.5 million kg
What the cost of the system I describe is I can only guess, but it is well suited to mass production Iridium style and I contend under 100 million is realistic including operation costs. If this is indeed the case, this is 40 dollars per kg. HLV's are at least 50 times as expensive even if you ignore their much higher development cost.
I realize my numbers are crude but a factor of 50 or more is significant and I believe concentrators can improve in specific power by more than a factor of ten over what I cited.
A fleet of STR transfer vehicles could jump start the industrialization of space.
Steve

Steve, I think you have the *perfect* attitude as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad we've now got someone who can see the potential game-changing effects that in-situ resource utilization in space can bring to us. Getting resources from launching in the long term will only be cheaper than obtaining them from space when we are able to harness a mature level of anti-matter production and storage...I'm no theoretical physics buff, but I certainly don't know anything more efficient than the annihilation reaction :mrgreen:
 
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EarthlingX

Guest
For moving stuff around in space you could also use solar sails, no need to wait for antimatter engines ;)

I think Moon's orbit is much better and safer place for parking asteroid resources, if not for else, less crowded with satellites. EML1 is probably the best spot.

Another very nice site :

www.nss.org : National Space Society : Asteroids
If the dinosaurs had a space program, they would still be here.
 
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samkent

Guest
Go at your ideas from a different perspective.

What will it cost you to get your lumps of asteroid stuff back to Earth orbit? Be it aluminum, titanium or what ever.

What then?

Are you going to deliver it to the Earths surface? If so then you have to compete head to head with our mines on price. No contest, space loses.

Are you going to build something in orbit? Like a spacecraft? If so then you have to accumulate all the other stuff you need.
Wire - Insulation – Plastic – Pipes – Hoses – Electronics – Engines
Are you going to build all these extras in orbit or have them shipped up?

Work up some numbers on the cost of launching all these factories into orbit. Like any factory you have to keep using it to make it profitable. What is the demand for space stations anyway?
 
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emudude

Guest
samkent":2w4kgjyb said:
Go at your ideas from a different perspective.

What will it cost you to get your lumps of asteroid stuff back to Earth orbit? Be it aluminum, titanium or what ever.

What then?

Are you going to deliver it to the Earths surface? If so then you have to compete head to head with our mines on price. No contest, space loses.

Are you going to build something in orbit? Like a spacecraft? If so then you have to accumulate all the other stuff you need.
Wire - Insulation – Plastic – Pipes – Hoses – Electronics – Engines
Are you going to build all these extras in orbit or have them shipped up?

Work up some numbers on the cost of launching all these factories into orbit. Like any factory you have to keep using it to make it profitable. What is the demand for space stations anyway?

That is the whole issue. There is no demand for space stations, because people (quite rightly, for the time being) view them as being science fiction and out of their reach. I'm talking about people with investment power, by the way.

As an engineer who designs systems, I suppose it's easier for me to see the use of even the most brittle, common material in orbit, 'en masse.' All the extra specialized materials that you have mentioned could easily be shipped to orbit in as little as a single rocket launch from earth. A microprocessor the size of a pea, weighing not even a gram, could be used to fully control the orientation of the massive object, accompanied by a gyroscope.

I want to make something clear - the goal of bringing something massive to earth/moon orbit is *not* to bring it back to earth to compete with local industries. The goal is to have such a huge, massive amount of matter in space which did not have to be launched. Once we have this financially-impossible-to-launch object, we can begin to do things which have only been possible in our dreams.

1.) Large Space Stations: the interior of such an object would be ideal for housing people from the intense radiation from outer space. Orbital construction crews, scientists, or colonists could use this for permanent survival in space.

2.) Fuel: if this structure contains water ice, you've just constructed your first orbital fuel dump without inventing anything new...simply attach a processing/storage facility, and you can fuel up ships for regular access to many destinations.

3.) A Ship: attach some rockets/vasimr engines/ solar sails to this object and create the first mothership to depart from earth.

4.) A Construction Yard: the massive object is capable of withstanding impacts from micro-meteoroids, allowing you a shielded space for constructing highly sophisticated craft.

5.) A Mine: dense materials are a necessity for space endeavours, as they offer more protection from impacts, as well as rigidity required of an object which may need to be accelerated quickly from a point source of intense force, i.e. where a rocket touches a large body. This is only one of potentially many materials that could be mined from a large body.

6.) An Observatory: a large telescope could be placed inside a sealable cavity on this object, protecting it from impacts upon detection of threats.

7.) An Inspiration: children could learn about this massive feat of engineering at a young age, causing many to develop a passion for this new and fruitful field that is space development.
 
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neutrino78x

Guest
We only have one lithium source on US soil, from what I understand. Lithium is wanted for electric car batteries. Right now, a lithium-ion battery pack which could drive a car 250 miles on a charge -- that is to say, the battery pack for the Tesla Roadster -- is $30,000. Just for the battery pack. So that is an example of something that might be worth going up there to get a big chunk of lithium.

Are there big lithium deposits on the moon or asteroids?

--Brian
 
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Yuri_Armstrong

Guest
All the rare and precious metals on Earth can be found in abundance on asteroids. So I definitely think you could return some of those samples and bring them back in large quantities to have almost a monopoly on those on Earth. Aside from this though, emu listed all of the other possible uses for asteroid mining. It could be very useful and profitable.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
Yuri_Armstrong":r1hhnnti said:
All the rare and precious metals on Earth can be found in abundance on asteroids.
I find that extremely unlikely. Got anything to support that?
 
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Yuri_Armstrong

Guest
MeteorWayne":2zpnbp5i said:
Yuri_Armstrong":2zpnbp5i said:
All the rare and precious metals on Earth can be found in abundance on asteroids.
I find that extremely unlikely. Got anything to support that?

http://www.permanent.com/a-overvw.htm

Well it depends on the asteroid. They are all different in some respects. But the metals and materials we have on Earth today formed from asteroid material as they smashed into the Earth. In his book "Mining the Sky" John S. Lewis states that an asteroid 1 mile in diameter holds over $20 trillion in precious metals!

Asteroid mining would be expensive at first and at least two decades away I'd wager. But the continous mining and returning of these materials to LEO would generate a nice profit for any private companies willing to risk such a venture. It would be better to keep these metals in space and use them to build space stations and orbital construction facilities. Imagine how convenient it would be if we could launch ships from LEO instead of having to escape the gravity of the Earth.

There are a great variety of asteroids, and we won’t know exactly what to expect until we go prospecting on-site, which will help determine what equipment would be best for processing the material. However, let’s consider what will probably be a common kind of asteroid for the following brief analysis.

Our chosen asteroid consists of a mixture of metal and "dirt". The metal is usually sand-sized metal granules of nickel-iron metal, though big blobs also exist. There are also various "volatile" elements such as hydrogen, water, and carbon, bonded or "frozen" to the minerals under the surface.

The metal granules can easily be separated from the dirt using only magnets and soft grinders. Some engineering designs have "centrifugal grinders" whereby the dirt is fed into a rotating tank and shattered against the wall a time or two using a rapidly rotating device. Out come little metal granules, which are separated using simple magnets. The rest is then fed through a solar oven (using lightweight foil mirrors), which cooks out the hydrogen, water, carbon, and other "volatiles". These volatiles are in turn refrozen (no need for refrigeration -- just a shadow will do it in space) and stored as ices for transport. Some of the latter could be used for fuel (e.g., hydrogen, oxygen, carbon) to transport the ore back to earth orbit for further processing.
Another convenience would be using asteroids as a free ride around the inner solar system. Find one with an orbit that cycles between Earth and another deep space target of importance and you need only set up a base on the asteroid that would carry a human team around.
 
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Boris_Badenov

Guest
Throughout history there has been a little less than 6000 tons of platinum mined on Earth, making it one of the rarest & useful metals. Used as the catalyst in a Fuel Cell we may, sometime in the future be able to replace oil with Fuel Cells. When we begin to utilize & mine The Moon & asteroids platinum will almost certainly be the first thing we go after with H2o in a close second place.
But we ain't there yet.
I'll challenge you to crunch a few numbers right here in your own thread. Use existing or near term launch vehicles like Space X Falcon 9 & Dragon & Bigelow modules to design your Space Craft. Include a few guesses & see how much it would cost to get to the Moon or an NEO & bring back a usable industrial amount of platinum.
 
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Yuri_Armstrong

Guest
Yes, I too would be interested in seeing those numbers... for asteroid mining to be profitable obviously they will either need lower launch costs or more creative ways of accessing those asteroids. One would be to set up a small station that could launch a re-usable spacecraft that constantly carried miners to an asteroid to extract rare metals such as platinum that you mentioned.
 
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rockett

Guest
Doesn't matter if it's gold or platinum. If you were able to bring it back in abudance, you would devalue it to the point of the whole enterprise being unprofitable.

The REAL VALUE in asteroid mining is NOT having to boost it into orbit, whatever the resource.
 
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Boris_Badenov

Guest
rockett":304gjn7g said:
Doesn't matter if it's gold or platinum. If you were able to bring it back in abudance, you would devalue it to the point of the whole enterprise being unprofitable.
I disagree. Oil is hugely abundant yet still quite expensive due to it's use as an expendable fuel. Platinum could come down immensely in price & still be in big demand for it's ability to generate electricity/power.
 
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SteveCNC

Guest
While this isn't exactly asteroid farming but I was thinking the other day about what would be the easiest way to aquire water in space and all the possibilities go through my head but the one that sticks out as by far the easiest is to scoop matter from saturns rings with a drone craft and return it to leo . As long as it can collect far more than it uses it might not be a bad way to go . Minimal involvement when not actually collecting or docking it can refuel itself and carry a large supply home many times . I realize a mission to saturn takes a while but if a dozen ships were built and sent out at regular intervals it could start a supply chain coming in after only a few years and once started it could be fairly steady .

My thinking is that landing and the collection process itself is the hardest part and if that is made easier then the time factor is less important . And I would imagine that collecting matter from the rings would be the easiest place to get into and out of I can think of to collect from and with the majority of the trip automated it dosen't require very much hands on .
 
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Yuri_Armstrong

Guest
SteveCNC":31a0ls1y said:
While this isn't exactly asteroid farming but I was thinking the other day about what would be the easiest way to aquire water in space and all the possibilities go through my head but the one that sticks out as by far the easiest is to scoop matter from saturns rings with a drone craft and return it to leo . As long as it can collect far more than it uses it might not be a bad way to go . Minimal involvement when not actually collecting or docking it can refuel itself and carry a large supply home many times . I realize a mission to saturn takes a while but if a dozen ships were built and sent out at regular intervals it could start a supply chain coming in after only a few years and once started it could be fairly steady .

My thinking is that landing and the collection process itself is the hardest part and if that is made easier then the time factor is less important . And I would imagine that collecting matter from the rings would be the easiest place to get into and out of I can think of to collect from and with the majority of the trip automated it dosen't require very much hands on .
A trip to Saturn involves a few years at least just to get there. Why not just get the water from the moon?
 
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SteveCNC

Guest
would a simple constant supply of water that powers itself not be better than extraction from a more limited supply that would be better kept on the moon for it's own purposes . I refer to the water needed for LEO functions and for other missions beyond LEO but not necessarily the moon as it has it's own supply though more difficult perhaps to extract and in less supply .
 
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rockett

Guest
Boris_Badenov":2g0h8xuw said:
rockett":2g0h8xuw said:
I disagree. Oil is hugely abundant yet still quite expensive due to it's use as an expendable fuel. Platinum could come down immensely in price & still be in big demand for it's ability to generate electricity/power.
There is a logical fallacy there. Oil is kept high mainly by three things.
-The end is in sight. We know it's almost gone.
-The remaining oil is terribly expensive to produce. "The day rate alone for renting a drilling rig during 2007 upwards of $500,000 or more"
-Speculation. The futures markets pretty much drive the cost of oil.

You really can't compare it with your scenario, way too many differences.
 
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oldAtlas_Eguy

Guest
neutrino78x":642v4g7l said:
We only have one lithium source on US soil, from what I understand. Lithium is wanted for electric car batteries. Right now, a lithium-ion battery pack which could drive a car 250 miles on a charge -- that is to say, the battery pack for the Tesla Roadster -- is $30,000. Just for the battery pack. So that is an example of something that might be worth going up there to get a big chunk of lithium.

Are there big lithium deposits on the moon or asteroids?

--Brian
Some asteriods contain significant amounts of platinum. So much so that the value of the platinum would pay for the equipment to mine it and bring it back to earth by a factor of 10.
 
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neilsox

Guest
If we spend a trillion dollars to bring back 1000 tons of stuff from asteroids, the stuff needs to be worth one million dollars per kilogram or we lost money on the project. Maybe we can bring it back for less than one trillion dollars, but more is likely until 2020, and predicting farther ahead is very speculative. At present there is not consensus on the details of the project, so we would need to work many details in parallel to complete delivery by 2020. Most of the details would not prove workable, so the cost is high. There would be fall out value from most of the details, but that typically does not put money in the initial investors pockets.
The depressed world ecconomy at present, does not indicate that fall out from previous investments in space etc are sufficient to offset the excessive debt. We could assume the depression would be worse if we weren't benefiting from fallout, but that is hard to prove. Neil
 
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