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Mining asteroids for riches

 
 
Reply Thu 2 Apr, 2009 02:18 pm
If you had to send a probe to one of the large asteroids that we know of, Im sort of curious which one you could send it to. Some of them are known for their metal richness but does that really mean they have minerals on their surface?

If it was possible to know if crystals like ruby and diamonds could be formed on the surface, then all we have to do is go there and scoop some up Smile

If metals like gold, platinum and silver could be found on metal-class asteroids then that would be another big thing to go get some of that asteroid soil and mining it somewhere in space.

Which countries are serious about this type of venture these days? Why isn't spectroscopy being used to see if metals could be found on metal class asteroids? What are the problems? This is surely going to be nice for generating $$$$$'s plus to the budget of sending expensive probes to anywhere else in the Solar System.

I like your thoughts in the good folks in the group here
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Apr, 2009 02:32 pm
@Fermilab,
They have flown aerial spectrophotometers to MArs and have taken allsorts of pix that show the meatl compounds and salts.
Usually we have to develop a systematic understanding of how certain precious metals are emplaced. Gold can be emplaced by one of several means, same thing Pt. Other lighter elements are probably in association with the crystal matrices, and appear as associate elements or in "defect lattices". If we see sedimentary deposits next to magma emplacements, then the chances are good that metallic ores will be found. We can find a KImberlite pipe (for diamonds)or a syenite pegmatite if we are looking for corundum minerals. The real question is whether, other than say rare earths or metals we can run out of, what is the reason we have to schlep it from an asteroid?
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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Apr, 2009 03:17 pm
@Fermilab,
The simple answer so far is that nobody has found an asteroid (yet) that they think they can exploit for a profit (in other words, the cost of exploitation exceeds potential gain). Finding precious minerals on asteroids probably isn't going to be any easier than finding them on Earth.

Now if someone identifies a solid gold asteroid the size of the empire state building, then things might change. But there's an insidious economic problem with finding massive mineral wealth like that... much of the value of a rare-earth element comes from its rarity. If you find (and bring to earth) so much gold or diamonds that they are no longer rare, then the value of everything goes down. I'm not saying that it's likely or anything (I doubt there are any solid gold asteroids), but that's what a lot of people imagine "could" happen, and it is within the realm of possibility because we just don't know the average composition of asteroids (or comets).
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 08:15 am
@rosborne979,
Imagine, were pulling a meterite or asteroid in with a "tractor beam" It gets awy and comes flying in at 18000mph and causes a mass extinction. SOMEBODY'S GONNA GET YELLED AT.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 09:48 am
@farmerman,
farmerman wrote:

Imagine, were pulling a meterite or asteroid in with a "tractor beam" It gets awy and comes flying in at 18000mph and causes a mass extinction. SOMEBODY'S GONNA GET YELLED AT.

Or as Russell Peters says, "Somebody's gonna get hurt real bad." Smile
This guy is a riot, check it out...
0 Replies
 
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 09:54 am
Look, you don't want diamonds and rubies and precious metals from asteroids. You want Iron, Lead, and silicon. This stuff is extremely valuable in space due to it's weight; the cost of hauling metal up is ridiculous.

I have been a proponent of this forever; it's an eminently practical step we should be investigating immediately. One of the biggest things holding our space expansion back is a lack of materials that we can build production facilities in space with. This would help solve that.

Cycloptichorn
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 10:09 am
@Cycloptichorn,
Cycloptichorn wrote:

Look, you don't want diamonds and rubies and precious metals from asteroids. You want Iron, Lead, and silicon. This stuff is extremely valuable in space due to it's weight; the cost of hauling metal up is ridiculous.

I have been a proponent of this forever; it's an eminently practical step we should be investigating immediately. One of the biggest things holding our space expansion back is a lack of materials that we can build production facilities in space with. This would help solve that.

I agree that hauling metals up into orbit is ridiculous, but I wouldn't say that access to materials is "one of the biggest things holding our space expansion back". At the moment, our ability to acquire and mine asteroids is non-existent, and we don't even have an economic incentive to do this type of space expansion yet.

We have a lot of other problems to solve first before we start worrying about materials.

Even if we had a mineral rich asteroid in convenient orbit around Earth right now, we wouldn't have the equipment in orbit to begin mining it and producing construction materials. Construction in space will inevitably go through the same development cycle as it did terrestrially. Just as with the bronze age and the Iron age, we will have to have the technology to work with the materials and make valuable things out of the ore before we have enough economic incentive to make it worth while to acquire the ore. It's a long growth process.
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 10:19 am
@rosborne979,
Quote:
At the moment, our ability to acquire and mine asteroids is non-existent, and we don't even have an economic incentive to do this type of space expansion yet.


Both untrue. We've had the ability to reach these asteroids for at least 30 years and the economic incentives are gigantic.

There are thousands of asteroids in the belt which each have the equivalent of an entire YEAR of surface mining, each. Possession of just one of these would give you resources equal to pretty much the rest of the planet combined.

We have to DO things in order to learn how to do them correctly. We won't have the knowledge of how to build a factory in space, until we attempt to do so. You are correct that facilities will have to be built from the ground up (so to speak) but there's no reason why we can't start doing it immediately whatsoever. We are extremely good at solving technical challenges, and that's essentially what this is.

Cycloptichorn
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 10:42 am
@Cycloptichorn,
Where do you get this information that qweve got the technology and the overall ability to do what you propose? Wed have to haul out a processing facility to space (I dont think that we are short of silicon,, so we dont need to mine that anywhere but here). If certain metals (like Tantalum) are needed, wed have a radically different process chain than just "heating it to melting" wed have to convert it to a Flouride salt then process that.
My comment about INCOMING loads going awryy is a real concern. Whenwe go out into space with a shuttle and a load, the amount of fuel is calculated and known within safety tolerances. If we start making steel in space, we have to have an equivalent amount of a fueled up vehicle that could encapsulate and protect the metals from either burning up or causing destruction on entry into the atmosphere.

MAybe when we build the space "elevator" will stuff like this become more a reality (or we should ask ourselves, what are we running out of that we cant get by mining the earths mantle any deeper (Mantle mining has about the same problems but IMHO, they would be more easily solved.

Its like that TV ad where this delivery guy shows up in a Hovercraft and, when asked "why didnt you guys just mail the item to me" The delivery man says "Well, weve got this neat Hovercraft"
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 10:49 am
@farmerman,
farmerman wrote:

Where do you get this information that qweve got the technology and the overall ability to do what you propose? Wed have to haul out a processing facility to space (I dont think that we are short of silicon,, so we dont need to mine that anywhere but here).


What technology does it take that we do not possess? We can certainly do the math to get to the asteroids. We can build the rockets which will get there. We can build machines with which to mine ore from the asteroids. We can use that ore to build more permanent facilities and bigger machines. Et cetera.

Why pay to haul a processing facility into space, when we could build one from the materials we find there? The problems involved are engineering problems, not theoretical ones. Humanity has an excellent track record solving engineering problems.

I do not pretend that it will be easy; but I cannot see which stumbling block makes it impossible to do the things that need to be done, with today's technology.

Quote:
If certain metals (like Tantalum) are needed, wed have a radically different process chain than just "heating it to melting" wed have to convert it to a Flouride salt then process that.
My comment about INCOMING loads going awryy is a real concern. Whenwe go out into space with a shuttle and a load, the amount of fuel is calculated and known within safety tolerances. If we start making steel in space, we have to have an equivalent amount of a fueled up vehicle that could encapsulate and protect the metals from either burning up or causing destruction on entry into the atmosphere.


Foam the metal. Shape it like an arrowhead and spin it on re-entry to provide stability and distribute friction heat across it's surface. Splash it down in the ocean, it should float without much of a problem or be easily recoverable. Once again, there's no theoretical reason it won't work, so we should give it a try.

BUT; the larger point is that we don't want to put the metals back on the surface! We want to use them to build stuff which will STAY in space. That's the true reason for doing all this, not to increase our bounty on the planet itself.

Quote:
MAybe when we build the space "elevator" will stuff like this become more a reality (or we should ask ourselves, what are we running out of that we cant get by mining the earths mantle any deeper (Mantle mining has about the same problems but IMHO, they would be more easily solved.


Space elevators are extremely dangerous, I doubt you will see one around the Earth ever. Imagine the chaos if it came down.

The problem is not that we lack materials here on the earth, it's the fact that they are all at the bottom of a gravity well, and therefore extremely expensive. We need to find sources of metal and materials which are not locked up in gravity wells in order to fuel expansion into space.

Cycloptichorn
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Fermilab
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 03:22 pm
Thanks guys, that's a lot of opinions and I think the issue is nobody really wants to take the lead with a get up and go attitude to reach an asteroid with any serious venture in mind.

I mean, if we wanted to deploy a large nuclear reactor on an astroid and have it digging into the soil with some power there's no reason why it couldn't be done within a few years. But first, my question is can we not use long range spectroscopy or radar or some kind of laser reflecting or other technique to evaluate a metal class asteroid to know that: 'hey, this one is 75% metal rich, and that one over there is just 25% metal rich'.

I am also curious as to why they haven't found any gold on Mars in them dried rever beds. I mean you get gold nuggets on Earth in such places and since Mars had running water there has to be some sort of parallel. Well, I might be overoptimistics on these things, as I usually am! Smile
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 03:46 pm
@Cycloptichorn,
Cycloptichorn wrote:

Quote:
At the moment, our ability to acquire and mine asteroids is non-existent, and we don't even have an economic incentive to do this type of space expansion yet.


Both untrue. We've had the ability to reach these asteroids for at least 30 years and the economic incentives are gigantic.

Both absolutely true: AT THE MOMENT, we can not acquire and mine asteroids in space. And we have no economic incentive to get asteroids that we can not yet mine.

There's a big difference between what we can do now and what we can develop if we try. I'm a big supporter of space exploration and I understand that we learn how to do things by making strides toward them, but striving to find asteroids to mine before even have the technology to mine them is getting your priorities out of order.

rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 04:02 pm
@Fermilab,
Fermilab wrote:
I mean, if we wanted to deploy a large nuclear reactor on an astroid and have it digging into the soil with some power there's no reason why it couldn't be done within a few years.

You're talking about taking equipment and technology similar to a nuclear submarine and launching it into orbit, piece by piece, then re-assembling it and sending it an asteroid, landing it without damaging it, and then having it extract ore and then send that ore back toward Earth to be refined and then processed into something useful (like a refining plant, which we don't have up there yet). It's gonna take more than a few years to do all that.

Fermilab wrote:
But first, my question is can we not use long range spectroscopy or radar or some kind of laser reflecting or other technique to evaluate a metal class asteroid to know that: 'hey, this one is 75% metal rich, and that one over there is just 25% metal rich'.

The best remote sensing equipment and human analysis currently available has been trained on comets for years, trying to determine their composition, and we still had to send physical probes out to blast chunks of them apart to get more detail on them. And asteroids don't emit debris which is heated by the sun, so they are going to be harder to investigate.

Fermilab wrote:
I am also curious as to why they haven't found any gold on Mars in them dried rever beds. I mean you get gold nuggets on Earth in such places and since Mars had running water there has to be some sort of parallel. Well, I might be overoptimistics on these things, as I usually am! Smile

The element Gold is formed in supernovae events. The proportional probability of finding that element on particular planets is somewhat dependent on the orbital formation zone of the planet. That's why planets in the outer solar system tend to be proportionally higher in light elements compared to the "rocky" interior planets. Beyond that, the accretion and accumulation of gold atoms into sizable deposits is usually related to volcanic activity or high energy events like asteroid impacts. Farmerman can probably provide more specific information on the formation process, but the point is that we might find gold on Mars, or we might not. It depends on a whole bunch of conditions which we have limited information on right now.
0 Replies
 
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 05:02 pm
@rosborne979,
rosborne979 wrote:

Cycloptichorn wrote:

Quote:
At the moment, our ability to acquire and mine asteroids is non-existent, and we don't even have an economic incentive to do this type of space expansion yet.


Both untrue. We've had the ability to reach these asteroids for at least 30 years and the economic incentives are gigantic.

Both absolutely true: AT THE MOMENT, we can not acquire and mine asteroids in space. And we have no economic incentive to get asteroids that we can not yet mine.

There's a big difference between what we can do now and what we can develop if we try. I'm a big supporter of space exploration and I understand that we learn how to do things by making strides toward them, but striving to find asteroids to mine before even have the technology to mine them is getting your priorities out of order.


What piece of technology is it you don't think we have?

The math to figure out how to get there?
The rockets to get us there?
The ability to build machines to dig things out of the ground?
The ability to build machines to refine ore into metal?

We can do all of these things right now. We just haven't done them yet. There is nothing preventing us from doing so other than a lack of ambition.

Cycloptichorn
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 06:46 pm
@Cycloptichorn,
Technology isn't the problem. Skill is the problem. All of this can acquired, but it takes time, and it takes a sequence of experience.
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 08:20 pm
@rosborne979,
rosborne979 wrote:

Technology isn't the problem. Skill is the problem. All of this can acquired, but it takes time, and it takes a sequence of experience.


Sure, but the first step of experience is attempting to do things. Right now we aren't doing anything of the sort. There's no real reason why; we commit more money as a society (let alone other countries) on all sorts of ****.

If we don't challenge ourselves to do technologically challenging things, we'll never learn how to do them. I am confident that Humans have the skills to do the things in question and can learn how to do them. Lack of raw materials and production facilities in space is the biggest limiter to our development as a species at this point, and it's critical that we focus our efforts on continued expansion. The payoffs are not short term, which makes it politically unpopular; but they are immense, beyond any calculation we can use today.

We've built rockets to hit far-away targets many times. We've built facilities to allow humans to survive in space. We can build power plants in space and tiny nuke plants. We can carve into rock once we get there in order to build more permanent stations. We can use robotic technology and human ingenuity to build many things in space. I just don't see what is making us 'not ready' to do this.

I don't pretend that it is all going to work the first try; it will probably take several tries to get it right. However, I can guarantee that it will not work before the first try.

Cycloptichorn
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 08:53 pm
@Cycloptichorn,
I don't disagree with your basic goal which is to strive for new things and to learn as we go. I'm a supporter of space exploration as well (within reasonable socio-economic priorities), but I don't think that mining asteroids is the FIRST thing we should strive for right out of the gate.

Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Apr, 2009 09:50 pm
@rosborne979,
rosborne979 wrote:

I don't disagree with your basic goal which is to strive for new things and to learn as we go. I'm a supporter of space exploration as well (within reasonable socio-economic priorities), but I don't think that mining asteroids is the FIRST thing we should strive for right out of the gate.


Well, I am not against many different forms of space exploration and research going on simultaneously. But the production of production facilities in space, not in a gravity well, is the biggest thing holding us back from exploring the gigantic area of our solar system. There's a level of resources and space available out there that we need as a species, and not in some indefinite time in the future, either.

Let's send a robot craft to land on an asteroid. If we can get some simple equipment on board, maybe we can provide proof of concept to get funding for a manned mission, which could produce some real results.

Cycloptichorn
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