Saturday, June 19, 2021

Asteroid Mining – A fast way to get rich?

[This is a transcript of the video embedded below.]


Asteroids are the new gold mines. Fly to an asteroid, dig up its minerals, become a billionaire. I used to think this is crazy and will never make financial sense. But after a lot of reading I’m now thinking maybe it will work – by letting bacteria do the digging. How do you dig with bacteria? Is it even legal to mine asteroids? And will it happen in your lifetime? That’s what we’ll talk about today.

Space Agencies like NASA and ESA have found about 25000 asteroids. In 2020 alone, they discovered 3000 new near earth asteroids. About 900 of them have an extension of 1 kilometer or more.

What makes asteroids so interesting for mining is that their chemical composition is often similar to what you find in the core of our planet. Metals from the platinum group are very expensive because they are useful but rare in Earth’s crust. On an asteroid, they can be much easier to dig up. And that’s a straight-forward way to get rich – very, very rich.

The asteroid Psyche, for example, has a diameter of about two-hundred kilometers and astrophysicists estimate it’s about ninety percent metal, mostly iron and nickel. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, NASA's lead scientist of the Psyche mission, estimated the asteroid is worth about 10 quintillion US dollars. That’s a 1 followed by 19 zeros. Now imagine that thing was made of platinum...

NASA, by the way, is planning a mission to Psyche that’s to be launched in 2022. Not because of the quintillions but because they want to study its composition to learn more about how planetary systems form.

How does one find an asteroid that’s good for mining? Well, first of all it shouldn’t take forever to get there, so you want one that comes reasonably close to earth every once in a while. You also don’t want it to spin too much because that’d make it very hard to land or operate on it. And finally you want one that’s cheap to get to, so that means there’s a small amount of acceleration needed during the flight, a small “Delta V” as it’s called.

How many asteroids are there that fit these demands? The astrophysicist Martin Elvis from Harvard estimated it using an equation that’s now called the Elvis equation. It’s similar to the Drake equation which one uses to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations by multiplying a lot of factors. And like the Drake equation, the Elvis Equation depends a lot on the assumptions that you make.

In any case, Elvis with his Elvis equation estimates that only about 10 of the known asteroids are worth mining. For the other ones, the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t work out, because they’re either too difficult to reach or don’t have enough worth mining or they’re too small. In principle one could also think of catching small asteroids, and bringing them back to earth, but in practice that’s difficult: The small ones are hard to find and track. At least right now this doesn’t work.

So the first two problems with asteroid mining are finding an asteroid and getting there. The next problem is digging. The gravitational pull on these asteroids is so small that one can’t just drill into the ground, that would simply kick the spacecraft off the asteroid.

The maybe most obvious way around this problem is to anchor the digging machine to the asteroid. Another solution that researchers from NASA are pursuing are shovels that dig in two opposite directions simultaneously, so there’s no net force to kick the machine off the asteroid. NASA is also looking into the option that instead of using one large machine, one could use instead a swarm of small robots that coordinate their tasks.

Another smart idea is optical digging. For this one use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight to heat up the surface. This can burn off the surface layer by layer, and the material can then be caught in bags.

And then there is mining with bacteria. Using bacteria for mining is actually not a new idea. It’s called “biomining” and according to some historians the Romans have been doing it 2000 years ago already – though they almost certainly didn’t understand how it works since they didn’t know of bacteria to begin with. But we know today that some bacteria eat and decompose minerals. And during their digestion process, they separate off the metal that you want to extract. So basically, the idea is that you ship the bacteria to your asteroid, let them eat dust, and wait for them to digest.

On Earth, biomining is responsible for approximately twenty percent of global copper production and five percent of global gold production. But how can bacteria survive on asteroids? You can’t very well put them into space suits!

For one you wouldn’t directly dump the bacteria onto the asteroid, but put them into some kind of gel. Still there are pretty harsh conditions on an asteroid and you need to find the right bacteria for the task. It’s not hopeless. Microbiologists know that some species of bacteria have adapted to temperatures that would easily kill humans. Some bacteria can for example live at temperatures up to one-hundred thirteen degrees Celsius and some at temperatures down to minus twenty-eight Celsius. At low metabolic rates, they’ve been found to survive even at minus fourty degrees. And some species of bacteria survive vacuum as low as 10 to the minus five Pascal, which should allow them to survive in the vicinity of a spacecraft.

What about radiation? Again, bacteria are remarkably resistant. The bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans, for example, can cope with ionizing radiation up to twenty kiloGray. For comparison, in humans, acute radiation poisoning sets in at about zero point seven Gray. The bacteria easily tolerate twenty-thousand times as much!

And while the perfect bacterium for space mining hasn’t yet been found, there’s a lot of research going on in this area. It looks like a really promising idea to me.

But, you may wonder now, is it even legal to mine an asteroid? Probably yes. This kind of question is addressed by the nineteen sixty-seven Outer Space Treaty, which has been signed by one hundred eleven countries including the United States, Russia, and almost all of Europe.

According to that treaty, celestial bodies may not be subject to “national appropriation”. However, the treaty does not directly address the extraction of “space resources”, that is stuff you find on those celestial bodies. Some countries have interpreted this to mean that commercial mining does not amount to national appropriation and is permitted.

For example, since 2015 American citizens have the right to possess and sell space resources. Luxembourg has established a similar legal framework in 2017. And Russia too is about to pass such legislation.

This isn’t the only development in the area. You can now make a university degree in space resources, for example at the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Luxembourg. And at the same time several space agencies are planning to visit more asteroids. NASA wants to fly not only to Psyche, but also to Bennu, that is expected to get close to Earth in September twenty twenty-three.

The Chinese National Space Administration has proposed a similar mission to retrieve a sample from the asteroid Kamo’oalewa. And there are several other missions on the horizon.

And then there’s the industry interest. Starting about a decade ago, a number of start-ups appeared with the goal of mining asteroids, such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. These companies attracted some investors when they appeared but since then they have been struggling to attract more money, and they have basically disappeared – they’ve been bought by other companies which are more interested in their assets than in furthering the asteroid mining adventure.

The issue is that asteroid mining is real business, but it’s business in which there’s still tons of research to do: How to identify what asteroid is a good target, how to get to the asteroid, how to dig on it. And let’s not forget that once you’ve managed to do that, you also have to get the stuff back to earth. It’d take billions of up-front investments and decades of time to pay off even in the best case. So, while it’s promising, it looks unlikely to me that private investors will drive the technological development in this area. It will likely remain up to tax funded space agencies to finance this research for some more time.

90 comments:

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    2. The places I want to see in Arizona are Biosphere II and Arcosanti, both experiments in habitation that haven't succeeded as hoped but are interesting in their own right.

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  2. It'd be great if we could achieve 'luxury space communism' at some stage.
    I imagine though there's a greater likelihood of people being pressed into service alongside the mechanical and factory plant to help process and load up ore and metal, and then to manufacture products with the asteroid resources.
    I'm thinking of this based on how things are already, I don't see companies being more scrupulous in the future.

    That's a very cool video.

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  3. Precious metals are expensive on Earth because they are rare. If they are plentiful on asteroids, then supply and demand says that the price will drop. Some people might still get rich, but not as rich as one might think.

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    1. For space mining to work the cost of reaching an asteroid, extraction and return of precious metals will still be quite high, but if it is lower than the cost of equivalent metals mined on Earth, and just lower by the right amount, this will economically win. If precious metals mined in space are comparably priced it will not work the market, and if it were too low it would also not work.

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    2. Well, as most of Saturn's rings are ice, your "hand full" would likely melt... also, pallasite meteorite jewelry fetches a good price...

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    4. sir lawrence, I've seen on YouTube that water ice can be cast in resin, but if I remember correctly, the ice melted inside.
      I like the idea of owning a bit of matter from Space kept in resin. It could be a money-spinner on the side for asteroid mining companies.

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  5. From a space enthusiast's perspective, the logic of mining asteroids is a no brainer. The how requires more nuance, since deep space mining with people would be risky and difficult, and robotic mining just difficult.

    One idea is to nudge said asteroids into an Earth orbit, where it would be easier to extract the minerals from them; no light lag, possibly protected by our magnetosphere etc. Such an enterprise looks more likely to happen sooner rather than later not that we are seeing easier access to Earth orbit.

    Anyway, another great video promoting science and rationality. Thank you.

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  6. Mining asteroids seems to be a more practical endeavor than colonizing Mars. I do think a space industry that might precede asteroid mining is with solar power satellites.

    As with any gold rush in the past, very few who headed off to the Golden Coast or later the Klondike struck it rich. It were those who sold stuff to the miners. Levi-Strauss made it rich selling denim in the 1848 gold rush.

    To scale space mining up it will require nuclear propulsion. To move large amounts of mass around means a lot of specific impulse or change in velocity divided by g = 10m/s^2 S = Δv/g is needed.

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  7. @Phillip Helbig:

    The companies that do the mining could stock-pile ores and metals and control the market, or legislation could be used to enforce prices, maybe. I'm curious to see hown the prices of manufacturing plant and consumer goods are affected. (For some reason I find economics much easier to understand than maths.)

    @Jonathan Camp:

    There's already jewellery made from meteorites for sale, I had a look online to check. Jewellery from Saturn etc. would be truly marvellous. I hope that it's not all astronomically priced, though.

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    2. I used to visit a local astronomical society with a friend, when they had open nights. To see the cosmos with my own eyes was always amazing. Saturn is beautiful and its moons are a nice bonus.

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  8. There is a video about this subject on Magellan. I would be hesitant to move asteroids into an earth orbit. IMO Earth Lagrangians would be a better alternative. And as to fuel…colonies that begin on the moon can mine water for H. From there the boost needed for exploration is reduced. Additionally, factories for production of the machines necessary for mining and exploration could be built there. After the initial costs associated with moving material from earth are recovered the mining operations would be economically self sufficient. And there are plans for remote robotic mining. Space is a harsh environment, and robots are cheaper in every respect. I do wonder what a sudden glut of rare elements might do to the world market. But, I’m reminded of the N. American produce market. There are huge greenhouses in Southern Ontario that grow crops most of the year, even into early winter. But, those crops are shipped to the US south. While Mexican produce is shipped to the US north. In effect artificially keeping prices stabilized. I have no doubt that some economic plan will prevail that will ensure the viability of extra-terrestrial mining once it gets underway.

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  9. I might add that Lagrangians are better alternatives because you don’t need the precision to place objects there or the constant orbital adjustments necessary to compensate for mass loss as material is removed.

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  10. Ion drives would seem to be good for an app like asteroid mining-- getting there and getting back. Of course, they are rather slow but you get that constant acceleration. Maybe cost effective for the more distant bodies. Suppose you were able to mine a few hundred tons of material-- getting it down to earth seems to be the tough part. Place it in earth orbit, bring it down a ton at a time? Consider the deorbit burns, re-entry problems (can't have it vaporize), and a soft landing since you wouldn't want, effectively, a meteor crater. That looks expensive. Ion drives slowly nudging a really big asteroid into earth orbit looks scary. Better have a very good grasp of orbital dynamics or flirt with a cretaceous style extinction event!!

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  11. what does a contemporary of capitalist society see when he thinks of asteroids ... only his earthly limited interest: make money. Thanks, that's enough !!

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    1. Capitalism is a way of allocating resources. The vast majority of people who bitch about it don't know what it is in the first place.

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    4. I'm not a fan of capitalism and late-stage capitalism is pretty evil, but we've got to start somewhere.
      Socialist-capitalism is what I think we should be aiming for, to support as many people as possible.
      (I don't think this is obtainable, but 'Luxury Space Communism' does have a nice ring to it.)

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    5. "Socialist-capitalism" is an oxymoron. Capitalism is private ownership of what Marx called the "means of production", whereas in socialism it's owned in principle by the community in practice by the state. You can't have both at the same time, they're opposites of each other.

      I vaguely seem to remember you're Australian, but a lot of US Americans are very confused about what socialism means. They tend to erroneously think Europe is socialist which is of course complete rubbish. Now, some of them might deliberately try to redefine the word "socialism" to mean something else, which would in principle be fine. But (a) that causes a lot of confusion not least with Europeans like me who think Americans have totally lost it and (b) I don't get the impression they have any idea what they even mean by socialism, it's just a word they throw around hoping to attract attention.

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    6. @Dr. Hossenfelder:

      I'm Australian.
      I was using 'socialist capitalism' to mean 'capitalism where resources are also distributed via the government to people needing assistance for housing, medical care and income assistance from taxes and other revenue sources', that being my understanding.

      Another obvious solution is 'business and industry high-earners could actually pay taxes like everyone else and give all their employees fair wages', that'd free up a chunk of change, no asteroids necessary.

      Americans having 'lost it' would depend on what 'it' was.
      I'm lucky to know some sensible ones. I've a Canadian scientist friend that you remind me of.

      As a Leftist progressive, I find it hilarious when detractors use terms like 'cultural Marxism' as a catch-all insult for my ilk.

      I'm not very familiar with Marxism or Socialism but I know Europe isn't one bloc of anything, I would've thought that'd be obvious but I'm not surprised people think it is. Those 2 systems are what they are and one is either right or wrong about them, I assume.

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    8. @C_Thompson: it's an easy mistake to make. What you probably meant is called "social capitalism" (which is still kind of oxymoronic ;)), or esp. in Germany "social market economy". Note that in contrast, the Chinese system is called socialist market economy. As Dr. H. pointed out, it makes no sense to combine the words "socialism" and "capitalism".

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    9. Hi G. Bahle,

      That sounds right. I made a comment before that either hasn't been approved yet or needs to be fished out, but I included a link to an explanation of the sort of thing I was getting at: a mix of private and govt. control and ownership.
      Also, I read your comment on the previous post and I agree with you.

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    10. Please don't post links other than journal references, see comment rules. I don't have time to check whether the information on the websites is trustworthy and I don't want to contribute to the spread of misinformation. Thanks for your understanding.

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    11. Hey! Not all of us have totally lost it over here!
      Although I do still get strange looks when I dip my fries into mayonnaise. You guys got the best mayo in the world.
      But, you're right, things have really gone crazy in the U.S.
      P.S. I developed a taste for french fries and mayo while in Bohn. You can't get it over here.

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    12. We’ve just barely touched on the subject, but there already exists a market for off-planet material.
      Myself, I own a small stony meteorite that I keep on display. I also have a small vial of lunar material. Powder from a lunar meteorite that was sawn in half. I paid something like $50 USD for it on ebay.
      It’s probably from before your time, C Thompson, but I’ve got a piece of the US Skylab space station that fell in your backyard in 1979.
      There has already been legal precedence set in US courts about rights of ownership. I recall a lady who acquired a piece of Apollo lunar landing material. I think that it was from the first manned lunar landing, Apollo 11, back in 69. It was a flown, but never used, lunar sample return bag. Labeled by NASA to be discarded. She picked it up out of the trash and kept it. Years later she tried to sell it but ended up in court because NASA claimed that she did not have legal ownership of the item. I believe that she won the court battle.
      I don’t think that space mining will ever be viable for earth-based needs. But if we ever do become spacefaring people, mining asteroids could be a valuable source or raw material for off-planet infrastructure.
      FYI: ebay is short for Elliot Bay, a body of water near my hometown of Seattle. For some reason, the founders of ebay.com, who lived in Seattle, named it after that. Perhaps they were fond of sailboating in it.

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    13. That's pretty awesome to have space stuff.
      I was born in 1980, so I just missed Skylab.
      I think if asteroid mining ever happens, the material sourced will probably be processed off-Earth. I reckon nano-technology and 3D-printing will be used for much building and manufacturing in-situ or on extra-Terran sites. (I don't know if that's quite the term I was looking for).

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    14. The problem is that capitalism has been in recent decades framed by the ideology of Milton Friedman. He argued that all human activities, except enforcement of laws and protection of a nation, can be managed by the same market fundamentals.

      This is an absurdism of course. I can have the "freedom to choose," one of Friedman's favorite terms, to not buy a pair of shoes that falls apart soon after purchase. I may not have such freedom if the airplane I am on starts to fall apart in mid-air because the company poorly maintained it. So we regulate things. It is also clear that different market sectors have different cultural and regulatory requirements.

      Capitalism does pretty well with wants, but is not so great when it comes to needs. For instance, purely market based response to natural disasters are clearly ineffective. Market based medical care is fraught with the problems seen in the United States.

      I am not opposed to capitalism, or some measure of it. I am though opposed to this ridiculous worship of capitalism.

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    15. Lawrence Crowell said, “ Capitalism does pretty well with wants, but is not so great when it comes to needs. For instance, purely market based response to natural disasters are clearly ineffective.”

      Last February’s winter freeze in Texas is a classic example of the capitalist’s mantra failing the consumer. While weather cannot be avoided Texas’ market based electric grid failed even when parts of it were able to produce electricity. Consumers are given the option of basing their electric bills on a floating parameter that can give them a lower bill while others who don’t elect this option pay the same rate for the year. When the storm hit, middlemen providers were forced to buy electricity form grids that hadn’t failed, but only within the state. As a result those consumers who had chosen the floating option suddenly saw their bills rise astronomically…into the $1000’s of dollars per kilowatt hour…in some cases for service that failed anyway because of excessive demands put on functioning grids. And, because Texas “prides” itself on its self reliance, the state grid is not connected to the rest of the country. They couldn’t even get electricity from the surrounding States and that lead to frozen pipes, furnace failures, a crippled economy. Capitalism Gone Wild!!! And certain prominent Texas politicians are noted for their improper usage of the term “Socialism” as a scare tactic to ensure their re-election. A tactic that ensures the electorate will keep voting against their own self interest. (while wondering what’s wrong with a world that fails them)

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    16. Brad, yup, case in point.
      'Socialism' gets thrown around a lot by people who don't realise that the infrastructure they rely on is paid for or at least initiated by their governments, from their taxes, for the most part. Even private entities need to work with government for things like public transport and utilities.
      We're looking at this with governments that refuse to invest in renewable energy and implement carbon tax.

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    17. Brad, indeed, and I was in the midst of that storm. Fortunately I am wired to SWEPCO and this is tied to Louisiana. The UPSHUR folks took this one on the chin. Essentially the problem was a typical deregulation problem, where the requirements for winterization and preparations were dropped.

      I am waiting for the day legislation is passed the drops requirements for airlines to follow FAA rules. At that time a slow mule will be preferable to the friendly skies.

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    18. Re. socialism in Europe: Countries in Scandinavia are touted as successfully integrating socialist principles into their lives, at least in America and Australia. There's a meme I've seen going around on Facebook stating how Denmark (I think) has such great health care, education, parental leave, etc. and inevitably people will leave comments pointing out the high taxes citizens pay.

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    19. @C Thompson "late-stage capitalism is pretty evil" Is an absoutely laughable statement. Socialism has been directly responsible for more death and suffering than any other philosophy or religion in all of human history. Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, AH... essentially every one of the most evil people in history has been socialist. They directly killed millions for "dissent" and millions more indirectly through starvation and disease. But apologists ignore all this and blithely proclaim captalism is somehow evil. I've had quite enough of people trying to convince me that it's morally proper to rob me in order to help someone else.

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    20. Proud Neanderthal,

      I agree with you, but please note what I already pointed out in a comment above, most Americans (and apparently also some Australians) don't understand what socialism is and mistakenly think Europe is socialist. They use the word "socialist" to mean something entirely different which causes a lot of confusion. I see this all the time on twitter.

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    21. @Proud Neanderthal:
      I don't mean Socialism as practiced by brutal regimes, I meant that the government supports its citizens in various ways as needed.
      I am not advocating for theft from citizens either.
      People lose livelihoods and lives due to unscrupulous operators whilst the rich get richer, how is that not evil?

      I don't think capitalism should be entirely done away with but it has problematic aspects.

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  13. In 1990 the German Physical Society published a memorandum that there is no scientific or economic justification for manned space flights. There is no material known to be “produced” in space that can justify the cost. The money could be more efficiently used in other areas.
    I have sympathy for this viewpoint.

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    2. I think Pluto doesn't care either way, but I think we should include Eris and similarly-sized objects in a seperate category, but dividing things up isn't always easy...
      I had something akin to a religious moment when I saw a high-resolution photo of Pluto on my smartphone screen , it was mind-blowingly gorgeous.
      I joked in the YouTube comments for this video that maybe after an asteroid has been mined, a giant particle collider should be built in the cavity and the physicists who want to smash atoms can be sent there and kept occupied. ;)

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    3. I have a counter to the German Physical Society. Phosphorous. Some other elements might also be worth the cost too.

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    4. There's also the bonus that any technological developments that are made for asteroid-mining will possibly have benefits for use on Earth.

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    6. First of all, memorandums like that are always snapshots. It may (or may not) have been true at the time of publication, but that does not mean the claim will hold indefinitely.

      Also, there is one goal that is only achievable with manned spaceflight, i.e. extraterrestial colonies. If those can be established to be self-sufficient, they should quite possibly reach a point where they do surpass the initial investment, depending on the metric used (but assume something like gross domestic product or similar) and whether they exist for a long enough time.
      If increasing the odds for preservation of the species in the face of untoward events (think meteors, pandemics, war) is a worthy goal is of course open to debate ;)

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    7. Henning Flessner: As I worked on spacecraft geodesy I have to say I see that argument as most likely. Without some new ingredient on the technology side, manned spaceflight appears to be an expensive form of gymnastics. The need or mission for it is very opaque.

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  15. I've seen the suggestion that a hollowed-out asteroid, or one with a deep tunnel or cave system, might maintain a sufficient depth to keep breathable gasses trapped within.
    That sounds bizarre. Does anyone have any idea if that's a viable suggestion?

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    1. That depends on what you are actually asking. If you mean naturally occurring, the odds have to be quite low. Both for the fact that you'd need an original source of breathable air (pure O2 as a gas isn't very common) and second, because those things have been flying around for a very very long time out there.

      If you rather mean, could you make a hollowed out asteroid airtight, sure. When you can make a space station or a submarine airtight, there's no conceptual difference.

      Rather, the challenge is keeping the air breathable.

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    2. The scenario described was an asteroid with air somehow imported but the hollow parts were open to the vacuum, but the depth of the hollowed area kept the gasses in.
      This was from a dream I read online, so it's of extremely dubious provenance. I was curious about if it had any viability at all.

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    3. In this case, it depends. If an asteroid is an object "smaller than a dwarf planet", has a common composition and if you assume that the atmosphere is "breathable", i.e. in a gaseous form and not colder than say, -30 degrees Celsius, then the escape velocity of that object will be too low to prevent the gases from leaking. Basically, if you strip down your model enough, the only thing keeping the atmosphere in is gravity and that just isn't sufficiently strong for asteroids.

      In a more detailed analysis, it would of course depend on the structure of your caves, the amount of air you start with, the minimum pressure you consider viable, the amount of time that viable or better state should persist (hours, days, centuries...) etc.

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    4. Thanks for the answers. It's a bit disappointing that the dream was a sci-fi fantasy rather than some sort of technological prophesy. It was an interesting thought experiment though. :)

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    5. I re-read e dream, it was about a planetoid. Still very unlikely if not impossible, I guess.

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  16. Just thought I'd mention that the plot of one episode of the TV show "Billions" turns on a plan to make the central hedge fund billions from some such plan as this. IIRC, they drop the plan when they come off the drug they had been on.

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  17. This looks like something Elon Musk with his SpaceX might be interested in ... :) Or maybe make it happen somehow.

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  19. Before you start moving asteroids into near earth orbit, hire lawyers.

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    1. And invest in underground bunker company stocks?

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    2. There is this idea of a space elevator, which borders on science fiction. If we manage to build such a thing I imagine asteroids would be brought into geosynchronous orbit and build down to the Earth and upwards as the anchoring counter weight.

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    3. I've also read about a proposal to construct a building that hangs from a space elevator above the surface of Earth, so it traces an analemma pattern as Earth rotates, after which the building would be named.
      That seems like it might be more practical for somewhere like an asteroid (relatively speaking - the whole idea looked like a publicity grab).

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    4. I made a combination sundial-analemma on my patio. I cemented a 5-foot vertical post on the south edge of my patio. (you'd need to do it on the north edge). Started at 6:00 on the Autumn Equinox and made 15-minute hash marks for 12-hours as the sun progressed across the sky. Then every Sunday, for 52-weeks, at local solar noon I went out there and made a mark where the tip of the shadow was from my 5-foot post. At the end of the year I went out there a painted it up real nice to look pretty. I was a combination sundial & solar calendar. The analemma made a real nice representation of the apparent annual motion of the sun throughout the year. It showed how the earth revolves faster near the Winter Solstice and slowest when it is furthest from the sun in the summer (for us north hemisphere people that is). It gave a clear indication of what we call the dog days of summer when the sun just sits there high in the mid-day sky and beats down on you. From the southern hemisphere those must be winter days where the sun just sits there low on the horizon and doesn't seem to move anywhere. Always in your eyes.
      I don't have any first hand experience south of the equator, but I'd love to see the Southern Cross & the Coal Sack. And all of the others that I've never seen before.
      It looks like there is some good camping in the outback down there. I've seen the moon on its side, but never upside down like you do. I've seen the Northern, but never the Southern Lights. You?

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    5. C Thomson: As for underground bunkers, I'm the kind of guy who'd rather stay up top to see it coming. If a giant meteor was going to strike the United States I'd try to calculate just how close I could get to the impact sight to live and say that I'm glad that I wasn't any closer.

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    6. Steve Bullfox: Picture 5-lawyers buried up to there necks in sand and tell me what's wrong with the picture.
      Not enough sand!

      I don't know what it's like in other countries, but here in the U.S. every other television commercial is advertising a legal group wanting to sue somebody for something. All the other commercials are about erectile dysfunction. Either way, someone is getting screwed!

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    7. We already have some laws for Space, the space-lawyers are probably not far off.
      Lawrence Crowell was saying how it's people selling goods and services to prospectors who've made money out of gold rushes, lawyers might be one of the occupations that can benefit from extra-terrestrial enterprises like asteroid mining.

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  20. Yes, this is very interesting. I have an outstanding bet with Philip Helbig, who owes me $10. Also, Professor Ryszard Siniski establishment of terminology for 'zero-point' must be noted in dictionary of physics. DCN

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  21. Asteroid mining may be a fast way to get rich, but I doubt it will be a quick way to get rich. (As in 'a fast train', which is a train that doesn't stop.)

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  22. There are a segments in high tech industry that generate and market vaporware. This segment of the marketplace is rampant in the energy production market, but also has a major presence in the aerospace industry.

    The asteroid mining segment of the get rich quick market is looking for capital investments to maintain their corporate goals, mainly to keep the overly generous payroll, bonus payments, and stock options advancing for their corporate officers. Their product is the continuing and ever increasing generation of get rich quick promises. Their corporate method is to show slow but steady progress toward the dreams of limitless riches.

    For the investors in this market segment, it is a form of gambling that is hopelessly addictive but has no prospect for an eventual payout, just endless promises and new technology fever dreams until their money runs out.

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    1. Hi Axil,
      I'm also wondering if everyday people who onvest in these enterprises will artificially inflate and/or crash the market, or what.

      Delete
    2. One of the first things that I did after watching this video was to look up those two outfits in Colorado that Sabine mentioned. No investment market opportunities there.
      If you invest in the financial markets, don't react to the news. If a publicly held company is in the news than the market has already responded to it. You've got to stay ahead of the game. Not chase it. Don't get emotionally attached to an investment, and never try to catch a falling knife.

      Delete
  23. @Jonathan Camp:
    I've yet to see an aurora in person, I would love to. I guess for me, the constellations I see aren't remarkable because I've seen them all my life, but I would like to see the Northern sky.
    I haven't been to the Outback yet but when one goes out of the cities the sky is breath-taking, I am often surprised by what I see compared to what I do in the suburbs of Sydney.
    I want to go to the Isle of Sark in the U.K. Channel, which is has been designated a Dark Sky Island with no street-lights or transportation vehicles. I found out about it when the singer Enya released an album entitled 'Dark Sky Island', and she spoke about it in promotional interviews. According to her, one can't make out any 'landmarks' due to all the visible objects filling the sky.

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  24. C Thompson: So you've never seen the Big Dipper? WOW! You've got to get out more often. (just kidding).
    Regarding night sky viewing: I did 4-years in the US Navy. I worked topside on an aircraft carrier. An aircraft carrier doesn't run with lights at night. No flood lights to light up the deck. No running lights or safety beacons to be seen with. When we are working up there at night we used flashlights with deep red filters on them to maintain our night vision.
    But I degress... The night sky out there is AWESOME! No city lights out there for hundreds of miles. Innumerable stars overhead! The Milky Way in ALL of its glory!
    AWESOME! Worth joining the Navy just for the view.
    Sabine: The US Navy took me to Germany for a couple of weeks. Beautiful countryside, and my mouth still waters for those french fries and mayonnaise that you have over there.
    AWESOME!

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  25. Anytime I would travel in the past, I'd pick up a rock and bring it home with me. Just a rock, it didn't matter what kind as long as it was from someplace that I'd never been before. I'd throw them out in the patio garden with the rest. Nothing special. I couldn't go out there an pick up any specific rock from and specific place. It'd sure be nice to add a rock that I picked up from the surface of an asteroid to it.
    I've always told myself that you've never been someplace until you've gotten its dirt on your shoes. I have a strange habit of scuffing my feet on the ground whenever I'm someplace that I've never been before.

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  26. I like interesting rocks. I go into 'New Age' shops to look at all the stones and crystals. I'm looking forward to seeing what minerals and metals will be found in Space.
    Fries with mayonnaise sound less weird than fries with soft-serve ice-cream, which some people enjoy. I guess they enjoy the contrast in textures.
    I just remembered: I went to the USA for a couple of weeks with a bunch of people when I was 15, a few of us went to the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space. I bought dehydrated ice-cream and gave a packet away as a gift, I don't remember if I ate any.

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    1. Oh! I'd forgotten about fries dipped in a milkshake. Delicious! My daughter's 3rd grade class had a NASA scientist visit for a lesson plan. He had an Apollo lunar rock sample that he past around for the children to hold. I've always been envious. The Smithsonian Museum is on my list of must see's.

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  27. Comparing Elvis to Drake equation is very subtle. I Like it.

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  28. This isn't quite on topic, but my Canadian biologist friend specialises in hydroponics. She's been growing amazingly abundant and prolific food plants that she shows off in photos and videos on Facebook.
    I think her her work could quite possibly be very useful for space travel and settlement.

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  29. Many Americans of my generation (I'm 78) view socialism though the lens of the cold war and see socialism linked to communism and the threat from the Soviet Union in the 50's and 60's. From that threat comes their fear of socialism. Their fear is revealed in the anger with which they use the word. Their economic alternative is to buy capitalism without reservation. Even worse, they refuse to acknowledge the problems caused in America by unbridled capitalism.

    Many in our younger generation have lived through and suffered under those problems. They see a blend of socialism and capitalism as a better fit now for this country.

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    1. Argh, you see this is exactly the problem I mean. Yes, socialism is linked to communism and the soviet union. But some people use the word now to refer to the European Union and they seem to mean what we would call a social market economy here. They typically use it to refer to regulations on parental leave, unemployment insurance, or health insurance. It's got absolutely nothing to do with communism.

      The result of this confusion of nomenclature is that Americans end up rejecting policies that'd improve their lives because they erroneously think it has something to do with socialism. I mean, it's not really my problem, but I find it entirely bizarre.

      (Goes to demonstrate how important it is to define what you are talking about.)

      Delete
    2. That's more what I was on about, Dr. Hossenfelder, in the context you just described, and as G. Bahle elucidated a few days ago. The context Steve Bullfox described is how some conservative Australians throw it around, too.

      I don't want to rob anyone; the ideal would be everyone pays taxes as they are able and governments use that as contributions for various support mechanisms that everyone can access as needed.

      People tend to use 'socialist-capitalism' as a short-hand for that hybrid system. Apparently, I've mistakenly used that as the proper term.

      The last thing we want is any system that brutalises the people who live under it.

      But I've been called a Post-Modernist Fascist-Nazi recently, so what do I know, hey. ;)

      Delete
  30. Now days, when conservatives rant about socialism they are generally referring to Scandinavian countries. Since the Soviet Union is no longer a problem a certain amount of transference was required.

    There's not a lot of intellectualism behind modern American conservatism as there was 60 years ago. Conservatism has been captured by the money of ultra wealthy conservative business interests. Their main interest seems to be ultra low taxes on the wealthy which means to them no government social programs and no government interference in their business interests.

    That message has been passed on by conservative media to ordinary people who would benefit greatly from more active government programs as in Europe. Anger from being screwed over, misinformed and misdirected is what led voters to elect Trump. It is as if all the headless chickens had come home to roost.

    Every social movement, in fact just about every idea in human kind goes through much the same cycle of proposal, counterproposal and reconciliation, to be somewhat Hegalian. But sometimes there is a rococo blowoff which leads to the reconciliation. Thats what we have with Trumpism. I am hopeful with our new administration that there will eventually be a more progressive and more realistic realignment in American politics.

    I apologize for being so political in what is essentially a scientific blog.

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  31. Biomining as practiced on Earth won't work, at least not easily. In the copper example, bacteria are used to in aqueous solutions to exploit the ferric/ferrous couple. Ferrous is oxidized by bacteria to ferric which leaches the metal (often sulphide). The solution is then collected and the copper is recovered by solvent extraction and electrowinning.

    To me the only thing that make sense is to build the processing station in space. And then using the metal in space.

    Or if there were a way to bring the asteroids down gently and process the metals on Earth.

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  32. Here's a thought from someone who's brain is really small.
    I understand that there is a lot of Hydrogen-3 just laying around on the surface of the moon. That Hydrogen-3 has a huge potential as a clean energy source. Perhaps these tiny microbes can be trained to eat the lunar regolith and fart hydrogen gas as a fuel source.
    Sorry for being crude.
    As a side note, when Apollo 12 landed next to the Surveyor-3 probe on the Sea of Storms, they brought back a piece of it and discovered that microbial contamination on it had survived exposure to the lunar environment for a couple of years.
    'Come on little buddies, fart me a cloud of hydrogen so I can go home.'

    ReplyDelete

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