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Apr 20 2012

There’s gold in them thar space rocks!

The dwarf planet Ceres, largest object in the main asteroid belt; a lucrative oasis floating in space?

Three zillionaires, an astronaut, and a corp of dreamy engineers walked into a bar and decided to shoot waaaay beyond the moon:

(USA Today) — The exact nature of Planetary Resource’s business is still under wraps, but speculation centers on the possibility of an asteroid mining company.

The company will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP,” the company said in a media alert announcing an unveiling next Tuesday. “This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources.’”

There is a lot of resources out there, just floating around in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres for example, pictured above, is thought to be loaded with rocky compounds containing all sorts of elements, along with methane and water (It also has the perfect dynamics for a viable space elevator using materials and engineering techniques available right now). Water is one of the most vaulable substances we can find in space, not just for drinking and other uses, but because it contains oxygen and hydrogen. Both hugely useful in space exploration and very expensive to lift from earth.

What precisely those resources are, and more importantly, how these guys plan to get to them, or get them back to where they’re needed, is  a whole ‘nother story. I have a few lines into some double secret space sources asking for info and access to the investors in question. We’ll see …

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  1. 1
    johnbrown

    More private sector space initiatives! Isn’t it horrible what that Kenyan, muslim, socialist is doing to the free enterprise system!

  2. 2
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Soshalism!

  3. 3
    a miasma of incandescent plasma

    See, the free enterprising “Job Creators” (credits be upon them) obviously won’t have the incentive to do this if they will have to pay an increase of 3% on their taxes on their billions of dollars of profits.
    I mean, why bother, amirite?!

  4. 4
    unbound

    Weyland-Yutani has to start somewhere…

  5. 5
    Pierce R. Butler

    It also has the perfect [dynamics] for a viable space elevator using materials and engineering techniques available right now

    Eh? Last I heard, no known materials can handle the various stresses expected to occur in a tower/cable 47,000 miles high/long.

  6. 6
    Worldtraveller

    They are having a big meeting/presentation of some kind here in Seattle this coming tuesday.

    I haven’t decided if I want to take half a day off and attend or not.

  7. 7
    drdave

    Stephen, See the Keck Institute for Space Studies report entitled Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study

  8. 8
    drdave

    The full pdf is here

  9. 9
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Thanks Dave, good stuff. Peirce, my claim may have been a little too bold, been meaning to do some work and write a post n it, but here’s the raw specs: it rotates every ~9 hours and has a surface gravity of ~0.027 G, I messed around with geostationary altitude, I *think* it worked out to a few hundred miles above the equatorial surface. So compared to earth, it’s almost ideal for the concept. I never got around to trying to calculate loads, gravitaional gradient, and compare them to tensile strengths though. But it sounds orders of magnitude more feasible than earth or even Mars.

  10. 10
    Pierce R. Butler

    Ohhh – I’d misunderstood, to the effect that mining Ceres would somehow enable an Earth-based space elevator.

    If you could get to Ceres, with enough gear to set up a mining operation, building an elevator should be relatively straightforward. Straightforward, but rather pointless: if you’ve also developed a spacesuit which allows a free range of motion, you could probably put objects into Cereostationary orbit with a good swift kick, no?

    A Lunar space elevator, now…

  11. 11
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    Yeah, moon’s rotates too slow, be great for jetpacks though. Ceres… messing around with some numbers, we couldn’t throw things into Cerean orbit, it’s not quite that weak. But a spacecraft made in a garage from chicken wire and model rocket solid booster engines would do it!

  12. 12
    jimbaerg

    Actually a lunar space elevator would work just fine as long as you put it up to the Lagrange 1 or 2 point. A few years ago I worked out some of the physics of space elevators & found that the strength of the material needed to build one mostly goes up with the square of the escape velocity of the planet & the rotation speed of the planet makes little difference until it’s almost zero.

  13. 13
    M can help you with that.

    It is clearly unacceptable from a capitalist perspective that there might be some exploitable resource anywhere in the universe without a clear claim of ownership. Really, such a resource would be contrary to the fundamental metaphysics of capitalism, under which everything other than capitalists themselves must, by definition, be the property of a capitalist. Planetary Resource and their ilk are simply providing a service to all capitalists, everywhere in the capitalist continuum from fascist to progressive, in seeking to establish a metaphysical property claim to these potential resources. In the unlikely even that there should happen to be intelligent life on these recently-claimed resources, it is clearly the responsibility of the liberal state to inform those squatters that their home satellites have already been designated the property of the appropriate corporate owners.

  14. 14
    AsqJames

    “The exact nature of Planetary Resource’s business is still under wraps”

    cf. “Company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is.”

  15. 15
    Nick Gotts

    The exact nature of Planetary Resource’s business is still under wraps

    It should be possible to come to at least some tentative hypothesis about what it might be. Given the enormous costs of doing anything in space, and in particular getting stuff up there and (to a lesser degree) bringing stuff back, the mass needing to be transported in either direction must be minimised. That means something with a very high value/mass and value/volume ratio must be the “resource” to be brought back, and the amount of fuel and equipment needed to get it must be minimised. The latter means that Earth-crossing asteroids are by far the most likely source, the former, that some valuable and easily extracted element is the material. As it happens, gold itself is a good candidate, since spectral analysis suggests that the Earth-crossing asteroid 2010AU79 is about 10% gold, amounting to around 20 million tonnes of it, roughly 100 times the total ever mined on Earth.

  1. 16
    More on asteroid miners | The Zingularity

    [...] been little in the way of details from the announcement last week of a new company, Planetary Resources, AKA the asteroid miners. There will be a news conference or [...]

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