Thursday, May 31, 2012

Let's Mine Asteroids

Martin Elvis has a blog post at Nature.com (publishers of the journal Nature) arguing that mining near Earth asteroids will enable good science as well as be good economics.  I think his arguments are likely sound.  However, I suspect that the upfront investment is probably so substantial that the first profit is many decades away, but the scientific bonanza can come much earlier.  Take a read and form your own opinion: Let's mine asteroids — for science and profit

3 comments:

Hop David said...

They will have other revenue streams before asteroid resources come online. I expect there will be many entities buying time on their Arkyd telescopes. I believe the investors will enjoy a return within a decade.

Van Kane said...

Hop David, I should have been clearer. I meant a profit from mining activities. You are right that they will likely return a profit on their Arkyd telescopes and the derived robotic asteroid prospectors.

For a first order approximation, a spacecraft's cost is related to its mass. The Arkyd telescopes are micro-sats, and their cost is likely to be correspondingly low.

Spacecraft that can mine into an asteroid to deliver many tons of rock to be processed and the spacecraft to process the ore (or to deliver the unprocessed ore back to Earth orbit) will have magnitudes greater mass and correspondingly higher costs (probably not a 1:1 rise). It's this cost I was referring to.

Hop David said...

I believe you're right about that. Mining equipment will be massive. We have millennia of experience mining in an atmosphere at the bottom of earth's gravity well, but none in vacuum and free fall. Acquiring the experience will be costly.

If asteroidal minerals were the only source of revenue, PR probably wouldn't be in the black during the lifetime of Page, Lewicki, et al.

I suspect the wealthy backers are doing this mostly to leave a legacy rather than make money.