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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tech Billionaires Plan Audacious Mission to Mine Asteroids

You can visit guest blogger Stephen Tremp at Breakthrough Blogs 

After spending a year gazing at Vesta , NASA's Dawn spacecraft was set to cruise toward the most massive space rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — a voyage that will take nearly three years. 

Dawn slipped into orbit last year around Vesta — about the size of Arizona — and beamed back stunning close-ups of the lumpy surface. Its next destination is the Texas-size Ceres, also known as a dwarf planet (folks, these are some very large pieces of rock!!!). 

Vesta and Ceres are the largest bodies in the asteroid belt littered with chunks of rocks that never quite bloomed into full-fledged planets. As cosmic time capsules, they're ideal for scientists trying to piece together how Earth and the other planets formed and evolved. 

This Being Said: A group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs announced a new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth, in the process adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP, helping ensure humanity’s prosperity and paving the way for the human settlement in space. 

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, who founded the commercial space tourism company Space Adventures. 

Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 150 feet in diameter orbit near the Earth. Some could contain as much platinum as is mined in an entire year on Earth, making them potentially worth several billion dollars each. 

The new company is backed by Google’s CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, former Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr. The venture also counts on filmmaker James Cameron, former astronaut Tom Jones, former JPL engineer Chris Lewicki, and planetary scientist Sara Seager as advisors.

Platinum Alone Is Worth:  around $23,000 a pound — nearly the same as gold. Mining the top few feet of a single modestly sized, half-mile-diameter asteroid could yield around 130 tons of platinum, worth roughly $6 billion. One possibility might be to find a useful asteroid and push it closer to Earth. A fairly low-power solar-electric ion engine could nudge a hunk of rock into orbit around the Earth, effectively creating a small second moon that could be easily accessed. 

Asteroids contain water that can be used for drinking and broken into its constituents. Oxygen is valuable for life support in space-based habitats, while liquid oxygen and hydrogen are both used to produce rocket fuel. Having a “gas station” in space could help enable missions to Mars and beyond. Such a refueling depot might allow people to permanently live and work in space, another goal of Planetary Resources. 

Question: Do you think its a good idea to mine asteroids by pulling these monstrosities into our orbit? Better speak up now or forever hold your peace because it's probably going to happen. 

13 comments:

  1. I'll forever hold my peace as I know nothing on this subject.

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  2. Very interesting. I hope they don't pull it in out of course and into the earth's gravity.

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  3. Six billion is a lot, but if it costs more than that to get it, that defeats the purpose. They'll have to make asteroid mining cost-efficient.

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  4. Shades of Peter K. Hamilton. I think if they mine these asteroids and then turn them into habitats it will be an excellent programme.

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  5. Or even Peter F. Hamilton!!!!

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  6. I am completely behind asteroid mining. I think this is something we should be investing in as a country not just a few "eccentric" millionaires. However, I don't think we should drag them to Earth.

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  7. I wonder if its possible to drag a smaller asteroid to the earth's surface safely and mine it on the ground. Now that would be cool. Probably impossible though.

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  8. The idea is fascinating and has some great possibilities, but there could be also some disastrous potential consequences. What if they are bringing back something unexpected in addition to the minerals? Or if they are dragging one of these asteroids back to Earth and it goes out of control and destroys a city?

    There are some great science fiction stories in this.


    Lee
    A Faraway View

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  9. Well, there has been some speculation of dragging asteroids with high water composition into the atmosphere and letting them "burn up," thus adding their water to the atmosphere.

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  10. I think if you are going to spend that much money then I would go for atomic engineering and try and create the metals on earth in the old tradition of alchemy. After all getting any quantity of something heavy back through the atmosphere is a major headache, it was difficult enough to get just an empty space shuttle back with a few astronauts in without it burning up. fill it with rock and it would stand no chance.

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  11. Cool stuff! I'm all for asteroid mining, but not so much for dragging them to earth. I mean, look what was hiding in the asteroid where they hid in Empire Strikes Back...and if it was Star Wars, go ahead and correct me. We just watched all 6 in a weekend...
    As someone who stayed up late counting down the tense seconds live online as Curiosity LANDED!!!! I'm all for any advancement in space. The Engineer would love to colonize a planet...
    Tina @ Life is Good

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  12. I probably don't know enough about the topic- but I think it would depend on the cost to get the asteroids compared to their worth. Also, any dangers would need to be taken into consideration.
    ~Jess

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  13. My biggest worry is that they bring one of those asteroids into the earth's orbit and then it crashes into the earth. I also agree with Arlee's comment. What if something unwanted is on those asteroids? Something that can affect the earth in a bad way.

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