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posted by martyb on Thursday September 06 2018, @01:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the making-claims dept.

The US Geological Survey Is Getting Serious About Space Resources and Mining

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is starting to earnestly evaluate space resources for future mining. Since its establishment in the 1870s, the USGS has focused pretty much solely on Earth. But now it's also investigating what benefits may or may not exist in tapping extraterrestrial water, minerals and metals.

[...] This past June, several USGS experts took part in a Space Resources Roundtable held at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. "The space-resources community will benefit greatly from working together with the USGS to assess the location and value of minerals, energy and water on the moon, Mars and asteroids," said Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines. [...] It's also worth noting that the new director of the USGS, Jim Reilly, is a geoscientist and former NASA astronaut. During his 13-year NASA career, Reilly flew on three space shuttle missions, conducted five spacewalks and racked up a total of more than 856 hours in orbit.

[...] [Laszlo Kestay, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona,] pointed to the USGS' participation in space-resource workshops. In addition, there's the 2017 "Feasibility Study for the Quantitative Assessment of Mineral Resources in Asteroids" led by Kestay, which found that the water and metal resources of near-Earth asteroids are sufficient to support humanity should it become a fully spacefaring species. "At this point, we have done enough work to feel confident that the methods the USGS uses to assess mineral, energy and water resources on Earth can be used to assess space resources with minimal modification," Kestay said. "We have also done enough preliminary work to identify some areas where humanity's lack of knowledge will result in exceedingly large uncertainties in assessments undertaken today."

Also at Forbes.

Related: Luxembourg Announces Investment in Asteroid Mining
Asteroid Mining Could Begin in 10-20 Years
Chinese Researchers Propose Asteroid Mining Plan, Including a Heat Shield


Original Submission

Related Stories

Luxembourg Announces Investment in Asteroid Mining 16 comments

Luxembourg has announced that it will invest in the fledgling asteroid mining industry:

The government of Luxembourg announced Wednesday that the country will be investing in the as-yet-unrealized industry of asteroid mining. The tiny European country will be funding research into the extraction of minerals from objects in space, working on legal and regulatory frameworks to govern such activities and, potentially, directly investing in companies active in the field. The nation's ministry of the economy says in a statement that the measures are meant "to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources."

It's a futuristic move, but not a wholly startling one. Luxembourg is already home to SES, a satellite operator, and has previously moved to boost its international high-tech profile.

[...] Luxembourg hopes to address [the legality of space mining] too, with a formal legal framework of its own — possibly constructed with international input — to ensure that those who harvest minerals can be confident that they'll own what they bring home. "The aim is to stimulate economic growth on Earth and offer new horizons in space exploration," Luxembourg's ministry of the economy writes.

TechCrunch reports:

This announcement comes shortly after the United States took a huge step forward in making commercial space mining legal. President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) in November, which stated that U.S. companies are entitled to maintain property rights of resources they've obtained from outer space. [...] CSLCA explicitly outlined private sector rights which were only implicitly stated in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which is the prevailing international law on these matters. Now that CSLCA has been passed in the U.S., it reduces regulatory risk for domestic companies investing millions of dollars into the technology required to properly mine space resources. With today's announcement Luxembourg is on its way to become the second country to lay the groundwork required to make space mining a reality.


Original Submission

Asteroid Mining Could Begin in 10-20 Years 47 comments

One expert... in the field of asteroid mining, has predicted that asteroid mining could begin in 10-20 years:

"Asteroid mining on a regular basis, such as terrestrial mining takes place today, with an established industry and an ecosystem of supporting services businesses for the mining companies, could start anywhere from 20 to 50 years is my personal opinion. But any industry must start somewhere, and I think we will see the first asteroid being mined 10 to 20 years from now, at which point the surrounding ecosystem will begin to grow," [J.L.] Galache said.

However, in order to successfully start asteroid mining, a few obstacles must first be overcome. One of these is insufficient knowledge about certain types of asteroids. Although our understanding of asteroids as a whole is advanced enough, gaining a better understanding of the nature of various types of near-Earth objects could be a critical factor in terms of success. Galache underlined that mining techniques will have to be tailored to specific types of asteroids. "For example, you will not send the same equipment to mine an iron-nickel asteroid as you would a carbonaceous asteroid, and you will not send the same equipment to mine a fine regolith-covered asteroid as a rubble pile. I do believe we have figured out what all the unknowns are and it is just a matter of finding answers and solutions to those unknowns," he noted.

NASA's Psyche mission will visit 16 Psyche, the most massive metallic M-type asteroid in the asteroid belt.


Original Submission

Chinese Researchers Propose Asteroid Mining Plan, Including a Heat Shield 16 comments

China's Plan to Seize a Near-Earth Asteroid Sounds Surprisingly Feasible

For centuries, humans have extracted minerals from the Earth with reckless abandon, but it's only a matter of time before our desire for gold, platinum, iron, tungsten, and other useful ores will exceed our planet's ability to provide them. But what if we could look beyond Earth for the raw materials we need to power the engines of industry? We'll spare you the disingenuous prattle about how this sounds like a sci-fi movie, because the fact of the matter is asteroid mining is right over the horizon, and a group of Chinese scientists is already trying to figure out how to snag a near-Earth asteroid out of space to harvest all its goodies on Earth.

"Sounds like science-fiction, but I believe it can be realized," Li Mingtao, Ph.D., a researcher at the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, tells Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. Li and his colleagues introduced their plan at a competition in Shenzhen in which participants proposed innovative future technologies.

Their plan, which involves a constellation of satellites in an orbit around the sun that would search for asteroids, wrap a massive bag around an asteroid, and ferry it back to Earth, has significant engineering obstacles. Even once they get a spacecraft to intercept an asteroid and envelop it in some kind of strong material, they'll still have to get it here. That's where a giant, unfolding heat shield comes in, to keep the asteroid from burning up upon reentry. It may sound crazy, but it's just one of many equally ambitious ideas floating around in the asteroid mining field. And as far as asteroid mining schemes go, it sounds pretty reasonable.

So far, Li and his team have been working with the Qian Xuesen Laboratory of Space Technology, under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, to identify a suitable target, reports Xinhua. This will likely be a near-Earth asteroid about 30 feet in diameter. Even a small asteroid would be hard to wrangle, but it could still potentially contain billions of dollars worth of precious metals.

I'm envisioning two ways of getting asteroid chunks down to Earth without burning them up: either a controlled landing of a small portion (tens or hundreds of tons) of minerals using a BFR or other reusable rocket, or diverting a heat-shielded asteroid (or small chunk of one) into Earth orbit and then controlling its descent. Possibly into a desert instead of an ocean.

Related: Luxembourg Announces Investment in Asteroid Mining
NASA Asteroid Mission -- Metals "Worth" Ten Thousand Quadrillion Dollars
Asteroid Mining Could Begin in 10-20 Years
"Mission Success" for Arkyd-6 Asteroid Prospecting Demonstration Spacecraft (Planetary Resources has since run dry on funding)


Original Submission

Luxembourg Still Interested in Asteroid Mining 67 comments

Luxembourg expands its space resources vision

Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister of Luxembourg, frequently tells the story of how he got interested in building a space resources industry in the country. His efforts to diversify the country's economy several years ago led to a meeting with Pete Worden, at the time the director of NASA's Ames Research Center and a proponent of many far-reaching space concepts. During an Oct. 22 panel discussion at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, he recalled Worden advocating for commercial space: "Why shouldn't you go for space mining activities?"

"When he explained all this to me, I thought two things," Schneider said. "First of all, what did the guy smoke before coming into the office? And second, how do I get him out of here?"

He eventually bought into Worden's vision, starting a space resources initiative that attracted companies to the country while enacting a space resources law like that in the United States. By the beginning of 2019, though, it looked like it might all be a bad trip. The two major startups in that industry, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, had been acquired by other companies with no interest in space resources. Worse, the Planetary Resources deal wiped out an investment of 12 million euros Luxembourg made in the startup.

Schneider is undaunted by those setbacks as he continues work to make Luxembourg a hotbed of entrepreneurial space, a scope that has expanded beyond, but has not abandoned, space resources. During the IAC, the country's year-old space agency signed an agreement with NASA to explore potential cooperation, building on an agreement Luxembourg signed with the U.S. Commerce Department in May. Just before the conference, Luxembourg announced it would partner with the European Space Agency on a space resources center in the country.

The article includes an interview with Schneider.

Previously: Luxembourg Announces Investment in Asteroid Mining

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  • (Score: 4, Funny) by nnet on Thursday September 06 2018, @03:54PM

    by nnet (5716) on Thursday September 06 2018, @03:54PM (#731351)

    Finally. A use case for The Space Force.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by ikanreed on Thursday September 06 2018, @04:24PM (1 child)

    by ikanreed (3164) on Thursday September 06 2018, @04:24PM (#731374) Journal

    Is maintaining monopolies on the "rare" elements long enough to make back initial investments. You bring back 2,000,000 tons of gold(which is speculated to be possible on some asteroids), and suddenly it's about as valuable as iron. You ship 10 tons a week for 100,000 weeks and your fucking rich, richer than most countries, launch costs be damned.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday September 07 2018, @03:15AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 07 2018, @03:15AM (#731623) Journal

      You ship 10 tons a week for 100,000 weeks and your fucking rich, richer than most countries, launch costs be damned.

      If you can live for almost 2000 years (which is what 100,000 weeks is), then you can find plenty of ways to be fucking rich.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @05:15PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @05:15PM (#731405)

    "Not getting enough attention (some say financially), the u.s. geological survey, renamed itself today to "u.s. EARTH based geological survey" this morning; later in the afternoon "the five largest mining conglomerates have reportedly pledged a combined 5 trillon us dollars to incumbent president-elect Dr. Young election campaign. Dr. Young is know for his firm believes that space exploration is a waste of tax dollars and that space exploration cannot solve basic problems of hunger, over population and poverty ..."

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by http on Thursday September 06 2018, @05:58PM (7 children)

    by http (1920) Subscriber Badge on Thursday September 06 2018, @05:58PM (#731427)

    Jerry Pournell might be a mediocre science fiction writer, but he's passable as a science writer. Back in the 1980s, he wrote a book showing that asteroid mining was 100% do-able with off-the-shelf tech; the only problem being big C capitalism's hesitance to look beyond next year's earning reports (nowadays next quarter, potato potato). A project having a thirty year ROI would therefore probably only be undertaken by soverign states. Collaboration between NASA and USGS seems an obvious path.

    While we're at it, where's my jetpack.

    --
    I browse at -1 when I have mod points. It's unsettling.
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by DannyB on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:13PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:13PM (#731434) Journal

      Jerry Pournelle [jerrypournelle.com] wrote on BYTE magazine for a long time and was usually enjoyable. Another favorite in the 1980's was Stewart Alsop [wikipedia.org] who, AFAIK, was the first to put into writing in the 80's that software development projects are inherently unpredictable. Even big corporations, with lots of resources, can't get it right. And this became even more true in the 1990s. With gobs of money players like Microsoft or Adobe had trouble getting things released on time. There was a joke about when Windows 95 would be released.

      a thirty year ROI would therefore probably only be undertaken by soverign states

      I would snicker as I say corporate sovereignty. But that doesn't mean they have any long term vision beyond the next executive bonus.

      Yet, SpaceX seemed to come along and invest, take a huge risk, almost fail, and then achieve what appears to be great success. Now if they can only keep it up. And hopefully NASA can adapt the Orion capsule to rid on a Falcon Heavy. :-)

      Could SpaceX plan their own mission to the asteroid belt without making it public until they are just about ready to do it, or after they succeed at it? Don't bring back gold. Other rare earth metals can be worth more, and certainly have much greater industrial and practical usefulness.

      But it belongs to the belters!

      --
      I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @09:25PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @09:25PM (#731517)

        Jerry Pournelle [jerrypournelle.com] wrote on BYTE magazine for a long time and was usually enjoyable.

        I read all of JP's Byte columns (and just about everything else in the magazine), and I thought he was as often as not acting the idiot. He was a Microsoft fluffer, and a poor one. As an SF writer, he was pretty good, if not great (Niven, OTOH, was great.)

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:19PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:19PM (#731437)

      some poster already said, that a lot of "new" gold makes gold worthless.
      thus "the big mining" hesitance to look to space; keeping things "limited" keeps the value of things (see: "printing money" = inflation?).

      my guess is, that a (so far) rare element but with crazy-cool application possibilities will HAVE TO lead to asteroid mining.
      thus, the question how far will the rabbit hole go? will the "crazy-cool" applications be hidden even?

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by DannyB on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:21PM (2 children)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:21PM (#731442) Journal

        That argument is like saying: we won't drill for oil in order to keep the supply limited and the value high.

        Problem: if it is there, someone else will go get it, or drill for it, etc.

        --
        I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07 2018, @01:29PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07 2018, @01:29PM (#731738)

          I suggest you look up OPEC.

          • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday September 07 2018, @04:17PM

            by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 07 2018, @04:17PM (#731812) Journal

            The O-peckers take advantage of the geography of oil.

            The asteroid belt is big and not ruled by a small handful.

            Yet.

            --
            I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
    • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Friday September 07 2018, @03:59AM

      by mhajicek (51) on Friday September 07 2018, @03:59AM (#731635)

      Rich Pournell is a steelie eyed missile man.

      --
      The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by DannyB on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:20PM (9 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:20PM (#731439) Journal

    Suppose someone (*cough* SpaceX *cough*) solves the problem, goes to an asteroid and can bring back something valuable. I would say other rare earth metals in addition to gold.

    Would use of such metals be restricted to only constructing things in an orbiting shipyard somewhere?

    Or is there some way to bring some of that down to the planet surface safely without having to tweet about impacting it on some country?

    Impact small chunks of it in a desert area somewhere. Then "mine" it from the ground in that area.

    --
    I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:43PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @06:43PM (#731451)

      If a BFR could land 150, or even just 50 metric tons of gold on Earth, the mission would be worth it, even if it took several launches to do in-orbit refueling for 1 vehicle. The real question is whether we can find the metals we want in nice solid chunks. Which means we need prospecting of many asteroids.

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday September 07 2018, @04:09PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 07 2018, @04:09PM (#731810) Journal

        So robot prospectors?

        And robot miners?

        Or minor miners?

        Or belters.

        --
        I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday September 07 2018, @04:19PM

          by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday September 07 2018, @04:19PM (#731813) Journal

          http://www.mining.com/luxembourgs-space-agency-ready-lift-off/ [mining.com]

          Possibly. We might see public-private partnerships in this area. And it would be nice to have a small, mass-produced prospector spacecraft so that dozens of them could be sent to asteroids (big ones [wikipedia.org], or more likely, near-Earth asteroids).

          The mining part is much less clear. Should the asteroids be diverted into Earth orbit? Lunar? Should we try to land some? Process them in space? Will we need to waste tons of rock in order to produce grams of precious metals?

          --
          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by deimtee on Thursday September 06 2018, @09:31PM (5 children)

      by deimtee (3272) on Thursday September 06 2018, @09:31PM (#731520) Journal

      You refine the metal in space, form it into large blocky gliders and coat them with a couple of feet of foamed slag from the refining. Fly them back on a shallow trajectory finishing over into a large desert. You should be able to land 100's to 1000's of tonnes each, with minimal waste.
      The space shuttle proved you can put wings on a brick and have it land mostly intact.

      --
      No problem is insoluble, but at Ksp = 2.943×10−25 Mercury Sulphide comes close.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @10:00PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06 2018, @10:00PM (#731529)

        I haven't heard of this one. Not sure if it's a compelling strategy or a joke.

        Then again, Chinese researchers think they can do it with a big heat shield.

        • (Score: 4, Interesting) by deimtee on Friday September 07 2018, @07:14AM

          by deimtee (3272) on Friday September 07 2018, @07:14AM (#731665) Journal

          Serious.
          You make long wings, with most of the mass evenly spread along them to minimize stress. Give it a long skinny tail. It looks like a skinny dragonfly with really thick wings.
          Total of a tonne or so of high tech control surfaces and actuators on the end of the tail, to keep the angle of attack of the wing at optimum and give you some control over the landing site.

          Foamed slag, if you can do it with sufficient structural strength, makes an excellent ablative heatshield.

          --
          No problem is insoluble, but at Ksp = 2.943×10−25 Mercury Sulphide comes close.
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by mhajicek on Friday September 07 2018, @04:03AM

        by mhajicek (51) on Friday September 07 2018, @04:03AM (#731637)

        Or land it on your enemy. "But we gave you fifty tons of platinum, what are you complaining about?"

        --
        The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
      • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Friday September 07 2018, @11:47AM (1 child)

        by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 07 2018, @11:47AM (#731721)

        How much energy is required to de-orbit? Need to slow down somehow in a predictable manner. How much can be done with atmospheric breaking (assuming e.g. infinite amount of heat shield to burn off).

        • (Score: 2) by deimtee on Friday September 07 2018, @07:03PM

          by deimtee (3272) on Friday September 07 2018, @07:03PM (#731869) Journal

          You could just about do it all with aerobraking. Rocket scientists have got really really good at predicting trajectories. Most meteors that don't make it to ground are either very small, or they break up. A foot or so thick heatshield is probably plenty.

          It assumes signficant space infrastructure. Building a glider like that isn't something you are going to do with what you can launch in a cubesat. It only makes sense as an ongoing mining operation where you basically replace a lot of earth mining.
          I think you would have solar-powered ion drive tugs to put them into an intercepting orbit. Maybe place them in LEO with a small throwaway de-orbit rocket on them. That way you could land them when you want.
          Should make an amazing show if you land a bunch of them at once one night. :)

          --
          No problem is insoluble, but at Ksp = 2.943×10−25 Mercury Sulphide comes close.
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