DailyDirt: Playing With Asteroids

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

The idea of mining asteroids has been around for quite some time, but only recently has it been considered a somewhat practical (and possibly profitable) venture. It’s possible that private space companies could make it to an asteroid before NASA gets to one, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens if asteroid mining operations succeed in bringing back significant quantities of valuable metals. But we’re not quite there yet. Here are just a few links on the baby steps we might need to take to start playing with asteroids.

If you’d like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

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Companies: nasa, planetary resources

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Playing With Asteroids”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Actually, old idea that doesn't pass the numbers test.

A staple of 1940’s “science fiction” radio shows! Back then the Space Patrol lived on Venus and thought nothing of jaunting off to Pluto — the trip took only a few hours, too. But reality is catching up…

But are still those who believe: “only recently has it been considered a somewhat practical” — Pffft! Know how much rocket fuel it takes to nudge 1500 tons out of one orbit and into even a minor new orbit? — LOTS, even if you’re patient. — And to place an ounce of rocket fuel at the asteroid requires another, oh, HUNDRED ounces. I’m probably WAY too optimistic: just guess it yourself by comparing Saturn 5 weight versus payload on Moon shots; the Shuttle flights aren’t comparable, don’t reach escape velocity, but I am assuming much lighter with robot rockets.

And then there’s the fact that most of it will be rocky and much of the rest mere iron.

Asteroid mining will never be practical. — As someone said when we discussed the wacky supersonic tube idea: Might as well just skip that and work on a Star Trek Transporter*.

[* Which is not in any degree possible.]

Wolfy says:

Re: Actually, old idea that doesn't pass the numbers test.

Hey Buckwheat, you know how recently people just like you were saying that about going to the moon? About airplane travel?

Myself, I’d think long and hard before committing to the interwebs any statement along the lines of “X will never be possible”.

Paraquat (profile) says:

the terraforming fantasy

I agree totally with out_of_the_blue above – asteroid mining is science fiction fantasy. In reality, there is no way that it would be practical. The cost of the fuel to mine even one asteroid would exceed that value of whatever materials we could hope to gain.

But asteroid mining remains a popular fantasy, in part because it’s part of the “grand plan” to terraform Mars. The gravity on Mars is only 40% of the Earth’s. So, to make life more comfortable for future colonists, all we need to do is gather up enough asteroids equal to 60% of the Earth’s mass and crash them into Mars. While we’re at it, we also need to gather up a few ocean’s worth of water, plus an atmosphere. What could be simpler? Of course, it will take a lot of energy to do that, but surely Mars has loads of oil – after all, it does look like Saudi Arabia.

Wolfy says:

Re: the terraforming fantasy

And you, my friend, are thinking on too small a time scale. As long as we can prevent apocalypse-obsessed religionists from causing WW3, and barring a serious asteroid strike before we’re ready, we’ll be OK. There are a couple strategies that can work if we spot trouble soon enough. Solar sails don’t weigh much and use free sunlight. A gravity tractor can be parked near a rock to slowly pull it into a different orbit. Don’t sell the human race short.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

To the above people who think this won't work...

As of right now, the technology isn’t there, it’s neither possible nor practical right now.

However, look at how far technology advances in just a few short years.

Phones are getting stronger and more powerful every few weeks. Huge flat screen TVs are less than 700 dollars and less than 5 years ago they were more than double that price.

So, while something isn’t possible right NOW doesn’t mean it won’t be possible in a few years time.

Keep your mind open.

After all, at one point no one thought that phones could be used for anything more than making phone calls.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: To the above people who think this won't work...

Actually I’d hold computers up as evidence of how much, and how fast, technology can advance.

Within the span of a few decades computers went from something so insanely expensive and large that only government agencies or colleges could dream of having one, to something so small and cheap enough that just about everyone carries one around in their pockets, or has access to one in some fashion.

So saying ‘it’s technologically infeasible/impractical to do X’ is really only accurate if you refuse to consider how insanely fast tech can advance, because while it may be impractical/impossible now, all it takes is that one breakthrough, or waiting for the tech to advance enough, for it to be doable.

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