Asteroid Mining

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by nrj, May 14, 2012.

  1. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    It is a space mission straight from the Hollywood film Armageddon.

    A team of astronauts is being trained to land on an asteroid to explore its surface, search for minerals and even learn the skills they might need to destroy it should one pose a threat to Earth.

    NASA is planning to send humans further than they have ever been before by making contact with an asteroid up to 4.8 million kilometres away by the end of the next decade. It would take astronauts far beyond the current limit of human endeavour, the Moon, which is 384,000 kilometres from Earth.

    A team of astronauts, however, has started preparing for just such a mission. While the primary goal will be to learn more about the hostile environments of asteroids, the skills needed to work on their surface could prove invaluable should scientists discover one on a collision course with Earth.

    Officials at NASA are due to announce a manned mission to an asteroid this month. In a report to be presented to the Japan Geoscience Union Meeting, they will say NASA hopes to launch an unmanned spacecraft that will collect samples from an asteroid by 2016, before sending a manned mission in the 2020s.

    A manned mission will try to rendezvous with an asteroid up to 4.8 million kilometres from Earth. The astronauts could stay on the asteroid for up to 30 days.

    In Armageddon, astronauts and oil rig drillers plant nuclear warheads in an asteroid that is on a collision course.


    NASA training astronauts to land on asteroid
     
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  3. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Asteroid mining: Land grab in space

    Planetary Resources seeks to mine asteroids to further space exploration and to bring resources back to Earth. Experts say the idea is no longer science fiction.

    As people come to terms with the limits of the Earth's natural resources, startup company Planetary Resources is eyeing another source: space.
    The company, founded by XPrize Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis and aerospace engineer Eric Anderson, will launch at the Museum of Flight in Seattle later today. Its list of advisers includes Google CEO Larry Page, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, filmmaker James Cameron, and the former Microsoft chief software architect and space tourist Charles Simonyi. Other advisers are Google board member and investor Ram Shriram and Ross Perot Jr., son of the former presidential candidate.

    Planetary Resources' goal is to "expand Earth's resource base" by tapping natural resources in space, according to a media advisory sent out last week. "This company will overlay two critical sectors -- space exploration and natural resources -- to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources,'" it said.

    In an interview earlier this month, Diamandis indicated that mining asteroids is the company's main pursuit. And surprisingly, aerospace experts say that extracting resources from asteroids and near-Earth objects is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

    A study (PDF) released this month by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory concluded the technology to bring an asteroid near Earth to mine its resources could by done by 2025. It estimates the cost of the first "asteroid capture and return" mission would cost $2.6 billion.

    A separate study done by the National Commission on Space study (PDF) by NASA in 2009 argues that resource extraction from the moon and asteroids is essential for further space exploration and colonizing space.

    Although the company has said little about its plans, Diamandis told a Forbes reporter that opening up the resources of space is critical for humanity and that the Earth is a "crumb in a supermarket of resources" when all of space is considered.
    To actually extract these resources scientists and engineers would need to identify the makeup of different asteroids that could be reached by spacecraft with available energy, he said.

    "Ultimately we want to develop the technology to safety extract the (asteroid) resources and then return those resources to Earth you want to use here and keep those resources like oxygen, hydrogen -- fuel -- [and] water off earth," he told Forbes. Giving the complexity and restraints of drilling for oil and gas in deep waters, Diamandis said he is optimistic that mining asteroids is realistic.
    It's a theme that Diamandis has touched on frequently. In a 2010 interview with Big Think, he said that people have a moral imperative to explore space for its mineral and metal wealth.

    "The question is, do you continue to rape and pillage Earth, or if you have the ability to extract that information from outside resources, outside of Earth, then that would be a mechanism to uplift the bottom billion or so of society," he said.
    Realistic resource for Earth?

    How do one start mining an asteroid? Although it's still not clear what Planetary Resources specific plans are, the KISS study provides some indications of what's in the realm of feasible, according to space experts. The study says that a relatively small asteroid about seven meters, or 22 feet, in diameter could be retrieved using technology available this decade and brought back to be placed in orbit around the moon.

    One of the key technical developments is solar panels capable of launching the payload for its multi-year mission once in deep space. Also vital are robotic spacecraft able to capture the asteroid, which could weigh more than one million pounds, and start a journey toward the moon.

    These spacecraft could also, in theory, mine and bring back materials from asteroids to Earth but the one of the study's authors told the Wall Street Journal he was skeptical that this could be done because of the high cost of entering space from Earth.

    Asteroids could contain minerals already mined on Earth, such as iron, nickel, sulfur, and platinum group metals. For space exploration, valuable elements will be oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen for fueling rockets. Other materials could act as shields from cosmic rays, according to the study's authors who say it would give NASA capabilities it hasn't seen since the Apollo missions.

    In terms of safety, the authors argue that there will be a number of safety measures including targeting only asteroids which would break up if they entered the Earth's atmosphere. "With these levels of safety -- all of which will be further analyzed and assessed during the phase II study -- we can conclude the mission could be safe and that it could be explained convincingly to the public. Furthermore, this mission would help make it safe for humans to go on longer voyages beyond the Moon," they said

    In addition to the complex aerospace engineering, one of the key technical challenges of asteroid mining is locating suitable asteroids and understanding their chemical makeup beforehand. Another obvious challenge is converting raw materials into water and other desired materials.

    There are already a handful of private space exploration private companies, backed by tech industry billionaires including Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. But even with well-heeled backers, the cost of launching rockets into space remains very expensive.

    Regardless of how far off the ground Planetary Resources gets, its company launch marks another important point in the transition to private space exploration and represents a group of entrepreneurs who are truly thinking big.

    Asteroid mining: Land grab in space | Cutting Edge - CNET News
     
  4. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Asteroid mining will require both new technologies and new questions

    Mining is one of the oldest professions and forms a large part of our history. Neanderthals used flint for their tools, which is not surprising when you consider that the world’s oldest mines date back 43,000 years. Since then, man has not stopped using mineral resources which in turn has developed into a powerful industry. However, despite its incalculable benefits, not everything is great where mining is concerned. These days, where ecology has become more important than ever, a major concern is the environmental impact that mining has on the Earth, in particular the pollution of aquifers, removing vegetation and soils and the profound change in the topography of mining areas.

    In this context, it is possible that a US company has found a solution to these problems. Planetary Resources, a company created in November 2010 under the name of Arkyd Astronautics, intends to develop technologies for mining asteroids. Its website explains that “they are setting a new paradigm in the discovery and use of resources that will make the social system within the sphere of influence of mankind.” Many powerful people such as filmmaker James Cameron, the co-founder and current president of Google Larry Page and his predecessor in the company, Eric Schmidt, count among participants. The company defines itself, without hyperbole, as “visionaries, pioneers, rocket scientists and industry leaders with extensive experience in and out of this planet.” That’s a tall order.

    But what is there in all this? Khalid Al-Ali, executive director for the office of NASA Partnerships, is in favor of such initiatives. “I am generally supportive of pioneering efforts in space for the benefit of the earth and its inhabitants. Efforts benefitting all need to happen, so that they are cost-effective in the future,” he said.

    One of the biggest advantages of Planetary Resources’ plans, in his opinion, is that it will provide better access to highly valued materials such as water, gold, platinum and rare earths. In addition, it will allow significant development of technology, which may be used for other purposes. This development would revive the demand-supply curve of precious materials, ie, having more resources available. A direct consequence would be the decline in prices of these materials (platinum, for example). Above all, it would make long-term space travel easier.

    However, from the point of view of Al-Ali, there are some points that that haven’t been hashed out yet. Specifically, it is not clear when these resources will become available, it is unclear how they will sterilize extraterrestrial materials (in the off chance of native microbes) and it is possible that an asteroid’s orbit could be perturbed to a point where it would pose a threat to Earth. Given these difficulties, the question arises — and Dr. Al-Ali agrees—is it time to go find these materials or can we reuse or recycle those that we already have on Earth?

    Meanwhile, Zac Manchester, an aerospace engineering student at Cornell University and creator of the ‘Sprite’, a type of chip-sized satellite, thinks that “there are many new technologies that will have to be developed to make asteroid mining a reality. First,” he said, “operating a spacecraft in close proximity to anything is difficult, and an asteroid with an uncertain gravitational field is especially difficult.” In his opinion, to carry out the plans that Planetary Resources has published, they need very small spacecraft equipped with telescopes to search for asteroids. “Tiny, cheap, expendable spacecraft like the Sprite could be used for close inspection of prospective asteroid targets with much less risk and cost than a larger spacecraft. They could, for example, impact the surface carrying detectors for certain desired materials, and could then transmit results to a mothership waiting a safe distance away,” explained Manchester.

    Given these ideas, one must ask whether it is necessary to go so far and use space mining to solve the environmental impact of traditional mining that occurs on Earth.

    Asteroid mining will require both new technologies and new questions | Opinno
     
  5. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Asteroid mining crazy? So is deep-sea drilling, investors say

    Oil companies go 2 miles below surface, at considerable expense, to capture fuel

    A newly unveiled firm's asteroid-mining plans may be ambitious, but they're not any crazier than some extractive operations already under way here on Earth, company officials say.

    The billionaire-backed Planetary Resources Inc. announced Tuesday that it hopes to mine near-Earth asteroids for water and precious metals, with the dual aims of making a tidy profit and helping open the final frontier to further exploration and exploitation.

    Asteroid mining promises to be a multidecade effort requiring many billions of dollars of investment. But in that respect — and in the technological challenges that must be overcome — it's similar to deep-sea oil drilling, said Planetary Resources co-founder and co-Chairman Peter Diamandis.

    "They've literally created robotic cities on the bottom of the ocean, 5, 10 thousand feet below the ocean's surface — fully robotic cities that then mine 5 to 10 thousand feet down below the ocean floor to gain access to oil," Diamandis said Tuesday. "For me, that kind of work makes going to the asteroids to extract resources look easy."

    Mining the heavens

    While Planetary Resources has big dreams, it appears to have deep pockets as well. The company counts at least four billionaires among its investors, including Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, who are worth about $16.7 billion and $6.2 billion, respectively.

    Filmmaker/explorer James Cameron is a Planetary Resources adviser, as are former NASA astronaut Tom Jones and MIT planetary scientist Sara Seager.
    The company aims to extract platinum-group metals and water from nearby space rocks. The metals could drive down the prices of many consumer goods here on Earth, officials say, while the water has the potential to revolutionize space transportation.

    Water can be broken into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the chief components of rocket fuel. Planetary Resources hopes its mining activities lead to the establishment of in-space "gas stations" that would allow a variety of spacecraft to refuel cheaply and efficiently. (Launching such propellant from Earth would be far more expensive, company officials say.)

    Planetary Resources hopes to identify a suite of promising asteroid targets within the decade. Actual mining activities — which will be carried out by swarms of low-cost robotic probes in deep space — will come later.

    Drilling in nearly 2 miles of water

    The company is under no illusions about the challenges ahead.

    "We're talking about something which is extraordinarily difficult," Diamandis said. Still, he stressed that it can be done, comparing asteroid mining's scale, scope and degree of difficulty with deep-sea oil drilling.

    "These are commitments of 5 to 50 billion dollars in each of these platforms," Diamandis said. "It's extraordinary what humanity can now do."

    To get an idea of what he's talking about, consider Shell Oil's Perdido platform in the Gulf of Mexico, which began oil production in March 2010. It floats in water 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) deep and taps a field that begins nearly 2 miles beneath the ocean's surface.

    Perdido sits about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off the Texas coast, too far from land to lay new pipeline cost-effectively, according to Shell officials. So the company decided to hitch Perdido into an existing pipeline 80 miles (128 km) away, using robotic submarines to make the intricate connections 4,600 feet (1,400 m) below the gulf's surface.

    The design and training stages for this submarine mission took a total of 2 1/2 years, Shell officials have said.

    The Perdido platform cost about $3 billion to build, and Shell expects it to be in operation for more than 20 years, Reuters reported earlier this year. Over that period, the platform could generate $39 billion in revenue and $16 billion in profits, according to The Associated Press.

    And rigs such as Perdido don't just suck oil up off the ocean floor. They're capable of accessing deposits at least 30,000 feet (9,144 m) below the seabed, after first dropping gear through nearly 2 miles of water.

    Asteroid mining crazy? So is deep-sea drilling - Technology & science - Science - LiveScience - msnbc.com
     
  6. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Asteroid Mining: New Space Race May Be Worth Trillions

    Asteroid Mining: New Space Race May Be Worth Trillions | Resource Investor
     
  7. nrj

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    Asteroid mining 'less far fetched than you might think'

    Red Bull Stratos Technical Director Art Thompson tells T3 asteroid mining is close to reality and his mission is helping the required tech progress

    With the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin joining forces with AVATAR director James Cameron to look into the possibilities of asteroid mining, industry experts have told T3 such plans are not as far fetched as we may think.

    Whilst the collection of billionaire investors that make up the Planetary Resources group turned heads earlier this week by suggesting they intend to explore the potential for asteroid mining missions, space travel specialists have suggested such attempts will soon be a thing of reality.

    “I think right now asteroid mining probably seems far-fetched but in time it will seem less so,” Art Thompson, Technical Project Director on the Red Bull Stratos mission told T3 in an exclusive interview. “We look at things now and think in the past somebody would tell you ‘can you imagine that people pay five dollars for a cup of coffee or that they actually pay for water and put it in a bottle.’ That seemed far fetched then too.”

    Suggesting necessity and rapidly lowering costs in reaching previously unexplored areas of space will make such missions a possibility; Thompson has said he believes asteroid mining is a distinct possibility for the near future.

    “We have limited resources as to what we have here on earth and so the idea of going somewhere else right now doesn’t make sense to you or I because the cost of getting there makes it prohibitive but there will be a day when we develop methods of getting there that are cheaper or the cost of things have got to a point where rationally it makes sense to do something like asteroid mining.”

    The man largely responsible for many of the futuristic technologies used on the Red Bull Stratos mission that will allow Austrian Felix Baumgartner to travel 120,000 feet up before jumping from space in history’s highest freefall skydive has suggested that tech developed for the Stratos mission could soon be expanded for use on manned asteroid missions.

    On the pressurised flight suits developed to allow Baumgartner to jump from the unprecedented height, fall at speeds of up to 690mph, breaking the sound barrier on the way, Thompson has said that the increased manoeuvrability over past space suits would make them a prime choice for further development in line with planned asteroid visits.

    “There are certain disadvantage of using that type of suit on an asteroid or another planet as you still have to have a better thermal barrier, but looking at the idea, higher flexibility provided is something they would need in space flight. They can’t be encumbered by something that you can’t move around in. So a lot of the technology and space suit development is going to require higher flexibility.”

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Backing Thompson up, Colonel Joe Kittinger the current freefall record holder who made a 102,800 foot space jump way back in 1960 has also spoken out on the future potentials of the suit being pioneered by the Stratos team.

    “Felix will be testing the next generation pressure suit,” Colonel Kittinger said. “It will be a contribution that this project will make to the protective garments being worn by future high flying aviators. In my project I used a standard Air Force partial pressure suit, but in this case Felix is advancing the state of the art in the test of the equipment he uses.”

    Asteroid mining 'less far fetched than you might think' | T3
     
  8. nrj

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    Asteroid mining venture aims to add trillions to global GDP

    The launch of Earth’s first asteroid mining company was formally announced Tuesday.

    Using robotic technology and advancements in artificial intelligence, Planetary Resources — a billion dollar venture founded by X-Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis and former NASA Mars mission manager Eric Anderson — will mine water, platinum and other precious metals from near-Earth approaching asteroids.

    The commercial venture, backed by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Google CEO Larry Page and Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr., among others, estimates that it will contribute trillions of dollars to the global GDP.

    “Technology is an abundance-liberating force,” Diamandis said during an online streaming broadcast Tuesday. His vision is to make the resources of space available to humanity on earth and up above.

    Diamandis hinted that Planetary Resources would eventually develop space refueling stations to enable deep space exploration. Water, in addition to being critical for the sustaining of life, is necessary for rocket propellant.

    Platinum, a rare metal critical to advancements in the next generation of technologies, is suspected to be available in abundance on asteroids. Platinum deposits mined under the Earth’s surface are from prehistoric asteroid impacts.



    Anderson told audience members that the company has a line of space craft that will be “operational within 24 months.”

    “We are going to bring the solar system into our economic sphere of influence,” he said.

    The entrepreneurs added that their company would take a page out of deep-sea energy exploration and deep space robotics to bring down costs and increase the chance of success. Their advisory board includes expertise from NASA, MIT, Microsoft and Hollywood: Film director and deep sea explorer James Cameron holds an advisory board seat.

    “Exponentially growing technologies are enabling small teams and individuals what only governments and large corporations could do before,” said Diamandis.

    “We have a detailed technology roadmap,” Anderson promised, but ”it’s not going to take a few hundred people. It’s going to take a few dozen people.”


    Asteroids | Mining | Platinum | The Daily Caller
     
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  9. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    [​IMG]

    This computer-generated image provided by Planetary Resources, a group of high-tech tycoons that wants to mine nearby asteroids, shows a conceptual rendering of satellites prospecting a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid.

    Planetary Resources/AP
     
  11. nrj

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