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 Post subject: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 12:08 pm 
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What do you guys know about off-Earth resources, or what resources are likely to be out there all the way out to the Oort Cloud? I know that iridium is one of the rarest elements on Earth and is abundant in some asteroids. Gold, platinum and various other rare metals too.

I was wondering about lithium and in particular if a gigantic pile of that stuff might be frozen out there in the Oort cloud and if that could be harvested what implications it might have for industry and technology.

ADDIT: I started a thread of the same title on the Kerbal forums some time ago, and those guys all tend to be either space travel / engineering fanbois or actuals.

https://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/in ... nt-2774313

Some of you may be provoked to offer comments based on what has already been said in that thread?

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 2:49 pm 
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Why Oort Cloud? It's *fucking far away* distance away.

For easy starters we've got a bunch of objects that are already orbiting Earth and many more that visit Earth's proximity periodically.

The two most important companies going after these things are Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.

They are planning a number of specialized craft to operate within Earth's proximity, prospector drones that simply prospect asteroids - find them and so, try to scan them with lasers and radar for maximum information. Then iirc. send in drones to take samples of the most interesting objects and finally catch the good ones for mining. Then the mined stuff will be processed on LEO.

- Oxygen and Hydrogen are very abundant as much of the asteroids will be ice. They are also primary rocket propellant components. Getting all this fuel on LEO allows for abundant refueling opportunities and stockpiling rocket fuel in space, think of a space fuel depot.
- Inert rock material, 'stuff' that isn't valuable is still valuable, it will be harnessed with metal mesh or a web sack and be sold as radiation shield. While it's impractical to boost huge ass rocks to orbit, they are a natural byproduct of mining and very effective at that.
- Valuables can be used on orbit for zero-G manufacturing. There is no sense in dropping it on Earth, it's not economically viable at this point - however, having tonnes upon tonnes of materials on orbit allows us to build stuff there.

--> fast forward, we can have
* Fuel depot on orbit
* Vehicle assembly on orbit
* Radiation shielding for permanent residential stations

All this means is that instead of lifting everything we'll ever need on a mission from Earth we can focus on automated industries growing on orbit, expanding the industrial base and when we want to launch a human mission we can have by current standards massive ships built on orbit and we only need to lift the crew - which means we can lift all that much more crew since we can ignore all the fuel and other payload and just focus on a whole bunch of crew when we don't need to lift hundreds of tonnes of fuel.

As for the jackpot, it's not the Oort Cloud. It's The Belt. Between Mars and Jupiter, as well as the Jovian system. Mars can serve as an outpost for mining missions to the Belt and Jovian system will later make an ideal location for long term long distance mining missions. There's a shit ton of stuff around Jupiter and it has several moons which make ideal long term bases with low gravity which helps with everything.

Oh and there's the Ceres within the Belt.
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Use Mars as a midway base between Earth and the Belt. There's literally a planet's worth of good stuff between Mars and Jupiter and it's all free of gravity well. Think that all the good stuff going into a planet has been turned into a puzzle and spread all over the place there, ready for being grabbed and processed.

The trick is though that we will unlikely be bringing anything much back to Earth. Instead, all of this will make it cost a fraction of the current cost to send people away from Earth into the Cosmos.

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 3:10 pm 
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You are probably right. The Oort Cloud is a long way.

However, I was under the impression that viable "fast, but not fast as light" space travel had already been put to paper by Freeman Dyson and company back in the '60s: Nuclear pulse propulsion.

If you can make 0.1 c then you can get out there in a fraction of the time
Quote:
Project Orion was the first serious attempt to design a nuclear pulse rocket. The design effort was carried out at General Atomics in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The idea of Orion was to react small directional nuclear explosives utilizing a variant of the Teller-Ulam two-stage bomb design against a large steel pusher plate attached to the spacecraft with shock absorbers. Efficient directional explosives maximized the momentum transfer, leading to specific impulses in the range of 6,000 seconds, or about thirteen times that of the Space Shuttle Main Engine.
. . .
This low-tech single-stage reference design would reach Mars and back in four weeks from the Earth's surface (compared to 12 months for NASA's current chemically powered reference mission). The same craft could visit Saturn's moons in a seven-month mission (compared to chemically powered missions of about nine years).
. . .
The system appeared to be entirely workable when the project was shut down in 1965, the main reason being given that the Partial Test Ban Treaty made it illegal (however, before the treaty, the US and Soviet Union had already detonated at least nine nuclear bombs, including thermonuclear bombs, in space, i.e., at altitudes over 100 km
. . .
Orion is one of very few interstellar space drives that could theoretically be constructed with available technology, as discussed in a 1968 paper, Interstellar Transport by Freeman Dyson.


It seems to me that: IF there was something WAAAYY out there with a value sufficiently high, somebody would develop the ship to get there in a timely manner.

Because the Oort Cloud is so distant, so mysterious, so cold, and so dark, I figured it is a reasonable prospect for some sort of jackpot which might not be so plentiful too close to the sun. Lithium was the best I could come up with in my physics challenged mind.

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Thu Oct 19, 2017 3:23 pm 
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The trick is though that we will unlikely be bringing anything much back to Earth. Instead, all of this will make it cost a fraction of the current cost to send people away from Earth into the Cosmos.


This to me is an interesting part of the paradox.

We KNOW there are valuables up there, some of which are in concentrations which exceed the sum total of all the element harvested by people on Earth per year, maybe even over the full sum of history! Without getting into the nitty gritty: the general sense I get, is that, if we could just magically *poof* grab a half-dozen of the more select asteroids/comets into a proximal orbit of Earth, the available pools of rare materials (platinum, osmium, ruthenium, rhodium, iridium, lithium, gold) would increase by orders of magnitude. Yes, getting rockets into orbits near Earth is expensive, but if there is a "mountain of gold" right there to be grabbed, it seems to me there would be people lining up to invest with the expectation of good ROI.

So . . . while I agree with you that space-based industry will eventually be a thing, it seems to me that, before that can ever happen, harvesting resources for people on Earth to gain wealth/power HAS to be a thing.

Once a private industry or two hit the jackpot then it will be off to the races, and every nation on Earth will likely want a piece of the pie, and the violence and warfare (and piracy?) are likely to come shortly after that . . .

So I'm trying to work out the EARLY stages: what would be the initial ventures which would get the whole Age of Extra-Terran Expansion (ala "Age of Discovery") started?

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 5:37 am 
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I am talking about early stuff.

The more advanced and further along the road stuff starts involving space elevators and such.

In 2000 the cost of lifting a kilogram was ~25k$
Space X is promising it's Falcon Heavy to be able to take that down to 1,654$ per kilogram on expendable vehicle (LEO). Once they get the reusability going it can go even lower since building a space precision vehicle and blowing it up every time is more expensive than using it a dozen times over, even if the payload were a little lower to accommodate return fuel.

Space elevator concepts are talking about 500$ a kilogram to GEO (geostationary orbit) and beyond.

What's nice is that space elevator can work both ways, elevator bring stuff up and going back down. Given gold price 41,000$ a kilogram it would be feasible to bring stuff back to Earth and even use those profits to build a bunch of infrastructure to ease with orbital lift and insertion, making it everyday activity and affordable, scaling the activity to where it could cost less in relative cost to send colony ships to planets than the America's expeditions cost.


But early, given that you are first paying a shit ton to get a kilogram beyond LEO, easily quadrupling LEO cost to go further and then you need to build an orbital entry vehicle and land it safely, even for gold going up there, easily hitting 30k$ and beyond going up and then in early days you'll have to lift up the re-entry vehicles too, so it's unlikely that even for PGM (platinum group metals) that we'd be able to hit economic efficiency or profit given that we're not going to hit jackpot all the time.

For early stuff the profit lies elsewhere.

Think, if it cost even 10k$ to lift a kilogram of fuel to LEO, if we find an asteroid with enough frozen water to produce 50 tonnes of fuel, that 50 tonnes of fuel will be worth 500,000,000$. 500M$ worth of fuel. The inert rocks? They're also worth 10k$ a kilogram and valuable as radiation shielding material, the minimum worth comes from how much it would cost anyone else to lift the thing up, so there's no way anyone's getting it cheaper than that. Add in the less than 100% reliability of rockets and you're always risking the entire 100M$ payload being scattered across the pacific on every launch and then there are things like - how many rockets can the current companies deliver etc.

If you just happen to already have 500 tonnes of fuel sitting in orbit you can jack up the price for immediate delivery - there's no way anyone else is going to just pull a rocket out of one's ass and lift all that fuel to orbit overnight.

And you can use some of the materials to expand your space industry. Zero-G foundries and refining stations can build more drones, you can fuel them with your own harvested and refined fuel. In fact all of this could one day help in the construction of a space elevator. One day space will lower the costs of PGM and other rares on Earth but in the early days space industry will be lowering the costs of space activities and missions, in turn accelerating the rate at which we will be launching new missions. Once the ball gets rolling it will build up inertia and infrastructure will grow as it will be economic to do so.

So, at the moment the space industry will be targeting people who are ready to spend money for non-profit, scientific and exploratory missions. Think - you can lower the costs of space organizations and space tourism and make big bucks while doing so, meaning the organizations will be able to get more bang for the buck while the space industry company also makes big wins.

This is one area where we wouldn't have gotten anywhere without initial R&D investments from taxes. We're quickly approaching a place where the field will have been incubated long enough to be ready to hatch as a mature economic field able to support itself.

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:32 pm 
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Not to mention you could build a practical insolation filter of some sort with a space elevator or even a gold foil blanket kilometers in size if you were mining gold :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 8:08 pm 
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The most logical move is to create resource harvesting and refining facilities in space.

The biggest obstacle to getting large amounts of building materials into orbit is, and will be, earth's gravity. Also, to a lesser extent, atmospheric friction. It takes a lot of effort to boost shit from the surface to orbit. It's not efficient at all, regarding fuel-to-weight efficiency alone, much less all the effort required to do so safely. And a space elevator is an extremely massive project which likely won't be practical anytime soon.

When we can get to the point where we can build & man facilities on low gravity bodies in the inner solar system, and possibly the belt, then that is when man's next step will take off (punny! :P ). These locales have a fraction of the gravity earth does. Obviously mineral rich asteroids are prime candidates, but even facilities on the moon would be much easier to move heavy loads to & from than earth. Boosting loads from their surface, and pushing them on to other facilities located in micro-gravity for goods production, takes far less effort.

Since the chemicals likely required for normal operation is also prevalent out there, most resources needed in large quantities is out there floating around in abundance. The most that would eventually need to come from earth would be the humanity required to operate such things, their personal accoutrements, and possibly food.

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 12:45 am 
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Isn't the space elevator more or less a fantasy?

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:56 am 
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Anthropoid wrote:
Isn't the space elevator more or less a fantasy?


No, we just don't have mass production of the materials yet. We know we can make the required materials, nanomaterials. With nanomaterials we can choose what kinds of properties we want, within the bounds of what it possible.

Then we just needed to make a massive facility that produced millions of tonnes of the stuff.

Skyhooks, launch loops and space elevators do work. The problem is at the moment that they cost a lot, think of something like the cost of Golden Gate bridge to ancient Romans, it took a shit ton of high quality steel and steel cable to build, for Romans it was unfeasible but for USA it was simply another big bridge.

As economies scale megaprojects are reduced to just projects.

@NefariousKoel is right, everyone wants space ships and stations, for all practical reasons. No more overcrowding, endless opportunities, protection against ICBMs, all sorts of things. Civilizations that can make the most of it will see their way of life spread far and wide along with their power and influence. For instance, what will be the proportion between English and Chinese speaking Martians? And beyond.

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 Post subject: Re: Prospecting the Solar System
PostPosted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 9:57 am 
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Well, the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles was built at a cost of $1B a mile. If you could just get the cost down to that region then the space elevator would only cost $23 Trillion :lol:

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