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Monday, October 3, 2016

Asteroid Mining

CABL Type Mining Base
A one ton chunk of gold is worth about $30 million on Earth, which is about one half of the cost of launching a big satellite into orbit.

One ton of gold is not going to make a big impact on the market. There are over 100,000 tons in stock piles now, and 2,000 tons are produced annually.

Gold is not the only valuable metal. There are half a dozen others with similar value. They don't have gold's cachet, so I use gold for my example.

Heavy metals are rare on the surface of the Earth, so the theory goes, because when the Earth was forming it was a ball of molten rock, and as most metals are denser than rock, they sank to the bottom. So there is a treasure trove of valuable metals at the center of the Earth. They're just a little difficult to access. Any metal we find on the surface of the Earth comes from asteroids that hit the Earth after it had cooled enough to have a solid crust.

There are a zillion asteroids in the asteroid belt, and while most of them are probably stupid rocks some might be metal, and some of those might be metals that are valuable on Earth.

So all we have to do is launch a space ship to travel to the asteroid belt, hang around out there long enough to identify some metal asteroids, and then give them a little rocket assisted kick to send them on a long descending spiral orbit to Earth. Once we get them into orbit around Earth it should be piece of cake to get them down to the surface.

It would probably take five years to get to the asteroid belt, and five years to get back. With that kind of time investment, we would probably want to hang around out there for five or ten years. For that much time we are going to need better living accommodations than a tin can. We are going to need something like one of those big ring space stations, the ones that spin so we can have artificial gravity so we can have live human beings instead of flying monkeys.

I was thinking that if we were going to build a space station where we are going to have a crew living and working for twenty years, we would want a fairly sizable population, like five or ten thousand people. Then I realized with our current space program that might not be possible. Right now we send up three people at a time. If we launch three people at a time once a month, that means we could put 36 people a year into space. At that rate it would take us thirty years to get a thousand people up there and 300 years to get ten thousand into space. Obviously we would need a bigger spacecraft, like Orion, which I think can hold seven, and many more launches. One Orion launched once a week could put 300 people into orbit every year, so in thirty years we should be able to get ten thousand up there. Being as building a space station might take 30 years, given that we would need to build a smelter and launch facilities on the moon, it would be okay if it took that long to populate it.

Problem is that until we get something built that can provide artificial gravity, people are going to be limited to how long they can stay in orbit due to loss of muscle mass and bone strength. If they are planning to spend the rest of their lives our there, maybe they won't care. Kind of a permanent decision.

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