Planetary Resources

By Spooksel on Wednesday 25 April 2012 09:22 - Comments (11)
Category: Space & Tech, Views: 4.882

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In the past week rumors started surfacing about a company called 'Planetary Resources', shrouded in mystery and backed by a rather impressive list of investors and advisors, the only known information was that this company would be planning to go to space and mine astroids for their valuable resources.
Well isn't that just awesome?
When I first heard about this plan my thoughts were: "This is awesome! Why weren't these guys around YEARS ago!". But then I started thinking. In recent years we space enthusiasts have been presented with many cunning and daring plans for space exploration and exploitation, in those same years we have seen so many startup's that were soon never to be heard from again, why would this one be any different?

The main thought that crept up on me was "Well this is certainly very cool, but I bet that for the first 5-10 years we are not going to see any real action anyway, if at all!". So with that in mind I started seeking out some more information.
'Prospecting' for information.
So, soon I stumbled upon an article on Space.com, the article is a short introduction to the initiative and a brief interview with one of the company's founding members. A few lines in the following quote's came.
Of the roughly 8,900 known near-Earth asteroids, perhaps 100 or 150 are water-rich and easier to reach than the surface of the moon, Anderson said. Planetary Resources wants to identify and characterize these top targets before it does anything else.
Followed by:
To that end, it has designed a high-performance, low-cost space telescope that Anderson said should launch to low-Earth orbit within the next 18 to 24 months. This telescope will make observations of its own but also serve as a model for future instruments that will journey near promising asteroids and peer at them in great detail.

The prospecting phase should take a couple of years or so, Anderson added.
And there it was, my first concern was already confirmed and they had not even had their big launch event yet. So right now we are looking at an initiative which _hopes_ to be able to start prospecting and scanning astroids with their 'LEO Space Telescope', probably no earlier then summer 2014. But then again, it is not an unrealistic thought that this will be severely delayed in one way or another. And even if it is not and when they do have their satellite in orbit and when they do start prospecting, we are still looking at years and years of number crunching and planning before we can expect to see any robotic mining installations traveling to the asteroids.
So what about the plan itself?
Despite all the concerns surrounding these initiatives I still would like to keep a positive mind on them. After all, as a big space enthusiast I tend to drool at almost anything blasted off into space anyway!

The plans this company have are simply amazing, to go out there and mine astroids for their valuables. How cool is that! The plan for the harvested resources is to either bring them back to Earth (rare minerals) or to store them in outer space for later use (fuels, water, etc). Especially the latter part is _very_ interesting to say the least.

As we all know I literally costs thousands of Dollars/Euro's to even lift-off a single kilogram of material into orbit. And if it concerns humans going into space it costs even more, because of the supplies of oxygen and water required to keep them alive. So what if you could just mine an ice astroid, purify the water and store it in a station orbiting the Earth? Or break down that same ice astroid and use electrolysis to split it into hydrogen and oxygen? The possibilities are endless; the water can be used to resuply spaceships and stations, the oxygen as well and the hydrogen can serve as fuel for either ships or satellites.

If this technology works there would no longer be a need to spend thousands and thousands on rocket fuel, just to bring a few liter's of water into space. No, you just dock with a refueling station, transfer the required water from it and pay your bill for it. And meanwhile, robotic probes keep resupplying the station with fresh supplies.

So I think... this is the future, or at least, it will be... if they ever get to launch their robot's anyway!

For more information:
- Planetary Resources (official website)

Volgende: The Settlers Online 09-'12 The Settlers Online

Comments


By Tweakers user MAX3400, Wednesday 25 April 2012 09:37

Fact of the matter is that some companies are projecting the wrong figures which make the whole investment a lot less interesting. Still profitable but not as much as they would like.

From a different source & interview:
Planetary Resources also declined to discuss specifics about how and when asteroid mining would begin. A 30-meter long (98-foot) asteroid can hold as much as $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum at today's prices, Diamandis said.
But in todays value, that amount of platinum is worth no more than around $7.5 billion.

Who is scamming who? Planetary Resources looking for more investors? NASA trying to hike along on Planetary Resources' research? Or a few bigshots trying to create a new hype, go public with their shares and then sell the company?

By Tweakers user Spooksel, Wednesday 25 April 2012 09:54

Interesting angle, but that is always to be expected with these kinds of ventures. The future will have to show what is really going on, for the time being however we will have to do with the intentions as presented by them however. :)

I find the whole thing pretty vague still, of course I am willing to believe that Diamandis is exaggerating a little in his figures and an estimate of 25 to 50 billion is quite a range, but to just say that it would only be 7.5 billion without any further information... what is that based on?

What is this 'different source' btw?

[Comment edited on Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:20]


By Tweakers user MAX3400, Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:00

I think I read something on the site of a American news-agency but unable to retrieve the url from here (work).

But do the math; take a sphere or ellips measuring 90ft across, calculate the volume of a sphere (or bit more difficult an ellipse), add the density of platinum into the equation, take the trading prices of 1 lbs of platinum and you're lucky to reach $7 to $8 billion dollars.

Yes, maybe they know something we don't know and platinum is running out fast on Earth thus the traders' prediction that prices will almost 6-fold in next years but I don't see that happening mostly because platinum is still not used on an industrial scale unlike iron, coal, oil and other natural resources.

By Tweakers user vanaalten, Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:07

MAX3400 wrote on Wednesday 25 April 2012 @ 09:37:
Fact of the matter is that some companies are projecting the wrong figures which make the whole investment a lot less interesting. Still profitable but not as much as they would like.

From a different source & interview:

[...]

But in todays value, that amount of platinum is worth no more than around $7.5 billion.
How do you calculate this?
An asteroid of 30 meter long, let's assume a perfect sphere, is ((4/3)*pi*r^3) = 14137m3.
Assume this is 100% platinum, 21450kg/m3: this sphere is 300*106kg.
Using today's price of $50000/kg, I calculate the value of this sphere as $15*1012... 15 quadrillion dollar.

I'm probably making a mistake in this calculation, the asteroid is probably not a nice sphere and very likely not 100% platinum... so how do you calculate this, and why is 7.5 billion more accurate that 25...50billion?

Edit/addition:
According to this article, you can get an idea of how much platinum there is, roughly, in an asteroid:
"(...) said that an asteroid with a diameter of one kilometer would have a mass of about two billion tons. (...) would contain (...) 7,500 tons of platinum."
So, that's a ratio of 1*109 to 3750.
Using that, I calculate the value of a 30m asteroid as 'just' $56 million.

I guess it all comes down to the ratio mass - platinum...

[Comment edited on Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:22]


By Tweakers user Spooksel, Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:24

One must of course not forget that the prices of the mineral, in this case platinum, might severely drop in case such a company as this actually does manage to mine and return large quantities of it to Earth!

This would not happen right away, but in the long term the price certainly wouldnt be $50.000 per kg anymore.

By Tweakers user MAX3400, Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:40

I've taken into account several factors to reach the 7.5 billion mark but with little (positive prospective) adjustments, it's very easy to reach much higher numbers.

* platinum-ore (on Earth) yields less than 0.38% of pure platinum after refining.
- your equation for 15 quadrillion dollars has to be divided by roughly 250 at least a gross revenue, making it 60 billion dollars.

* it's impossible to mine/transport 14000m3 in a single trip.
- even if 0.38% of the calculated volume is actually platinum, that's still 2 million kilo's to be transported. Where space shuttle could carry around 15 thousand kilo's during descent, you need about 140 trips back & forth to transport it the pure platinum.

* 140 trips of space shuttle at an estimated 450 million dollars per trip equals around 70 billion dollars worth in materials, preparation and so on.

So, with technology that was retired last year, the best you can do is lose 10 billion dollars assuming nothing goes wrong, no investments have to be made and the yield of every asteroid is at least 0.38%. If the yield would be researched and estimated at a very very hopeful 0.6%, then the 7.5 billion could be made.

Feel free to correct my maths, my understanding of costs & technology but I have a very diminishing view on the very experimental plans of Planetary Resources.

[Comment edited on Wednesday 25 April 2012 10:41]


By Tweakers user analog_, Wednesday 25 April 2012 12:14

so ehm, who owns astroids. Can I mine them too? Can my mine bots destroy yours since there's no space law? It's a legal vacuum.

[Comment edited on Wednesday 25 April 2012 12:15]


By Tweakers user Spooksel, Wednesday 25 April 2012 12:30

@max4300:
Using the costs and payload capacity of a Space Shuttle in this calculation isn't really fair don't you think? :) The very concept of the Shuttle is that it is basically a flying brick with wings stuck to it. That one trip costs 450 million dollars has everything to do with the design of the ship being what it is.

If you revert to Apollo/Sozuy type vessels without a crew, then it is a whole new cost picture. One that certainly won't cost 450 million per vessel :)

@analog_:
I guess this would be a nice subject to debate on in the forums (ruimtevaart topic)

By Tweakers user MAX3400, Wednesday 25 April 2012 12:41

@Spooksel; by all means show/calculate cost/investment/profit based on cheaper (existing) vessels with their respective cost per trip and payload during descent.

Like I stated; I have a pessimistic view on the plans of Planetary Resources but then again, they got loads more money so play with so we might not even be able to argue their toys :)

By Tweakers user Spooksel, Wednesday 25 April 2012 13:29

That is not possible, I don't even think there are vessels capable of doing that :P They basically only go one way and the Shuttle was an exception to that.

Vessels like Soyuz, which can re-enter the atmosphere, never come back with their orbital (which could be used for cargo) or service modules. These are discarded as only the decent module has a heatshield available. Its twin, the Progress craft, which is based on the Soyuz design except it has more cargo space and (officially) no people space has no heatshields at all even, because it was never designed to return.

I do think that a trimmed down version of the Shuttle (unmanned, cargo space only) could be designed for 'relatively' low cost operation. With no crew & cargo to lift up it might even be able to design it so that there is no external fuel tank required. Basically it would mean putting an empty container with wings into orbit, having the robots load it and then glide back to Earth :)

But for now, no set of calculations you or I would/could produce on any of the existing space vessels makes any sense. Since none of them are designed for this.

By Hop David, Monday 30 April 2012 20:55

"* platinum-ore (on Earth) yields less than 0.38% of pure platinum"

Platinum ore on some asteroids are much richer, if meteorites are an indication.

"* it's impossible to mine/transport 14000m3 in a single trip.
- even if 0.38% of the calculated volume is actually platinum, that's still 2 million kilo's to be transported. Where space shuttle could carry around 15 thousand kilo's during descent, you need about 140 trips back & forth to transport it the pure platinum.

* 140 trips of space shuttle at an estimated 450 million dollars per trip equals around 70 billion dollars worth in materials, preparation and so on."

Have you bothered to do research on Space Resources?

The first asteroid resource they hope to import to cislunar space is water. Water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, one of the better chemical propellants. Propellant high on the slopes of earth's gravity well could revolutionize space travel. Cutting the cost of space travel is the first step in moving towards profitable retrieval of asteroid metals.

Basing your calculations on the space shuttle torpedoes your credibility.

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