To mine the asteroids, first build small cheap space telescopes.


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To mine the asteroids, first build small cheap space telescopes.

The space telescope will be based on the same design Planetary Resources will eventually use for its asteroid-prospecting spacecraft: a 30-kilogram to 50-kilogram flier packed with imaging sensors and a laser-optical communication system the company is developing to avoid encumbering its spacecraft with large antennas. The company, which says it has about two dozen employees, will market these spacecraft as cheap but effective telescopes for both astronomical and Earth-observing applications. Sales would provide cash for the company’s core work on asteroid mining, Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, said.

The telescope slated for launch sometime in the next two years “would be something, let’s say, a university buys [for astronomical observations], or a commercial company that wants to monitor shipping traffic or something like that,” Anderson said in a phone interview. The cost for the telescope, which Planetary Resources is calling Arkyd-101, would be “millions of dollars, including launch.”

At the Planetary Resources press conference today, there was a lot of talk about the benefits and profits to be gained from mining the asteroids. However, this ain’t gonna happen for quite a few years. In the meantime, the company plans to make money building space telescopes which scientists and others can use, for a fee, to do research.

In other words, the government and astronomers dropped the ball on replacing the Hubble Space Telescope. Now, private enterprise is going to pick it up and run with it.

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4 comments

  • wodun

    Maybe the james webb space telescope will be obsolete before it is finished.

  • Kelly Starks

    I haven’t read any concept of how they think they can get the ore back if they find it with the scopes? The site vaguly mentions mining robots – but autonomous minig robots is a technology we never got working no Earth with ready servicing, in known material. On a asteroid? In a cost effective manor?

    Could be like Bigelows plan, which assumed avalible human launch capacity – which he now can’t get.

  • Joe

    Sad, but true.

  • Tom Billings

    “I haven’t read any concept of how they think they can get the ore back if they find it with the scopes?”

    It seems you didn’t watch the stream of the press conference on Spacevid, or read the website thoroughly. In particular, look at their corporate adviser John Lewis’ books, “Space Resources:Breaking the Bonds of Earth” and “The rain of Iron and Ice” for

    “Ore” is not too liable to be brought back, at first, if ever. Product delivery points are more likely to be the Lagrange Points, with L1 and L2 the current favorites for propellant depots, or LEO, if the aerobraking can be controlled well enough. The speakers for PR mentioned those enough they seemed to imply they would set them up, if no one beats them to it.

    Their first target deliverable is water for propellants, not ore. In the press conference, they mentioned asteroids that are carbonaceous chondrites, and the fact that these can contain nearly 10 percent water. So, they grind the crumbly loose pieces of carbonaceous chondrite up (has a consistency somewhere between zeolites and kerogens) to extract the water,…then they go for the other useful volatiles, like nitrogen compounds, sulfur, and others. Lots of carbon left behind.

    That can be used to make graphene (pieces up to a square meter in size have been made), the strongest material we know of in tensile strength. The spaceships we can build with that will open the solar system to us. What’s left are then granular compositions of native Iron, Nickel, and platinum group metals, mixed in with some siliceous materials.

    Those can be separated by low temperature/low pressure carbonyl (Mond Process) action, with each step into the platinum group metals needing a bit more steam pressure and halogen additives to make its carbonyl, and the held near room temperature to keep it liquid till return to pure metals is needed. The Nickel Tetracarbonyl and the Iron Pentacarbonyl can be separated by distillation. It is possible that the carbonyl intermediate forms are what will be shipped to their destination in Space, for final reduction and forming through standard CVD processes. Check “Space Resources”, page 261, in the Asteroid Resource Exploitation chapter for a few more features of these processes.

    Dr. Lewis has been writing and teaching about this sort of thing for decades.

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