Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

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Two nearby asteroids found with more precious metals than Earth’s entire global supply

The precious metals on asteroid 1986 DA, compared to the world's reserves

Capitalism in space: Astronomers have now identified two metal-rich asteroids in orbit near the Earth, with one having a precious metal content that likely exceeds the Earth’s entire reserves.

From the paper’s conclusion:

We estimated that the amounts of Fe, Ni, Co, and the PGM present in 1986 DA could exceed the reserves worldwide. Moreover, if 1986 DA is mined and the metals marketed over 50 yr, the annual value of precious metals for this object would be ∼$233 billion.

The graphic to the right, figure 13 from the paper, illustrates the amount of precious metals available in asteroid 1986 DA, compared to the world’s entire reserves (FE=iron, Ni=nickel, Co=cobalt, Cu=copper, PGM=platinum group metals, Au=gold). From this single metal asteroid a mining operation could literally double the metal that had been previously mined on Earth.

In estimating the value of these metals, the paper tries to account for the certain drop in price caused by the flooding of so much material into the market. It is a guess however. What is clear is that this asteroid could easily serve as a supply house not for Earth but for all future colonies in space. While expensive for Earth use, for colonies already in space the material would be relatively easy to reach and mine. The colonies will already have the transportation infrastructure, since they couldn’t exist without rockets and interplanetary spacecraft. And mining and processing this asteroid material will be far easier and cheaper than trying to find it on Mars and then process it.

Asteroid 1986 DA is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across, based on radar data obtained during a close Earth fly-by in 2019. The second asteroid, 2016 ED85, appears to have a similar content from spectroscopy, but no radar data has as yet been obtained of it, so much less is known.

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42 comments

  • Cotour

    I asked this question before related to asteroids and resources.

    Where is that market for these resources? In space or on the earth?

    If the market for them is in space to be utilized in some fashion then fine. That will be valued based in that realm.

    But if the market is on the earth, how is it delivered to the earth is quantities large enough without burning up in the atmosphere to be introduced into that earth market?

    Am I over thinking this?

    If you accumulate 1 million tons of gold in space and its valuable primarily ON earth, that seems an issue to me.

  • Skunk Bucket

    When I see stories like this, I again ask myself “why exactly are we so set on going to Mars?” While Elon Musk is doing a far better job of improving our access to space, I like Jeff Bezos’ ideas about space colonies a lot better. Go to where the resources are.

  • Skunk Bucket: While metal resources are likely easier to obtain from asteroids, it now appears that water and ice might be easier to get on Mars.

    As you say, you go where the resources are. And they are not in all one place.

  • Andrew_W

    1986 DA’s aphelion is out at 4.4 AU, well out into the asteroid belt, well out past Ceres, which has water.
    I’m with the later Gerard O’Neill, Mars is a dead end, better asteroids with their lack of a gravity well to climb in and out of. You build your solar array, industrial and habitation modules in LEO, use an electric drive (ion or similar) to move them to the target asteroid and start extraction operations. Possibly rotating tethers attached to the target asteroid could be used as propellentless propulsion to sling product to market.

    Contour, getting through the Earth’s atmosphere could be done by just wrapping the high value cargo in a cheap iron shell, perhaps aim it at an isolated shallow lake for recovery, try not to drop it on anyone’s house.

  • Jeff Wright

    I think cables will be important…they were used to cut the Kursk. A metal rich asteroid that rotates can become a bola for artificial gravity on the inner facing surfaces.

  • Andrew_W

    Cotour, sorry, you’re a victim of autocorrect.

  • Gary H

    I understand that the PRC considers Asteroid 1986 DA as an extension of the South China Sea.

    Perhaps, our next contested land/under sea mass will be closer to the North Pole here on earth. If so, the Russians and Chinese might be years ahead of the US.

  • nomad

    Even though its hard to get to I’d rather go to Titan than Mars.

    If you’re looking for water and ice I might suggest the asteroid Ceres since the Dawn probe suggested there is an ocean, or at least a frozen one, under the crust. With the low gravity it would be less than a landing and more like docking. Its also not much farther than Mars and doesn’t have a deep gravity well if you refuel there and wanted to go somewhere else.

  • Jay

    Gary H. for the laugh of the day. You know they might do it and add to their constitution that it is a renegade province like Taiwan.

  • Col Beausabre

    Dibs – I called it first!

  • wayne

    Cotour-
    excellent question. No, you’re not overthinking this–just because resources exist somewhere in Space doesn’t mean they can be utilized on Earth.

  • Patrick Underwood

    I want the bluejeans concession.

  • Chris

    Perhaps there are things going on I am unaware of but the next question after mining (and the tech to do that), is how will we provide the technology and energy for that technology to utilize these materials. Iron melts at 1500C/2800F, Nickel is similar. How do we handle providing this temperature/energy in any quantity. I realize this is a doable engineering problem but I do not believe it is worked out. Nor is the mining fully thought through.

  • Andrew_W

    Chris, in space, unless you’re in shadow, you get sunshine 24/7, solar furnaces should work really well in space in the inner solar system.

  • MDN

    I presume the biggest challenge is not getting the resources through Earths atmosphere efficiently (gravity and shielding as already noted, but likely ceramic, not ferric will take care of that). The challenge is going to be harvesting the material and then the delta v necessary to bring it to Earth cost effectively.

    For instance, one ton of pure gold (32,000 ounces) is worth about $56M at todays market price. So assuming you want to make a 50% profit margin that means your recovery costs need to be less than $28M per ton. And that goes down with purity of you can’t refine to purity in situ.

    That seems like a lot given this stuff is 3.4AU away. But if I’m starting a company I’m thinking it needs to be swarms of small droids doing the job that can start small and scale as you g(r)o (w) like Starlink.

  • Cotour

    Wayne:

    Finding yourself stranded in the middle of the Sahara desert, what is more valuable?

    50 lbs of gold? Or a liter bottle of water?

    If you can not get the gold to where it is valuable, it is worthless.

    But I am certain given the right incentive the problem will some how be solved.

    Q: How do you mine and process gold on an asteroid that has little gravity? And probably no water.

  • wayne

    Chris–
    IMHO, if we’re not talking nuclear derived energy for Deadwood In Space, we’re just making it all up..

    Outland (1981)
    https://youtu.be/-J8mOOtS7XI
    9:00

  • wayne

    Cotour-
    absolutely, the paradox-of-value.
    (no-one really knows how to mine & process gold, in Space. “They” would be better off figuring out how to realistically turn toxic space-ice, into drinking water, hydrogen & oxygen.)

    tangentially–there is a disturbing trend in science-fiction, especially all the iterations of Star Trek, where most of the mining-of-the-future, is done with slave-labor.

  • Andrew_W

    ” . . . the delta v necessary to bring it to Earth cost effectively”.

    Asteroids spin, if you tie a tether to the asteroid and throw the other end up, if it’s long enough payload can be raised to the point on the spinning tether where gravity is balanced by centrifical force after that as it moves further out along the tether it’ll accelerated, taking a tiny bit of the asteroids rotational energy, if it’s released in the right direction with enough energy it’ll end up on Earth, actual delta v to get to Earth from asteroids like 1986AD is only around 1.5km/s.
    “How do you mine and process gold on an asteroid that has little gravity? And probably no water.”
    You use centrafuges, the habitation facilities are going to need to be spinning to create artificial gravity, spinning stuff in a vacuum isn’t hard.

  • Andrew_W

    ” “They” would be better off figuring out how to realistically turn toxic space-ice, into drinking water, hydrogen & oxygen.)”

    Respectively: distillation and hydrolysis.

  • Andrew_W

    “Hydrolysis” should be electrolysis.

  • Edward

    MDN,
    You may be off a little in your price for gold per ton, because it is priced in troy ounces, at 12,000 troy ounces per ton, but your point is valid. Is it really worth bringing that gold back to the planet Earth?

    Here is a link to a delta-v chart for the solar system:
    http://i.imgur.com/SqdzxzF.png

    I assume that the slag left over from mining and refining the materials would be used as the reaction mass, which could keep the cost of transport low. Transfer it into a Spaceship for transport to the Earth’s surface, and you bring down 100 tons at a time (e.g. $4.2 billion for gold), and now we are talking real money. But do we need to use it on Earth?

    Robert’s point is that it could be used in space:
    What is clear is that this asteroid could easily serve as a supply house not for Earth but for all future colonies in space. While expensive for Earth use, for colonies already in space the material would be relatively easy to reach and mine. The colonies will already have the transportation infrastructure, since they couldn’t exist without rockets and interplanetary spacecraft. And mining and processing this asteroid material will be far easier and cheaper than trying to find it on Mars and then process it.

    Considering that the delta-v for transport from the Earth’s surface to low Earth orbit (LEO) is 9 to 10 km/sec, but the delta-v from Jupiter orbit (a little farther than the asteroid belt) is 6.5 km/sec (less if we can use the atmosphere for aerobraking), then there is an advantage from LEO on up.

    Gerard K. O’Neill hoped for colonies at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, especially L4 and L5, and using lunar materials (2.5 km/sec delta-v) useful products could be built in space, such as solar power plants for transmitting energy to Earth by way of microwaves.

    Space has unique challenges, but we earthlings have risen to such occasions before, and we can do so again, even if we become Martians, Lunars (Lunatics?), or whatever we will call colonists of free floating colonies in space (Solarians? Holios? Cis-lunars?). It is good to know that many materials that we need for life and for economic activity (jobs) are abundant in space.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Iron, cobalt and nickel will find ready use in space – primarily for construction of huge ships and habs. There is no practical way to get any significant fraction of Earth’s current total annual new production of these metals onto Earth from space in an environmentally reasonable way. That is the main reason Bezos’s expressed goal of moving all heavy industry off of Earth and into space is complete hogwash. The man simply hasn’t done the math.

    Gold and PGMs also don’t have to be physically landed on Earth to have value here. A lot of people already own gold “remotely,” in that they own a share of some sizable gold stockpile kept in a location physically distant from them. The same could be done with gold stockpiles mined and stored in space. Such gold might even command a bit of a price premium over Earth-stored gold stockpiles as security against theft would be vastly better and cost essentially nothing.

    Monetizing this asteroid sounds like it might be another good side hustle for SpaceX that could be done in parallel with its Mars project and which could also provide a very non-trivial financial contribution to said project. Both projects could scale up from modest beginnings in parallel too. The orbital elements of this asteroid being notably different from those of Mars, exploiting it would also be a project that could be pursued on a different schedule than the 26-month optimal Earth-to-Mars departure windows.

  • Andrew_W

    “Gold and PGMs also don’t have to be physically landed on Earth to have value here. A lot of people already own gold “remotely,” in that they own a share of some sizable gold stockpile kept in a location physically distant from them.”

    The only investment value gold has is as a result of it’s restricted supply, if supply increases significantly and sustainably demand for investment will likely go negative, resulting in demand for non-investment uses dominating demand.

  • Andrew_W

    “There is no practical way to get any significant fraction of Earth’s current total annual new production of these metals onto Earth from space in an environmentally reasonable way.”

    Annual global gold production is around 3500 tonnes, NASA estimates that each year 16000 tonnes of meteoric material enters Earth’s atmosphere.

  • Edward

    Dick Eagleson, wrote:
    Monetizing this asteroid sounds like it might be another good side hustle for SpaceX that could be done in parallel with its Mars project and which could also provide a very non-trivial financial contribution to said project.

    This may be so, but I wouldn’t expect this from SpaceX until after it has a good start on its Mars colonization. Distractions from this goal have been very few and have either been a direct benefit toward this goal (Dragon taught the company much about operating spacecraft and operating manned spacecraft) or a relatively quick funding source for it, such as Starlink. I would expect that such a mining operation by SpaceX would be the purview of the Martian colony, as it is not only closer but has more in common with the miners than an Earth-based operation. And Mars may be in greater need of some of the materials available on asteroids.

    We must keep in mind that there have been other companies founded with the intention of mining asteroids, such as Planetary Resources (rest its soul), and since for the next few years pretty much any company trying to get into space will likely be hiring SpaceX for at least some of their transportation, this could make for interesting bedfellows for the competitors.

  • pzatchok

    Why not just use everything in space instead of bringing it back to Earth?

    I can think of 20 industrial used for gold.

  • Questioner

    As soon as gold and platinum can be brought to Earth from space in huge quantities at low cost, these metals lose their very high price, which was previously based on their rarity and the associated high extraction costs. This would put the industrial use of these metals on a broader basis, but severely limit their usefulness as a store of value and currency. In my opinion, we are still “light years” away from that.

    How high are the assumed concentrations of these metals in the material of the asteroids? The linked paper has the following numbers:

    Gold-Au: 0.6 ppm
    Platinum Pt: 28.8 ppm

    Even on Earth, mining is often not worthwhile if the effort is too high with a low metal concentration. I assume that it takes several grams in a ton of rock to make a profit. The gold concentration in the asteroid seems to be even lower than the average gold concentration in the continental crust: 4 ppb (= 4 grams in 1000 tons of rock). The situation looks a little more favorable with platinum. Even so, you must find metal deposits on the asteroids that are present in sufficient concentration (a few grams per ton of rock?) to make it worthwhile. Nobody knows if they exist and how often. You may have to turn the entire inside of the asteroid outward looking for platinum and gold.

    I anticipate that the cost of operations and exploration in distant space will long remain so high that these missions will not turn a profit even at today’s metal prices.

  • Andrew_W

    I couldn’t find a figure for the mass of 1986 DA, but based on diameter and expected composition it’s somewhere around 50 – 100 billion tonnes, the figure offered for gold in it is 10,000 tonnes. So Questioners numbers look about right in terms of gold, around 0.1 – 0.2 ppm, not quite the El Dorado to crash it as an investment metal.

  • Patrick Underwood

    On these asteroids, the easily (well… you know) recoverable structural metals will be the most immediately valuable. On the CC asteroids, it will be water and other volatiles, and the carbon itself as both a structural and chemical resource.

    The precious metals won’t be harvested by direct intent, but during separation of the more useful iron and nickel. Just a happy side benefit. In fact the main actor might sell the “tailings” to other companies more interested in that sort of thing.

    Anyone have one of those handy charts showing dV requirements along these guys’ orbits? I need to study my investments in case life extension becomes a thing. :)

  • David Ross

    This is in response to Cotour’s insightful comments on getting valuable resources to where they are needed. I am a former scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Advanced Projects group. My doctoral theses at Stanford was on mining the moon and the asteroids.

    The question of getting resources to earth is important and one we looked at in detail. There are multiple solutions, but the simplest is to shape the metal into cylinders about the length and diameter of a telephone pole attach simple guidance, and send it straight down through the atmosphere to impact on a desert island or out in the desert far from human habitation. Approximate 10% of the content will burn up on reentry, the other 90% will reach earth and be easily “mined” from the impact point. The quantity that burns up in the atmosphere will be a tiny fraction of that which impacts and burns up in the atmosphere on a daily basis.

  • Cotour

    David Ross:

    Great info, thank you. That will be a sight to see when it hits the earth, the cameras will be running.

    Q: How will gold for example be mined in essentially zero gravity? And how will it be separated and refined without mass quantities of water? How will it be smelted and cast? On earth that is all accomplished as a result of the existing gravity and the generous availability of water in order to process it. It all naturally flows down hill.

    And what about the potential effects on the markets for these resources on earth? Flood the market, price goes down. Grow the market, price goes up.

    Have you studied any of these issues in your research?

  • Andrew_W

    On Earth gold mining becomes economic at around 2 ppm. I do agree with other commenters that gold is more likely a valuable by-product rather than the target metal.
    https://www.mining.com/web/making-the-grade-understanding-exploration-results/

    I think many would assume that mining an asteroid would be more expensive than mining on Earth, certainly that would be true initially, but I’d bet that in the longer term for each tonne of raw material handling and processing will be far cheaper.

  • wayne

    Andrew_W
    some good factoids.
    ref: “distillation and electrolysis”
    Yeah, that would be the mechanical methodology, what I meant to say more precisely was “demonstrate practical application in situ.”
    Lots-o-talk about melting ice (or mining asteroids) but I’m not seeing any practical research toward those ends.

    Dick-
    ref: “warehouse receipts” for precious metals off-world.
    Interesting concept. (what could possibly go awry?)
    IMHO, unless you physically posses the metal in question, all you have is a piece of paper, much like our current Federal Reserve Notes.

  • m d mill

    Are you all getting way ahead of yourselves? Is there any real proof these objects actually contain larger quantities and DENSITIES of gold or platinum(etc) than earths best terra firma sites to make it a profitable venture, other than conjecture? As Maxwell Smart said “It’ll NEVER WORK! (the “click” of a pistol cocking near his ear), but its certainly worth a try (or worth a look).

  • Max

    It’s far better to leave valuable material in space for use, or future use, than it is to attach a rocket to the needed material from earth for space use.
    There will be some novelty of gold and other metals, from off world, to create trinkets and coins that are more valuable than their earthly cousins… But the fad won’t last long.

    There will be some exceptions, like pharmaceuticals, Computer chips and genetically altered food or animal specimens for unique off world habitation and consumption. Create a product for which earth finds a demand and you have trade that is substanable and profitable.

    Pressurized habitation is a necessity, there are metals that have antibacterial properties which will assist the habitation sterilization and quality of existence. (The smell bacterial or fungal growth can get intense causing health issues)
    Bacteria and viruses are neutralized by metals such as stainless steel, brass, gold, silver, zinc, most plastic, copper (although it turns green when oxidized and could become a health issue)
    I’ve often fantasized about the first lunar colony having different sections, like spokes on a wheel around the spaceport, named according to the metals and materials used in their construction to see, as an experiment, which benefits human health best with no toxic downside. The data collected would be beneficial for other colonies and craft for a long term habitation in a proven material which promotes health and confidence.
    Traditional concrete/cement will not be available, calcium carbonate can be made chemically but the ingredients will have to be mined.
    Melted silicon (Glass) Will be plentiful and can be shaped and molded in an airless vacuum for a reliable structure. If there is a source of fluoride, silver can be attached to the glass structures for the anti-bacterial affect creating depth and possibly nausea from all the surfaces being mirrors.
    Speaking of mirrors on the moon, a half mile circumference around a tower, similar to the solar power plants on earth, will provide enough energy to melt the glass, and metal for approximately 7 to 10 days of the 28 day rotational period.
    Once the necessary components have been created, these towers will be converted to produce steam from collected water to turn turbines for plentiful electrical generation providing better control for the heating apparatus for finer construction methods.
    Eventually a transportation/electrical grid system will circumnavigate the moon where there will be several solar power stations always in the sunlight providing the electrical needs for all the lunar colonies. It may be no more complicated then mirrors reflecting sunlight onto a water filled pipeline, producing steam flowing through turbines every few miles with one way valves always forcing the water in the direction of the moons rotation.
    The earth already has plentiful metals and resources for what it needs. (there will be exotic metals discovered that earth will import from space…) Nearly all of the materials mined in space will be consumed by the ever-growing need for expansion for the growing population there. Survival will depend upon it.

  • Andrew_W

    “Speaking of mirrors on the moon, a half mile circumference around a tower, similar to the solar power plants on earth, will provide enough energy to melt the glass, and metal for approximately 7 to 10 days of the 28 day rotational period.”

    My expectation is that lunar development will be concentrated at the poles, while there are no true peaks of eternal light there are locations where a power tower would only be in shade for a few hours in the month. So at the poles you have near constant sunlight, regolith and volatiles. Nearly as advantageous for industrial development as setting up by an asteroid.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Thanks for the info Andrew_W.

  • BLSinSC

    OK, let’s say the asteroid is mined and metal ores extracted and then the ‘roid get lighter and more susceptible to orbit change and then ends up crashing into the earth or moon causing who know what! And for those thinking about using the metals in space, where will the REFINERIES be located? That crap is not just lying around as i-beams and axles! Sounds good, but not practical for any current efforts!

  • Edward

    BLSinSC asked: “And for those thinking about using the metals in space, where will the REFINERIES be located?

    Perhaps at or near the asteroids in order to minimize the cost of materials transportation.

    One of the beautiful parts of being human is that we have 8 billion people capable of pondering solutions to our problems. Once we had set those 8 billion free to find ways to reduce launch costs, thousands set about making this happen, and two companies have so far found ways to inexpensively reuse booster rockets, and a third is on its way on this same path.

    When it comes to lunar bases, settlements, or colonies, plenty of people will figure out the solutions to the unforeseen problems that crop up. The same is true for Martian and space colonies, when they are built. Some of these colonies may be mining communities at asteroids, so they would have a great stake in making sure that their mine/asteroid does not become a threat to hit the Earth.

    One way to accomplish an impossible goal is to make small modifications to the parameters until the goal is merely improbable. Now that it is possible, all that is left is to solve the problems that make it improbable rather than certain. It is how we built the Panama Canal, built the Golden Gate Bridge, and got to the Moon. Mining and refining asteroids is already possible, we just have to make it happen.

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