The Extraction of useful materials on asteroids may seem like something out of the ordinary, but in fact companies and even some governments are already seriously considering this possibility. Why not: compared to the enormous technical challenges that have to be solved on Earth, our gravity, the asteroid will be much easier on a smaller scale, in high concentrations and with simple technological solutions. Only hope that the development of asteroid will start fast enough to solve resource problems which the world faced now.
Scientists working with the companies that plans to develop the asteroids to hasten that future. Because of the secrecy of individual data about a lot of things they can't tell you — trade secrets. However, the main reasons for optimism and what it might mean for our future — they talk about it quite openly.
Many people are skeptical of resource extraction on asteroids, because I think the whole point of this is to return to the sale on the Ground platinum. In the media confidently say that platinum asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars, but anyone who has a basic understanding of economic realities, I would say that the emergence on the planet of giant reserves of the precious metal just bring down the market, thus reducing the value of the asteroid.
On the other hand, if the plan is to mine platinum in small portions, maintaining the high cost (as in the case of diamonds, for example), then the miners of asteroids would compete with earth-diggers, which already benefit from the existing supply chain and transportation?
That's why platinum is not the purpose of the space miners. The first product from the asteroids would be something less obvious: water.
For rocket scientists water is a raw material for fuel. Launching water from Earth into space requires a lot of fuel, which the whole concept becomes questionable and secretive. Fortunately, in space water a lot and its easier to move. Water can be extracted from clay minerals common on small bodies — carbon asteroids. After separation of the minerals from the water can be split by electricity (electrolysis) into hydrogen and oxygen, then used in rocket fuel.
The Production of rocket fuel in space will reduce costs of all other processes that take place in space, contributing to the cycle of supply chains and extraterrestrial transport chain. However, before this happens, you need to find operators who are able to start the process.
Who will buy the rocket fuel made from asteroid water? One of the concepts is to sell it to telecommunications companies to launch satellites into orbit. Ten years ago, most satellites were launched attached to a small upper stage of the rocket. She raised the satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit, which lies at the low point 200 kilometers above the Earth's surface and higher up to 36 000 kilometers. The spacecraft aiming to the highest point, the satellite is released and begins to transmit data to the users. The cost of spent upper stages, however, is quite high.
Today, most satellite owners place a small electric motor on the spacecraft. It is cheaper and more efficient, but very weak. You need from six to twelve months that the satellite went into the final orbit. Time is money, so this delay costs the owners of the satellite in the hundreds of millions of lost profits.
Development of asteroids will provide the third option. Development company will sell the water space transport company, which will use it to fill the space barge parked in earth orbit. The barge will dock with the launched satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit and to bring it to the final orbit during the day.
According to scientists, the cost of this service, including return of capital, financial costs, insurance and profit for all parties to be less than loss of profits in the current situation, so it business case. The only problem is finding enough customers willing to use this service.
And here that could help space agencies like NASA. If they develop a gas storage space to reduce their costs of development of the moon or Mars, and if they will sign commercial contracts for supply of outer space water, they will reduce capital expenditure and risk for new mining companies. In some ways government agencies can provide the early success of private space industry.
Infrastructure for the development of asteroids will help to solve a serious problem regarding resources. In ten or twenty years the current system of satellites and optical fiber can not cover the need to transfer wireless and Internet data. There is no solution except to create antennas in space that are too large to send in the missiles, because there is nothing that can scale fast enough to meet the needs of transferring data, the volume of which will grow exponentially until the end of the century. Metal from asteroids will not be sold on the Ground, because it's too expensive. He will remain in the space, helping to transfer valuable data on the digital market.
There is also the belief that solar power generation in space in this century will become cheaper than energy generation on Earth by any known method. Then this energy will be transmitted to earth via microwaves. Moving more parts of the energy sector in space free the planet from the environmental problems associated with energy production and supply chain this energy. Even wind and solar require the dedication of large areas of the earth.
According to some estimates, energy production off the planet can reduce industrial emissions by a quarter already by 2100. And this is without considering the exponentially growing energy production and computer operations.
Keep in mind that none of these ideas does not imply the return of asteroid materials for sale to the Ground. The real value of space mining will be the creation of a space industry that will benefit all of us. The main import from space would be massless photons that carry data and power.
The Important point that needs to understand our governmental leaders is that investing in space mining is a safe bet on our future, one of the safest. NASA and other space agencies will have the opportunity to conduct more research, and increasing geopolitical presence for a low price. Saving Land and improving the quality of our lives will be just a nice addition....
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