Mining asteroids?

Here’s a brain stretcher for you.

People with money to back their ideas are thinking about mining asteroids for natural resources.

After you finish chuckling, consider the materials needed for extended space travel and the cost of lifting them from earth into space.  How about pulling those resources off an asteroid, since its already in space?

Like I said, it’s a stretch.

And yet…

An outfit called Planetary Resources is planning to research the idea and figure out how to pull it off.

Two articles discuss the news:

I’ve been scratching my head about the reports for a few days. Then I realized the payoff is related to the incredible cost to lift stuff into space. Most of the energy for a space shot is getting started and the first several miles up.

Keep that in mind – the huge cost per pound to get something into orbit.

So, how about starting with resources that are already in space.

From the Wall Street Journal article:

Such mining could yield a large amount of water, oxygen and metals to help further space exploration by allowing humans to fuel spacecraft, build space stations and other constructs. The resources could potentially be brought back to Earth as well.

Unless you are talking something like gold or platinum that’s in an amazingly high concentration, I don’t think bringing resources back to earth would make any sense.  However, finding oxygen and metals to work with that are already in space could possibly make sense.

Lifting a nuclear reactor into space would provide relatively low-cost, high-volume power to do stuff.

Lifting all the steel to construct a spaceship or lift the ore to refine and coal to fire a furnace would be astoundingly expensive.  Seems to me lifting a nuclear reactor and drawing resources from an asteroid would be far cheaper.

Now the concept makes sense. 

I’m slow to catch on – but that is why these guys are already amazingly rich and already working on the plans while I’m just getting a fuzzy idea of the basic concept.

More details at a press conference Tuesday.

Next post – what’s with this private space exploration?

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