27 September 2009

Asteroids vs. the Moon: Taking Your Best Shot

Now that we know that there is water on the moon (via Neil Craig) (also see here), is the moon now the best jumping off point for exploring the rest of the system? No, but it does make the moon one possible springboard to the solar system.

We have recently learned that Mars has more water than previously believed (also see here), which makes Mars more attractive for permanent bases and settlements. But Mars is much more distant than Luna, requiring a more expensive expedition with greater risks.

But besides Luna and Mars, we also need to consider non-planetary locations for exploration, commercialisation, and colonisation. The asteroids located in several orbital configurations -- including the massive asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter -- contain a massive amount of wealth, vital volatiles, and strategic aerospace materials. In fact one near-earth object known as El Dorado may be worth as much as $1 Trillion! El Dorado is not a particularly large asteroid, and not nearly the richest either, in all likelihood.

Here is an interesting comparison between mining asteroids vs. mining the Earth's crust:
Almost any random asteroid has a higher concentration of the platinum-group and precious metals than the richest mineral deposits on Earth, and many are fated to end up on Earth in the long run: thousands of asteroids that cross Earth's orbit or approach it closely are likely to survive less than 10 million years: the main threat to them is collision with Earth. These bodies are energetically much closer to us than the surface of the Moon, they are enormously more diverse in composition than the lunar crust, and many or most of them have not undergone geochemical differentiation. _JohnLewis L5Review
When Lewis says "the rich asteroids are energetically much closer to us than the surface of the moon," he is telling us that it would be cheaper, energy-wise, to boost a mining venture to some asteroids than to the moon, if you choose the proper launch window. The same applies to the return trip for the ore -- assuming you would be shipping the ore Earth-ward rather than processing and utilising it in space. As humans move into space, Earth trade will grow less and less important to space enterprises. And mining a problem asteroid may be the best way to reduce the threat of Earth collision, while making a handsome profit.
The asteroids, though smaller and faster-cooling, seem a match for the Moon as targets for speculative prospecting. Vesta, for example, appears basaltic and differentiated (like the Moon) and has over one-tenth the Moon's diameter. Many meteorites were melted and resolidified; asteroidal materials contained water, which perhaps mobilized incompatible elements. Further, comparing rock to rock, metal to metal, and sulfide to sulfide, concentrations of trace elements have been found to vary from sample to sample by factors of several hundred or more (4). _KEricDrexler L5
The gold rush to space will require infrastructure in Earth orbit for building space vehicles and habitats out of mostly space materials. These materials can be supplemented by Earth materials boosted into orbit via cheap high frequency, high-G electromagnetic boost. Large amounts of crucial volatiles can likewise be boosted electromagnetically.

But the approach to exploring, colonising, and commercialising space must change. Rather than taking the hyper-cautious, bureaucratic, idiocratic approach to exploring space, humanity will need to jump right in to seize the day. Design the nuts and bolts of basic, no-frills space vehicles, habitats, and infrastructure. Explain the risks and potential payoffs of outer space environments to anyone crazy enough to volunteer. And let human nature take its course.

The alternative to the opening of a new frontier, is the complete stagnation of life on this planet, under an all-encompassing nanny-state of uniform poverty that grows to be a constant torment and oppressor to everyone except those few at the top of the inside controlling structure. Think North Korea, Cuba, USSR under Stalin, China under Mao, Zimbabwe, Burma, etc. Death of the spirit, as in Orwell's 1984.

Most people are not cut out for exploration and high-risk employment. Every year, security grows more important to the dumbed down masses than freedom. The majority of idiocrats can easily out-vote the minority of free thinkers and freedom lovers. But it is the free thinkers and freedom lovers who tend to be important producers and creators of new ideas and new employment.

Governments such as the Obama / Pelosi reich that purposely penalise the producers so as to pamper the freeloaders, cultivate disaffection among the ranks of those who like making their own choices for themselves.

Expect change. Lots of change. But to get the kind of change you want, you will need to take power over your lives back into your own hands. Promote the opening of the new frontiers.

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Blogger neil craig said...

I once read a suggestion that international should specify that changing the orbit of an asteroid should reclassify it from a natural object to a private vehicle, thus getting round present interpretations, protecting the rights of first users & allowing enterprise to work.

Monday, 28 September, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

That would present an interesting problem of liability, should the asteroid later collide with Earth.

Obviously if you are a ruler of Russia, China, or the United States for that matter, you do not want anyone to be able to hit you, without you being able to hit them back.

That may be one of the reasons the space age has been so slow taking off. Obstructionism disguised as incompetence.

Monday, 28 September, 2009  
Blogger neil craig said...

Fair point. If I was running any of these countries i would want to obstruct anybody doing that too. You make a very good case for good regulation, which unfortuntely tends to mean government intrusion, in space. However the way to deal with it would be a spce law which allowed interference in possibly dangerous activities not the present mess which, by making everything out there the "common heritage" of everybody down here merely acts against any private development.

Tuesday, 29 September, 2009  

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