back to article Asteroid miners to strap 'scopes to new Virgin Galactic rocket

Washington-based Planetary Resources is pursuing the dream of mining near-Earth asteroids, signing a deal with the UK's Virgin Galactic for payload services. Planetary Resoures wants to use Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne booster to blast a series of robot craft into space to pave the way for asteroid mining. The firm's Arkyd- …

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  1. Axe
    Stop

    Surely?

    If people start mining hundreds of tons (or thousands even) of space rock and bringing them to earth that will affect the earths orbit around the sun (Increase earth mass, increase gravitational effect on the sun, drag earth into firey furnace)

    how much space gold would that take?

    1. frank ly

      Re: Surely?

      That has to be offset against the amount of mass that has been (and will be) taken away from the earth via spacecraft and their contents. As I understand it, large amounts of matter (space dust, small meteors, etc) land on the earth on a yearly basis, so that has to be factored in as well.

      I've no idea what the overall effect on the earth's orbit is, or would be; but someone will be along to tell us shortly.

      1. Code Monkey

        Re: Surely?

        I'm no astroboffin but my understanding is our orbit is very slowly moving away from the Sun. We'd need a lot of space gold to alter that trend.

      2. Axe
        Mushroom

        Re: Surely?

        Hmmm, I guess that the amount of stuff sent off earth won't be that much (yet, probably increasing exponentially though)

        But if large amounts are hitting earth every year then we are all dooooooomed I tells ya.....

        I'm getting out of here on the first available space plane.

      3. AdamT

        Re: Surely?

        <Shortly> BBC's More or Less covered this and it turns out we're (probably/roughly/approximately) losing 50,000 metric tons a year: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16787636 ...

      4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Surely?

        According to the net, the Earth gains about a million tonnes of space debris per year. Probably quite a lot of water. Which is infinitesimal in terms of changing its orbit.

        For comparison, total world steel production is about 1.5bn tonnes per year. But we probably wouldn't want to bring iron ore down - we have loads of iron ore here. World total gold production is about 2,500 tonnes, so we could really flood that market with very little weight penalty.

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Surely?

      The mass of the entire asteroid belt is estimated at approx 4% of the mass of the moon. (disclaimer - from wikipedia). Therefore we could move the whole belt here and still have pretty minor impact.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Surely?

        surely that would be lots and lots of not minor in the least impacts.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Surely?

      Well, why don't we offset the import, by exporting junk, the French, etc, into the depths of space?

      1. laird cummings
        Coat

        Re: Surely?

        "...exporting... ...the French... ...into the depths of space?"

        What did space ever do to deserve that?

        Mine's the one with the beret stuffed in the pocket.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Visions of...

    ...Lieutenant* Ripley in her underwear fighting off aliens in the cargo hold...

    ------

    * and it's pronounced "leftennant"

    1. Kevin Turvey
      Alien

      Re: Visions of...

      I'd like to get my shiny headed alien intruder into her cargo hold!

      She was hot in Ghostbusters too!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Valuable stuff?

    Does anyone yet know if these asteroids actually contain significant quantities of 'valuable stuff' (or are likely to)? Or is this more of a speculative venture?

    1. Code Monkey
      Windows

      Re: Valuable stuff?

      I suspect a new bubble. In SPAAAACE!*

      * if overusing "in SPAAAACE" is good enough for El Reg it's good enough for me.

    2. CaptainHook

      Re: Valuable stuff?

      The most valuable stuff they could get access to would be materials to produce/refine rocket fuel/water in depots floating around in strategic locations in the near earth orbit and further out in the solar system.

      Returning material to earth, although perhaps important from a PR point of view probably doesn't have a very good economic basis.

      1. mike2R

        Re: Valuable stuff?

        "Returning material to earth, although perhaps important from a PR point of view probably doesn't have a very good economic basis."

        I wonder. The asteroids themselves can presumably provide something to use as a propellant, so all we have to do is add energy and we can move any amount we want. Maybe (from one of my favourite sci-fi books) get whole asteroids into Earth orbit and then start mining and refining them there. Add a space elevator (or maybe figure out a way to just drop stuff down from orbit), and there really isn't much limit.

        1. gorand2
          FAIL

          Re: Valuable stuff?

          10 Million for 225 Kg is not cheap by any means, it's a rip-off!

          1. annodomini2

            Re: Valuable stuff?

            He's right, $20,000/lb ain't cheap.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: Valuable stuff?

              I don't know any school that can afford prices like that. $20k will get an adjunct, a new lunch lady, a janitor for a year or offset the cost of an SRO or maybe replace all the flickering lighting that makes everyone feel like they're on a shitty spaceship.

              I'm 6'5" and weigh 15 stones. I will gladly pay $3k for myself but that's about all I'm willing to pay for a joyride. No way I'm going to pay $4.3M+ unless it takes me somewhere cool. For $1.5k I can visit the opposite side of the planet and experience new cultures. For $4M I get vertigo and a view I've seen many time from photos? No thanks.

              $3-5k should be the milepost. More than that and the general population simply can't afford to go to space.

            2. Mips
              Childcatcher

              Re: Valuable stuff?

              But it is still cheaper than safron.

          2. Kharkov
            Thumb Down

            Re: Valuable stuff?

            Despite his two thumbs down, Gorand2 is right.

            10 million dollars for 225Kg? Do the math!

            SpaceX is offering a secondary payload (light and/or small stuff) for very reasonable prices and, truth be told, I think you'd get your payload up there a lot sooner than waiting for Virgin.

            Quite a few pre-sold Sub-Orbital flights bought & paid for but nary a one has taken place and probably won't this year...

          3. Mint Sauce
            Joke

            Re: Valuable stuff?

            10 Million for 225 Kg is not cheap by any means, it's a rip-off!

            Yeah, even Easy Jet don't charge THAT much!

            ;-)

            1. annodomini2
              Coat

              Re: Valuable stuff?

              "10 Million for 225 Kg is not cheap by any means, it's a rip-off!

              Yeah, even Easy Jet don't charge THAT much!

              ;-)"

              $45/gram for luggage sounds about right for Easy jet

        2. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: Valuable stuff?

          "...or maybe figure out a way to just drop stuff down from orbit..."

          Easy. If you're in the business of killing enough of its relative velocity that getting it into Earth orbit is feasible, you might as well just give it a velocity of bugger all relative to the surface, point it at somewhere unimportant[1] and wait. Then mine the results in the conventional manner once the dust has settled.

          [1] E.g. Swindon. You might even get government funding under "urban regeneration".....

          1. launcap
            Stop

            Re: Valuable stuff?

            >[1] E.g. Swindon. You might even get government funding under "urban regeneration".....

            Oi! You could at least wait until I'm on holiday. Although, even then that would harm my cats and I would be displeased.

            I reckon it's all a cover-up for the new orbital Anvil delivery service..

  5. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    1,500 accessible asteroids?

    OK, so what if there are 1,500 asteroids that they claim they could get to. What they happen to forget to mention is that pretty much all of them pass Earth at a hel of a velocity (measured in kilometers per *second*) which makes matching orbits with them just a little bit difficult (and remember, if they mine the asteroids then they have to match orbit with the Earth again on the next pass).

    Personally I think this is just a scam. Shout about a big project that looks feasible to idiots (= most VCs in my experience), pay yourself a big salery + bonuses for a few years, then allow the whole thing to collapse ("sorry, idea just did not work out"), move on to the next scam.

    1. mike2R

      Re: 1,500 accessible asteroids?

      Not sure that "scam" is right. "Rich man's toy" perhaps, or "ego trip" if you want to be cynical. But I don't think the investors are really expecting a huge chance of a big pay off.

    2. Don Jefe
      Meh

      Re: 1,500 accessible asteroids?

      You obviously don't have much experience with VC's. They set the salary caps on all C-level and director positions. They are gambling. Not just throwing money at companies.

      1. multipharious

        Re: 1,500 accessible asteroids?

        Clearly, none.

        Not to mention that VCs have people like me that advise them on the viability and risk of projects. Deals that come to me for technical review, more often my rejection is because the business model is bad or the pitch documents smell like bullshit. If the idea is good, we can engage an EIR, drop me in to help with the technical stuff, or build some money into the investment for outside consultants who can guide them towards the launchpad. I don't get into the books, but I know from talking about taking an investment for a project I have that you are NOT getting rich until your company begins to haul in revenue. That money goes to developers, QA, hardware, support, facilities, marketing, and designers.

  6. Peter Storm
    Thumb Up

    Where do I sign up?

    I mean, how hard can it be? I've played Eve Online, so I'm all trained up and stuff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where do I sign up?

      Playing EVE Online I'm surprised you have time to read the reg.

      1. laird cummings
        Trollface

        Re: Where do I sign up?

        "Playing EVE Online I'm surprised you have time to read the reg."

        Clearly, another AFK miner, in need of a good ganking.

    2. Peter Storm

      Re: Where do I sign up?

      Nah, not really. I tried it once. Though it was pants.

      I see I got a thumbs down, so somebody actually though I was being serious?

  7. LordHighFixer
    Facepalm

    Moon is a harsh mistress

    I just picture all the clueless noobz in the middle of the desert waiting for the first valuable mineral drop from orbit.

    1. laird cummings

      Re: Moon is a harsh mistress

      I initially read that as "...mineral dump..." and nearly aspirated my coffee.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: Moon is a harsh mistress

      Does wanting to be the bloke running a concession stand local to the desert concerned and flogging baseball mitts to those same clueless noobz make me a bad person?

    3. Kevin Turvey
      Thumb Up

      Re: Moon is a harsh mistress

      Hope you dont mean a middle eastern desert, they already have enough minerals and oil, maybe it could be dumped from orbit a little closer to home, maybe Milton Keynes or Slough?

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Moon is a harsh mistress

        Come, friendly rocks, and fall on Slough!

        It isn't fit for humans now,

        The only grass is skunk, but oh wow!

        Swarm over, Death!

        Come, rocks and crush to smithereens

        Non-air-conditioned, dowdy canteens,

        Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,

        Tinned minds, tinned brains.

        With apologies to Sir John Betjeman

  8. Isn't it obvious?
    FAIL

    Really very expensive

    The SpaceX Falcon 9 costs 50-60M$ per launch and will lift 13 150kg to LEO. Which amounts to approximately 60 times the mass for only 6 times the cost! Plus you can launch _now_, not in 4 years.

    I really don't get how all these companies (ULA is the worst) get away trumpeting the wonderful rockets they'll have in 4 to 10 years, when SpaceX has a better and much cheaper rocket right now.

  9. Andy Farley
    Thumb Up

    I want

    my singleship now please.

    Survey asteroids over long period

    Find the ones that have a high density from gravitation perturbations of the others

    Send prospectors out in covered singleships

    Find high densities of gold/platinum/uranium/unobtainium

    Fit asteroid with ion motor

    Fly it into L4

    Melt it with solar mirrors

    Spin it to refine

    Let it cool

    Take the lovely minerals

    Match Earth velocity

    Drop on desert region

    ...

    Profit.

    I'm not much of a salesman.

    1. BoldMan

      Re: I want

      Watch out for the Goldskins and Pak!

    2. CCCP
      Thumb Up

      Re: I want

      @Andy Farley

      Your strategy gem reminds me of the South Park gnome episode with the slide that said "collect underpants - ? - profit".

      Actually, that's probably their VC pitch: "collect asteroids - ? - profit"

  10. Matt Piechota

    Tittle

    You had miner, rocket, scope, strap, and virgin and that's the best title you could think of?

  11. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
    Alert

    The most useful thing you could do...

    ... would be to gather half a dozen decent sized ice asteroids (say, about 50 miles across) and then drop them on Mars.

    That way you would get a whole new planet for your money...

    1. Kharkov
      Happy

      Re: The most useful thing you could do...

      Check out (Asimov's?) short story The Martian Way. A small group of ships (3, I think) head of to Saturn's rings (ice chunks, remember?), find a nice big chunk of ice (about a mile across, I seem to remember) and fly it back to Mars, using a small percentage of the ice in the chunk as fuel for a fast flight.

      Today, of course, I don't think you'll find chunks in that size but you could combine smaller bits to make a bigger one to be sent to Mars, remembering to have it go through the atmosphere & break up, which is better than smashing it into the surface of Mars. You could do something similar with comets, too.

      50 miles across would be a bit big though.

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  13. annodomini2

    Launch costs

    The main benefit may be the orbit insertion vs launch costs.

    Yes $10m/225kg isn't cheap.

    However using this may have one major benefit over say Falcon 9 or Ariane 5;

    The orbit you wish to be inserted into, the conventional solutions will be able to to lift 225kg into any orbit you wish, but the target orbit for the rocket will be determined by the primary payload.

    This has no such limitation, additionally being air launched would have a lower hindrance on weight to specific orbits.

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