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Earth-buzzing Asteroid Would Be Worth $195B If We Could Catch It 265

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-give-it-to-you-for-$99B dept.
coondoggie writes "The asteroid NASA says is about the half the size of a football field that will blow past Earth on Feb 15 could be worth up to $195 billion in metals and propellant. That's what the scientists at Deep Space Industries, a company that wants to mine these flashing hunks of space materials, thinks the asteroid known as 2012 DA14 is worth — if they could catch it."
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Earth-buzzing Asteroid Would Be Worth $195B If We Could Catch It

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  • Supply & demand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dingen (958134) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:59AM (#42880905)

    But... if $195B worth of metals would be added to the market, wouldn't the value of metals drop because of supply & demand, resulting in a much less profitable asteroid?

  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw&yahoo,com> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:16AM (#42881007) Journal

    Whoever can land on it. Possession being 9/10s of the law and all that.

  • Re:Supply & demand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by taiwanjohn (103839) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:53AM (#42881249)

    Different market. They're talking about the value of these materials in orbit, not here on earth.

  • by Zouden (232738) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:55AM (#42881259)

    Of course, but that superpower would also need the desire to enforce ownership. There's just no incentive when they can just encourage Chinese or US mining companies to do the dirty work.

  • Re:Supply & demand (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thegarbz (1787294) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:59AM (#42881287)

    America is sitting on 3 trillion barrels of oil. What keeps the economy in check is that it still needs to be mined and extracted.

    Same with this asteroid. It wouldn't be a sudden dump of $195bn onto the market. Just like the 175tcf of gas that have suddenly been discovered in Australia haven't made a dent in the economy, instead it's just changed the share price of a handful of company.

  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:10AM (#42881343) Homepage Journal

    If you catch an asteroid, right then you gain the power you need to demand anything you want of any nation.

    'Cause if you can catch it, you can drop it.

  • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:20AM (#42881387)

    Actually I think you're applying a lot of conventional earth-bound thinking to an enterprise which is not.

    Earth mining has a lot of constraints which space doesn't. For one thing, solar power is perpetual and constant. There's no gravity - so structures don't need to support their own mass, only the forces they experience due to their own accelerations/rotations. You could use kilometers wide mylar sheeting to build solar furnaces, and provided you didn't spin it or over-tension it it would be just fine.

    Building volume is practically limitless, there's no environmental issues or clean up to worry about (though not scattering debris in the orbital regions would be important). There's also no convection - anything you heat up is only going to lose heat by inefficient radiative cooling. Keeping hot things hot would be ridiculously easy.

    The single biggest problem with space mining is refining - and it's not a problem, we've just never thought about how to do it in that environment. The goal of the mining/refining process is to use as few depleteable items as possible - i.e. you'd want to do as much as you could with free-floating masses of material and focussed sunlight as you could.

    Factories, refineries, mining picks/drills/whatever - all these ideas are irrelevant in such an environment. And all this can be done in an area less then a light-second away from Earth - so no need for any humans to be in space whatsoever.

  • Re:Supply & demand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonadab (583620) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:27AM (#42881419) Homepage Journal
    It is, however, possible to flood the market for particular commodities. A few centuries ago, for example, Spain mishandled their newfound wealth from Central America and flooded the European gold market. OPEC has repeatedly been held together because the country with the largest production has consistently and deliberately reduced their production to compensate whenever other member nations produce too much in a given year. If they had not done so, the market would have been saturated and the commodity price of crude oil would have dropped significantly.

    An asteroid made of mostly iron, to have any impact on the commodity market for iron or steel, would have to be worth a good deal more than $139 billion. An asteroid containing significant amounts of some less common material (e.g., rare earth metals) could potentially have an impact on the commodity prices of those -- if it were economic to capture and mine the thing, which of course it's not, at our current level of technology.

    In fact, however, this asteroid probably doesn't contain anywhere near $139 billion worth of metals at commodity prices. (It's only about the size of a football field, and they don't yet know precisely what it's made of.) The article talks about how much its materials would be worth in orbit, which is mostly a function of how expensive it is to get things up there from the surface. For example, they're imagining it might contain water, which could be used as reaction mass for spacecraft. On the surface, water is one of the cheapest materials there is. (Air is even cheaper.) But it costs money to lift it out of Earth's gravity well.

    They're dreaming, though. Without sci-fi technology (e.g., a tractor beam), capturing (let alone mining) a passing asteroid would be a ridiculously expensive (and also dangerous) operation, and all the equipment and personnel needed to do it would have to be lifted to orbit from the surface.
  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:39AM (#42882101) Homepage Journal

    Using average values for velocity, density, impact angle, etc. you get about six megatons. Hardly a 'zit'.

  • by Westwood0720 (2688917) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:12AM (#42882347)

    I'd pay for it to land on Washington

    Fixed.

  • by WillAdams (45638) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:17AM (#42882373) Homepage

    for so long as:

      - one doesn't get tired of hydroponically grown food and one can keep the water and air cycle going
      - one can prevent anyone from coming up the gravity well and launching a nuke
      - and no one stands up and refuses to cross the line in the sand

    Heinlein touched on all of these in _Space Cadet_, _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_ and _Starship Troopers_ --- there was a very good line about how trying to keep the peace w/ nukes was like trying to keep discipline in a kindergarden class w/ nothing but a loaded shotgun.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @11:39AM (#42883935)

    I see kickstarter potential ... I'm sure they could raise $195B if someone could redirect it for DC ...

  • by An Ominous Cow Erred (28892) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @12:43PM (#42884785)

    I'm not discussing LANDING it. The goal is to park it into a high Earth orbit, where it can be mined relatively cheaply. Only the most valuable materials would be landed, while bulk materials plentiful on earth (water, iron/nickel, etc.) would be used to build and service spacecraft.

  • by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @12:55PM (#42884929) Homepage
    You don't get it: material in space is worth a whole lot more than material on earth. If you brought it back down to earth it would be worth only a tiny fraction of that price and defeat the entire purpose of catching it. We already have lots of water on earth, and this whole planet is made of all kinds of metals, there is no water shortage here. Asteroid is worth a lot in space because bringing material out of the gravity well and atmosphere is expensive, to the tune of several thousand dollar per pound. If we slowed down this asteroid to make it go into a stable orbit around the earth (or the moon) then it really would be worth billions, if not trillions. The problem is slowing down an object out of a hyperbolic orbit - it requires tremendous amount of force. We could change its trajectory slightly so it enters the atmosphere for aerobreaking, but that requires very precise control of the trajectory to make sure it doesn't end up sub-orbital. :)

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