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

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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  • by gTsiros ( 205624 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:59AM (#42880901)

    The US? The world? An individual?

  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @04:59AM (#42880907) Homepage

    It seems to me that the biggest bottleneck in making a ROI for something like this isn't even so much the logistics of getting up there, mining it, and bringing it back down gracefully. It's the fuel consumption. Short of nuke power, we haven't got anything approaching the energy requirements to make this efficient.

    I haven't looked into Deep Space Industries all that much or what their business plan is, but what I understand seems kind of pie in the sky and unrealistic. Mining operations are huge capital investments. So would be the infrastructure necessary to bring the materials down here once they're harvested, and getting the equipment up there.

    Granted, you'd not have to worry about the ecological impact mining on the planet causes or the associated government regulation, but short of establishing a fairly large extraplanet base where most operations, including smelting, occur, with massive space mining ships like what you'd see in science fiction movies, I can't imagine this being profitable anytime soon... Don't get me wrong, but how are these guys NOT some sort of "dotcom company" selling vaporware?

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:16AM (#42881011)

    The Greenland ice sheet would be worth nearly as much if we could snare it, tow it, and deliver it to the Middle East in pristine condition, held with minimal expense for the long term, and without leaving an ocean sized dent among when it's finally depleted by the immodest swimming pools of Saudi Arabia.

    Half the shit rotting in your basement could become liquid gold if you had a time machine and a forwarding address to eBay future. Only problem is that they will return payment in a priceless commodity you haven't got the first clue how to use. If you're clever, you might be able to wangle out of them all the remaining Bitcoin blocks.

    "Primordial human, what do you want that for? Are you an archaeologist, or what? Well, you'll just have to time your deliveries more precisely. The grand curator's office hours are October–November, Monday and Tuesday, 13:00 to 14:00, no exceptions."

    The real reason a supermodel isn't going to sleep with you is not because you're boring and ugly and proud of your Costco luxury goods—it's because you're living the wrong life, with the wrong crowd, on the wrong spiral arm of the social graph.

    It's there, you're here, and never the twain shall meet.

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

    by corbettw ( 214229 ) <{corbettw} {at} {}> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:17AM (#42881023) Journal

    The global economy is worth almost $70 trillion dollars; a sudden influx of 0.27% of that amount would have negligible impact on the value of goods and services.

  • by sFurbo ( 1361249 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:24AM (#42881081)
    It seems their plan is not to bring the materials to Earth, but to use them to build things in space, where things are much more valuable (is it something like 10.000$ per kg to launch a satellite?). IIRC, the first part of their scheme is simply to extract water and other volatiles, which can be used for propellants. The required investment would be much smaller than for producing objects, and the cost in orbit is still at least what it costs to launch it on a rocket.
  • by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @05:26AM (#42881099)

    The outer space treaty says that nations can't "claim ownership" of space bodies and they can't use them for weapons testing. But AFAIK that doesn't prohibit commercial exploitation of an asteroid. Whoever can catch it and start mining it has a pretty good claim to it. Who's going to stop them? And for what purpose?

    A legal battle would arise if another company tried mining the same asteroid. They'd need to set up a way of staking a claim. But we're not nearly at that stage yet.

  • by rocket rancher ( 447670 ) <> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:04AM (#42881863)

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

    Heh -- you are almost right. It's the person who can defend a claim that owns it, not the first person to make the claim. I sincerely hope Deep Space Industries does live up to their potential by profiting from asteroid mining. But their success is contingent upon them being able to defend their claims of ownership, and they really haven't addressed how they are going to do that, yet. Be interesting see what their defense is. Claim-jumping is just as real a threat now as it was in California in 1849. Who will Deep Space Industries appeal to when a rival lands on their rock and reprograms all their mining bots -- Starfleet, perhaps? (I kid, I kid, but I think you see my point.)

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

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian,bixby&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @10:17AM (#42882945)
    Markets respond rationally? Maybe in Ronpaulland, but here on Earth there are entire industries devoted to make sure that they don't. Madison Avenue alone receives more money for marketing than the entire NASA budget, and Wall Street sucks more money out of the world economy than the revenue of most countries.
  • by An Ominous Cow Erred ( 28892 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @11:44AM (#42884009)

    You could capture it with a minimum of propellant fairly easily. Reorienting its orbit relative to Earth doesn't take much of a push if you do it far enough away (which is why when you do course corrections on a spacecraft, you make the big ones early on, and make small, fine-tuning ones when you get closer to your target).

    Then you can get most of your delta-v by aerobraking it in Earth's upper atmosphere, aiming it just deep enough to slow it down to just barely below Earth's escape velocity. You'd save a vast amount of propellant and make an amazing light show for anyone watching. =)

    Then you give it one more nudge at apogee (probably the most expensive part of the endeavor) to circularize its orbit enough that it doesn't hit the atmosphere again (which is important). After that last high-thrust burn you could then further circularize the orbit with low-thrust, high-efficiency electric thrusters.

    Given enough time and a nuclear reactor, this could all be done using reaction mass acquired on-site, so you wouldn't have to actually haul the propellant to the asteroid, and only take just enough to get your reactor and fuel-manufacturing plant to it.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev