Low cost lunar and asteroidal lander prospector missions.

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Exoscientist, Feb 23, 2012.

  1. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Yes it was only $100/L a few years ago, but new uses (not fusion) have been found for it. See especially 2nd paragraph of my reply to quotes (2)&(3) near end of this post.

    Popular Mechanics says: “…Substituting helium-3 for tritium allows the use of electrostatic confinement, …” From: Mining The Moon - Rare Minerals - Helium 3 - Popular Mechanics

    BT comments: I am not up to date on recent developments, but think this is misleading, if not completely wrong. First generation D+T fusion (still far from any demonstration of economic viability after nearly 40 years of effort) is much easier to achieve than D+He3 reaction as with twice the Coulomb repulsion much higher temperatures (and pressure at same density) are required. Also, I´m almost sure the reaction rate is significantly lower than for D+T, which means that even at the same plasma density the reaction chamber must be much larger (more costly) to produce the same output energy.

    Offsetting these disadvantages is fact that all the D+He3 fusion energy is in charged particles, not the bulk of it in a 17.6 Mev neutron of the D+T reaction, which is thermalized at high temperature to make heat for conventional steam turbine. I.e. only ~40% of the D+T fusion energy ends up as electrical energy. The energy released in D+He3 is kinetic but random in direction. Its motion must be made unidirectional for climbing up a retarding electric field. As it slows down, its energy loss is given to the field. Normally a “magnetic mirror” would be used as charged particle can “leak” out of it along the axis and only those with velocity along the axis field lines do so.

    There are many, seldom discussed, problems: Such as the positive charged particles carry almost all of the energy, but with each there is an electron tagging along. More magnetic field structure is required to separate them as if there is only one “retarding field” it is an accelerating filed for the electrons. Also in the steady state as energy is removed from the ions neutral atoms will form and diffuse back towards the reaction volume stealing energy from it (by frequent radiation, until the neutral is fully ionized)

    Part I summary: It is extremely unlikely that a D+He3 reactor with electro-static energy recovery can even be made, and nearly certain it would not be economically competitive with simple natural gas / steam turbine power generation. Hell, there are no creditable arguments that even first generation D+T fusion will be economically feasible, that I know of, but at least after three decades of expensive effort, ITER has briefly achieved "break even" (Fusion energy released equal the energy being consumed at that instant). Has that hot plasma been confined as long as one second yet?

    Following is from your Wiki link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium-3). Initial numbers tie quotes to my later comments.
    1) “… helium-3 was found to be about 10,000 times more rare with respect to helium-4 in helium from wells”

    2) “… Tritium, with a roughly 12-year half-life, decays into helium-3, which can be recovered. Irradiation of lithium in a nuclear reactor can also produce tritium, and thus (after decay) helium-3. …”

    3) “…Current US industrial consumption of Helium-3 is approximately 60,000 liters per year; cost at auction has typically been approximately $100/liter although increasing demand has raised prices to as much as $2,000/liter in recent years. …virtually all helium-3 used in industry is manufactured. Helium-3 is a product of tritium decay, and tritium can be produced through neutron bombardment of deuterium, lithium, boron, or nitrogen targets. … Production of tritium in significant quantities requires the high neutron flux of a nuclear reactor; … the US Department of Energy recently began producing it by the lithium irradiation method at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar reactor. Substantial quantities of tritium could also be extracted from the heavy water moderator in CANDU nuclear reactors. …”

    4) “…Helium is also present as up to 7% of some natural gas sources, … the US 2002 stockpile of 1 billion normal m3 {of helium} would have contained about 10 to 100 kilograms of helium-3.” …”

    5) “…Anderson's estimate of another 1200 metric tonnes in interplanetary dust particles on the ocean floors.[37] In the 1994 study, extracting helium-3 from these sources consumes more energy than fusion would release.[ …”

    6) “ … The amount of fuel needed for large-scale applications can also be put in terms of total consumption: … Electricity consumption by 107 million U.S. households in 2001 totaled 1,140 billion kW•h" Again assuming 100% conversion efficiency, 6.7 tonnes of helium-3 would be required for that segment of the energy demand of the United States, 15 to 20 tonnes given a more realistic end-to-end conversion efficiency …”

    Billy T´s comments by number:

    (1)&(4) US already separates helium form the natural gas at least one well (in Texas, I think). Very little cost, compared to moon mining to also separate the He3 from the more dominate He4.

    (2)&(3) Canada has several CANDU reactors, and I think more will be built in other countries too, if not already operating there. (Name is from Canada & DeUterium in the heavy water moderator). IMHO the CANDU reactor, which is economically competitive, should be the only design mankind uses for electric power as it runs on natural uranium. US and USSR were needing enrichment plants to make atomic bombs – that is why many other types of reactors exist. For example, if Iran wants nuclear power, let them build CANDU reactors. The heavy water they require is not “used up” – It is a one time capital cost, much less than the centrifuges etc. of a U235 enrichment plant.

    AFAIK, they don´t bother to collect and store the Tritium a CANDU reactor produces to get He3 as the T decays. Probably as the value of He3 was only $100/L, (less than 10% of the cost of most brand name perfumes!). If world closed most enrichment plants, and ran more CANDU reactors its needs of He3 could easily be supplied at cost of < $100/L.

    (5) It makes more sense to robotically collect He3 in “cosmic dust” from the ocean floor than the moon, but it is not worth it (net negative energy yield even if D+He3 fusion were economical) All the technology needed has already been developed by oil companies. Compared to robots that can fill ocean floor well casings with cement, etc. scooping up “cosmic dust” from the floor is child´s play.

    I think the reason is that the He3 is NOT just a surface 2D liquid adsorbed on specks of cosmic dust, (easily driven off at less than 100C heat) but embedded in their interiors. To drive it out, requires heating to red hot temperatures, if not actually melting of the dust. This is the same problem with He3 imbedded in crystalline rocks on the moon. Even if the moon He3 concentration were 100ppb (0.000,000,01) to get a gram of He3 would require heating 1,000 Kg of the crystals with He3 to at least red hot conditions.

    The idea that there is He3 in ice crystals seems to be wishful thinking. Here from ref 41 of your Wiki link (the only factual data with analysis is from this Russian study) is where the He3 (that does not boil off in sunlight) is:

    “…The probable reserves of implanted 3He in lunar
    regolith in the area of high titanium basalt occurrence
    concern to the highest category I and are estimated as
    53000 tons on the Moon Near Side. As a whole on all
    Moon surface the probable reserves of this category
    are estimated as 61000 tons.

    The probable 3He reserves of category II concern
    to areas of occurrence of sea basalts with moderate
    TiO2 abundance
    (3-5 %) and are estimated as 109000
    tons on the Near Side. It is twice more on reserves,
    than in category I, but it is almost in 4 times more on
    the occupied area.

    The areas with probable reserves of a category III
    are characterized by low titanium mare basalts occurrences
    with the lowered abundance of 3He in regolith.
    The probable reserves of this category are estimated
    as 143000 tons on the Moon Near Side. Reserves
    of this category settle down approximately on
    the same areas, as well as stocks categories II, but are
    characterized almost by the twice greater thickness of

    In the sum probable reserves of first three
    categories are estimated in 306000 tons on Moon Near
    Side and occur on the 12 % of all area of a hemisphere.
    Practically the reserves of first three categories
    occur in the lunar mares territory. The area of mare
    geological complexes is estimated approximately as
    13 % of all Near Side area. …”

    Note the He3 collected by US astronauts was from soil currently in the solar wind. Surely, there is an dynamic equilibrium concentration of the surface adsorbed He3 as solar wind adds and solar heating boils off He3. Perhaps that is the concentration (15ppb max) they observed.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 27, 2012
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  3. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    If Tritium, T, is simply collected from existing CANDU reactors as it is produced, and then stored for it to decay to He3, I think most of the cost would be in tanks storing ~18 times* the annual consumption of He3.

    Those tanks would be strong to safely hold T at high pressure (lower tank volume required) and also with shielding to make the external radiation levels acceptable. I am reasonable sure the cost when produced in volume the cost would be less than the price of a few years ago. I.e. <$100/ liter. After all, the only significant new cost is the storage tanks. The T is a buy product of the CANDU reactor operating to produce electric power.

    *I.e. 1/18 of the stored T becomes He3, every year.
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  5. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    I think the $100/liter cost was mostly the result of a big short-term T surplus from the decommissioning of a bunch of T-filled nuclear warheads in Russia and the USA. Around the same time that the warhead decommissioning stopped and that source dried up, He-3 started finding a few nitch uses in things like radioisotope detectors, so the price suddenly shot way up. But the main reason why it's so expensive is that no one is really putting much effort into making it, since the market for it hardly exists. The little bit that gets sold is whatever gets made by reactors etc. as an unintended side product. Estimating a price for "mass production" of He-3 if there was a world-wide demand of many tons/year is far beyond me, but like I said, it's hard to imagine Earth-manufactured He-3 costing more than He-3 mined on the moon...

    On a side note, since D-T fusion is a LOT easier than He-3/D fusion, it kinda seems likely that if there is ever a demand for many tons of He-3 for reactor fuel, there will already have been a generation of D/T reactors, meaning a lot of T already...
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  7. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Nasor is probably correct that the low cost of He3 (from tritium once in weapons) was exceeding the demand. Certainly the highly enriched U235 from decommissioned nuclear weapons depressed the value of uranium (and the need for "separation work units" SWUs,) as blending some of the high U235 concentration uranium in with slightly enriched natural uranium could produce nuclear reactor grade fuel.

    I am almost sure the number of SWUs needed to enrich concentration of U235 by 1% increases with the existing level of concentration so the economically optimum was to spend some SWUs enriching and then "top off" to reactor grade fuel with some of highly enriched U235 recovered from decommissioned bombs.


    While posting I want to specifically note that my strong claim that it is insane to mine asteroids for Earth´s precious metals needs do not necessarily apply to the "Gas Station in Space" ideas.

    If they are to be feasible, then the asteroid from which fuel is made is where the H2 & O2 are stored. At least the O2 tank´s cooling requirements probably can be made with very little energy required - simply remove the insulation when tank is not in sunlight, but looking at the ~5 degree Kelvin sky.

    Despite this, I strongly suspect that the capital cost of the mining equipment, the H2 & O2 storage tanks, the H2 refrigerator, the dehydration of rocks equipment, the electrolysis unit, and the power system for these last three* would demand that several times each earth year some space craft would need refueling for it to even "break even" economically. Quite possibly space craft refueling at least once per month is required. I doubt even China can afford that level of activity.

    Note that transfer from Earth orbit (assuming space craft are made on Earth as they surely will exclusively be for lowest cost for at least 100 years) will burn a lot of fuel, which can be justified only if the gas station asteroid´s orbit was only a small (in energy) detour from the spacecraft´s mission.

    * Could be solar cells but with waste heat radiator only viewing 5K space (and covered by multi-layer Al foil at other time) the efficiency of thermal heat engine would be at least five times higher than PV cells- Cheaper and with less weight. The natural rotation of the asteroid helps that system but adds sun tracking complexity to any solar concentration system. AFAIK, the few attempt to use inflated "balloons mirrors" as concentrators have all failed to get even half their desired / design concentration.

    Thus, I would bet that the energy system I described for colonization of the moon is most economical power source for the electrolysis, destructive distillation of rocks for their water of hydration, etc. (I think high temperature water splitting is less economical, on the asteroid, as it is on Earth.) For more details on energy system I am suggesting see:
    Note that the "mining equipment" could bury the thermal energy system´s coils.

    This assumes that the asteroid is a few Km in diameter at least, but that is probably required to prevent the large number of economically required landing on and launches from it making significant changes in its orbit.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2012
  8. KilljoyKlown Whatever Valued Senior Member

    The following article is very good at describing how a great number of us humans feel. I believe that Billy T has a very good point about how this group of very rich could take very nasty advantage of all of us who very much want it to be real. I'm not saying it is that way, but I'd like to know the government will work very hard to make sure it will never be that way.

    Fantasizing About Future Space Adventures

  9. Exoscientist Mathematician Registered Senior Member

    In regards to the justification for these endeavors, several studies have shown many of the important metals for high technology such as platinum at present global growth rates, especially in the emerging economies such as China, will be depleted within decades:

    Earth's natural wealth: an audit
    23 May 2007
    NewScientist.com news service
    David Cohen

    If these reports are true, and there is some uncertainty in the estimates, then such asteroid mining missions, might turn out to be not merely amusing topics of discussion, but actual necessities.

    In that New Scientist article the author seems to be implying the uncertainties in the estimates of impending scarcity come from how the producers are reporting their stocks and available mine-able ore. That is, they may be underreporting them to artificially keep prices high. But with some of these key minerals predicted to run out within two decades clearly this is something that needs to be determined definitively. Maybe we need to send in UN inspectors into their accounting departments and into their actual mines like we send in inspectors for rogue nuclear states.

    In any case, here are some peer-reviewed papers that discuss this issue:

    Metal stocks and sustainability.
    R. B. Gordon*,
    M. Bertram†,‡, and
    T. E. Graedel†,§
    PNAS January 31, 2006 vol. 103 no. 5 1209-1214.

    An impending platinum crisis and its implications for the future of the automobile.
    Chi-Jen Yang
    Energy Policy.
    Volume 37, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 1805-1808.

    And of course also if such scarcity estimates are valid,then this would clearly have a major impact on the question of the profitability of the space mining ventures.

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    Bob Clark
  10. Exoscientist Mathematician Registered Senior Member

    A completely separate team has now announced plans to do mining from the Moon:

    Renowned scientists join tech visionaries at Moon Express to mine the Moon for planetary resources.

    Bob Clark
  11. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Following quote is from your link (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-rele...e-moon-for-planetary-resources-148632035.html)

    “…´I believe that the presence of water and ease of mining platinum group elements on the Moon's surface far, far trumps arguments that NEO's are energetically easier to get samples from than the Moon,´ said Dr. Alan Stern, who while at NASA presided over $5.4B of planetary science, astrophysics, heliophysics, and Earth science missions….”

    And I agree moon mining makes more sense than asteroid mining, especially as free (not in a mineral hydrate) frozen water it there along with many desirable solid materials, including precious metals and He3; However, I think getting or making all of these resources on Earth is much cheaper and said this here:
    From: http://www.sciforums.com/showpost.php?p=2928812&postcount=50
    None-the less, I favor cooperative building of a permanent manned ("womaned", actually) moon base as energy is also much cheaper on the moon than most asteroids.
    For more details, see post at http://www.sciforums.com/showpost.php?p=2453468&postcount=91
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 28, 2012
  12. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Finally some asteroid mining sense at Seeking Alpha:

    “… Scenarios where extra-terrestrial payloads expand the supply of platinum group metals are highly unlikely. Investors who are interested in playing the limited supply of noble metals or platinum group metals should instead consider mining companies or holding the physical commodity. Investors can buy shares in SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) to play any appreciation in physical gold. Exposure to platinum group metals can be obtained through shares of ETFS Physical Palladium Shares (PALL) or through the purchase of ETFS Physical Platinum Shares (PPLT).

    These are holdings physical, refined, actual metals, and should not be confused with hypothetical, unrefined space dreams. A portfolio of actual gold mining companies with operations, production, and reported earnings can be created by buying shares of Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX). Each of these ETFs has an expense ratio under 1%.

    For today's prudent investor, space is for dreaming, and the Earth is for mining. …” From: http://seekingalpha.com/article/546681-precious-metal-markets-are-safe-from-asteroid-mining.

    PS there are some rivers with more than 300 times higher concentrations of gold than in the HIGHEST of all chemically analyzed iron- nickel meteorites!:

    "... The gold concentration of some rivers has been measured in the low 1000's of ppt, {that is >1 ppb} and gold's actual solubility limit is about 4000 ppt at 23o C at a 1.8% concentration of chloride ions (Wood 1971). The reason why gold is found in such low concentrations relative to that of a saturated aqueous solution has to do with several natural processes, such as the action of biological scavengers which accumulate gold*, the adsorption of gold on clay particles and sediments, and the adsorption of gold by high molecular weight organic matter present in seawater (Krauskopf 1956, Wood 1971, Burk 1989). This might also help explain the higher concentration of gold measured in the polar seas where the abundance of sedimentary deposits of microorganisms is less. ..." From: http://goldfever.com/gold_sea.htm

    Also note that the AVERAGE concentration of gold in the oceans is 13ppt or 0.013ppb which is more than four times higher than in the highest know metal meteorite´s 0.003ppb ! The arctic ocean, which has many gold rich rivers flowing into it, is several times higher still.

    * While it MAY be true as the "mine the asteroids" folks claim, that all crustal gold came from asteroids, this biological concentration (and perhaps other mechanisms on warm, active Earth) is why some gold deposits on Earth are more than 10 times higher in concentrations than all known asteroid concentrations (by meteorite data).

    Seeking Alpha points out that for no more than 1% / year fee you can buy any precious metal you like, safely held for you in a very secure vault.

    Which Billy T extends in this example:
    So Assume its price increases by factor of 21 in 20 years. Then you have a safe, risk-free, gain of 2,000%. However, just the interest cost alone on the capital required to bring to bring back to Earth say a ton of the precious metal would be more than 2,000% of its current value by my estimates .The cost of carefully examining Asteroids to see which might have at least 10% of the Earth´s highest concentration mine for that ore, would also be on the order of 2,000% the current values. Etc. Etc.

    Even buying 30 year US Treasury bonds and holding them to maturity is not likely to lose more than 95% of your money´s purchasing power, but unless very very lucky** to find a nearly pure precious metal asteroid, you will loss 100% of your investment in one of these new “asteroid mining” companies by buying shares at their IPO.

    ** As I detailed with data in early post 6*** the highest gold concentration of ALL the iron-nickel meteorites that have reached the surface of the Earth and been analyzed chemically was 0.003 PARTS PER BILLION! Most were less than 0.001 ppb. No one in there right mind would even consider mining such low grade ore ON EARTH.

    I did not know about the high concentrations of gold in some rivers when in earlier post 8 when I said only the insane would go to an asteroid to mine for gold.

    *** at: http://www.sciforums.com/showpost.php?p=2929844&postcount=6

    I can not look into their hearts; perhaps they are sincere and just extremely optimistic with near zero realism, dreamers. But as they are rich and normally the rich are mainly trying to get richer, I think the true race among these new companies is to mine cyberspace (and ignorant sap´s bank accounts) by being the first to issue their IPO.

    SUMMARY: "A fool and his money are easily parted" and this is the most clever scheme I have ever seen to do that as 99% of population does believe their inventive line of BS about space being the "future" and necessary to mine for metal needs on earth. (As if the ones already here were going somewhere else. Most of the palladium is used in car exhaust systems and easily recycled, etc.)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2012
  13. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Read about biological concentration of gold in post 29, one of the bold sections, then send $1000 to me to reserve 100 shares of my IPO. Our team of top ranked, experienced genetic engineers is perfecting these creatures but I can´t give more details just now till the patents clear.

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    It is 1000 times better deal, 1000 times more likely to pay back big than the Planetary Resources´s IPO but I must admit, as they did, to cover my ass legally, enhanced biological gold enrichment could fail.

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    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2012
  14. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    You're probably right in the case that the end market for the materials is also on Earth.

    But most of the more promising avenues for economical space mining are for using the materials in space. I.e., you use them for constructing things in space, or stick them in low Earth orbit and use them to refuel space crafts. That way, you can design crafts that only need enough fuel to escape Earth's orbit, and then they can refuel for a longer flight to the Moon or whatever. Or if you want to build objects that are impractical to launch (such as a big solar sail craft or the like), you have to do that in space anyway and so you save a lot by getting materials from space instead of launching them. Space construction could also be critical for building and maintaining a space elevator type system.
  15. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Yes but getting space made fuel (or materials) down to LEO is costly IN ENERGY even if coming from the moon and much more so if from an asteroid. (A related, but not well known, fact is that it takes more energy to hit the sun from Earth than to leave the solar system entirely (both by direct routes - without looping about a few planets for "gravity boosts.") Storing liquid H2 in LEO for just a month with it at least 60% of the time in stronger sunlight than noon day equatorial sun will not be easy or free of energy use. As the plane of the storage tank orbit is fixed in space, for most of a year it will be in that hot sun continuously needing continuous slow adjustment of the sunshade.

    *** Once you have Earth escape (velocity) there is lots of "free fuel" waiting for you in the solar system with zero cost, not even cryogenic storage for H2 cost! I.e. the other planets and even the more massive asteroids are there to give you "gravity fuel" which is normally called a gravity boost. Your ambiguity here is probably due to lack of knowledge that the Earth and moon are in essentially IDENTICAL orbits about the sun. If you doubt that make (on 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper or smaller) an accurate model of both the Earth´s and moon´s trajectory about the sun. Don´t use an exceptionally fine pointed pencil. Then there is only one ellipse on the paper when you are done. (If that is too much trouble, then just compute the Earth moon separation in astronomical units and you will understand that the moon´s "orbit" never gets even that tiny fraction from the true ellipse.)

    About re-fueling stations orbiting the sun for deep space missions, I said:
    I have not mentioned it before, but once you start making even minor changes in now harmless NEO asteroids, the insurance cost is in the millions, at least - your changes may make it hit Berlin, etc. at some later date, or even a rocket misfire as you bring the asteroid into a closer NEO than it was. I don´t think even Lloyds of London would issue the needed policy.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2012
  16. Exoscientist Mathematician Registered Senior Member


    As far as I know neither of the two announced ventures, for asteroid mining for one and lunar mining for the other, have asked for investors. It's their own money they're risking.
    Also, both teams have focused on platinum mining, more valuable that gold, and platinum has been shown to be perhaps 100 times more enriched in the best meteorite samples than in common Earth soils.

    Bob Clark
    Last edited: May 3, 2012
  17. Exoscientist Mathematician Registered Senior Member

    I just started my own blog. I happen to believe off-world mining will be the "killer app" for routine space flight. For it, we will need low cost super heavy lift, and low cost manned flight. On the blog so far are posts discussing creating a super heavy lift vehicle at the few hundred million per launch range, compared to NASA's SLS at ca. $10 billion per launch(!), and of manned lunar missions also at the few hundred million per launch range, compared to NASA's Constellation program at $100 billion total.

    Low cost HLV.

    SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for low cost trips to the Moon.

    Comments on the blog posts and on improving the blog format are invited. Right now it's pretty spare.

    Bob Clark
  18. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Of course not asking for funds NOW, but they admit the cost is many trillions. If people like me (and Seeking Alpha, now) do not educate the masses, they will make a bundle when they raise funds via an IPO.

    Probably the best concentration of Pt in some meteorite is greater than average in "Earth soils." Here is concentration in Stillwater´s platinum US mine (but Russian and S. African mines are larger and have significantly higher concentrations.):

    "As of end-2005, the company's total proven and probable ore reserves were 38.1Mt at a grade of 19.5g/t, containing 24.1Moz of palladium and platinum at an in-situ ratio of 3.5 to 1. At Stillwater, proven and probable reserves totaled 16.4Mt at a grade of 21.6g/t, containing 11.5Moz, while at East Boulder, proven and probable reserves were 21.7Mt at a grade of 18.2g/t, containing 12.6Moz. ..." From: http://www.mining-technology.com/projects/stillwater/

    Read Anglo American´s quarterly report for first quarter of 2012 at www.angloamerican.com/ which includes: “Platinum equivalent refined production increased by 5% to 593,200 ounces, mainly due to a lower number of safety stoppages, a strong performance from the Mogalakwena open pit mine and ramp-up of the Unki mine. Refined platinum production declined by 24% to 402,800 ounces, due to planned converter plant maintenance. …”

    Anglo American alone provides 40% of the world´s new Pt and Russia supplies nearly 50%. Thus Stillwater produces only about 10% from its mines. I own stock in both, as do think the price of Pt will soar, when demand eats thru the huge Russian stock pile, in a few years. The five or so other precious metal miners I have invested in have some small by-product production of PMG and Moly, etc. Like gold, the most of PMG is easy to recycle, and will be when the price is just a little higher. (I think about 50% of Pt and palladium used in auto exhausts is already being recovered.)

    There are natural process on the Earth (not present in cold space asteroids) that concentrate the precious metals. For example, from the above stillwater link:
    "... Crystal settling allowed the heavy minerals to settle to the base with the lighter siliceous minerals remaining at the top. Platinum-group metals (pgms) occur in a layer averaging 2.4m thick, and are associated with pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite and pentlandite. ..."

    I strongly doubt any asteroid has even 5% of the Pt concentration of commercial mines on Earth. Extracting and refining even that higher quality Earth ore is expensive in energy as well as dollars. Here in pictures is part of why:

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    (Stream of PMG metals leaving the smelting furnace.)

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    (One of stillwater´s 2 rotating ore "drills" with conveyer belt behind.)

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    (train hauling about 4 thousand TONS / day from the mine.)

    There is much more capital invested (for example in the 100 Tons/day ball mills, which would not even work in the low asteroid gravity, etc.) Remember Stillwater is just a minor Pt player - get real. It is insane to think the PMG can be concentrated on an asteroid so you will get 10 grams or less of Pt for every ton of ore returned to Earth.

    In red text of post 6, there is data showing known iron-nickel meteorites have about 1 part per million platinum concentration, but lets be generous, and assume they find an asteroid with five times higher Pt concentration than any known, so only need to bring to Earth 200,000 ounces of iron-nickel asteroid ore to get 1 oz of platinum.

    From my notes of Anglo American´s reports:
    "According to Platinum Today, 96.6 percent of 2011 supply (excluding recycling) of platinum, palladium and rhodium went toward autocatalyst and industrial applications. Without recycling efforts, palladium demand would have exceeded supply by 19.8 percent. Additionally, an average of 13.6 percent of global palladium supply over the past seven years has resulted from Russia’s liquidation of stockpiles built up during a Soviet-era production glut— those Russian sales are expected to dwindle after 2013. Once that occurs, demand for palladium will likely outpace supply. ..."
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2012
  19. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

  20. Cai Registered Member

    The moon is my yearning
  21. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Planetary Resources now has competition, Deep Space Industries, DSI, for investor dollars. DSI is also lead by "experienced space experts":
    More, including video, here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/jan/22/space-mining-gold-asteroids
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 23, 2013
  22. Exoscientist Mathematician Registered Senior Member

    Thanks for that Billy T. More entrants to the field increases competition which spurs innovation, which increases the chance of success in these ventures.
    In regards to the innovation in the space mining ventures announced so far, Planetary Resources has described principles that can cut the cost of satellites by an order of magnitude or more. And Deep Space Industries has proposed a 3D printing process that can be used to produce materials from the resources available on the asteroid or Moon.
    Both of these will be very important to making space access profitable, and therefore to making space access routine.

    Bob Clark

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