Asteroid Mining Process

In order to mine valuable materials from asteroids, we’ll need to establish some new technologies and processes:

  • Prospecting – asteroids will be mined for: valuable metals & minerals, volatiles (ice, water, oxygen, hydrogen), stony ores, and even the regolith (dirt) will be used. Most prospecting will be done by bots or drones, automatically. Prospect claiming law will need to be established. It might involve embedding a tag/beacon on the rock and registering it with a central database, then making some progress toward actual mining/development of the resources on the rock over some period of time. If those requirements are not met, the claim could be invalidated and the rock returned to a status of “available”.
  • Extracting – drilling and blasting and collecting materials will be nothing like doing the same tasks on Earth inside a gravitational field. Any drills will need to be anchored to the rock they are drilling against. This may be started with magnetic clamps or small laser drills or some form of gluing/melting to attach the clamps. Ballast guns that fire a charge both forward and backward at the same time to equalize recoil may be used. It will likely be useful to contain any mining area with some kind of net or screen or film to contain loose material. A closed cycle vacuum system that provides its own atmosphere and is able to recover the atmosphere along with mined particulates might be useful. Sweeping, gathering, and raking operations might be possible, but will have to be completely redesigned to work in zero-gee. Drilling, breaking, crushing, and blasting will also need redesign.
  • Processing – once mined materials have been collected in crude form, they will be moved to triage (separation) stations and then on to specific forms of processing. A processing facility that has centrifugal gravity (it’s rotating) will make processing easier. Volatiles will have been mostly sorted out during the extraction process, but some will always remain trapped inside of mined debris until later. They will need to be separated first and processed differently. Other sorting will be by metallic/magnetic/electric response, by temperature and chemical response and by size. Metals and ores may be melted down and/or combined into alloys. Once processing reaches desirable tolerances of purity and size, some materials may be extruded into shapes for transit.
  • Transport – different processing facilities will have different levels of capability and will take the processing to different end points. But most will eventually reach the end of their ability and will need to transport the processed materials to other facilities for either further processing and/or manufacturing into finished goods. Materials can be formed into desired shapes, bundled together in transit packages, clad with any needed protective coverings, and then sent to launch stations. At the launch stations, they will have tracking beacons and small corrective thruster packages attached and will be launched by linear accelerators into trajectories that will reach a desired desination.

Comments are closed.