Living In The Asteroid Belt – part 4 – Mining

Previous articles in this series:


  • Value:
    • Volatiles are the frozen gases found in the asteroid rocks, including oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and more. These will be the most valuable substances mined because they will be needed for air and water and fuel.
    • Precious metals will be the second most valuable substance mined. These include: platinum, gold, silver, titanium, and more.
    • Regolith is dirt and crushed rock. This and other composite substances will be of the least value but will be used as construction materials.
  • Prospecting – a substantial amount of prospecting will be done remotely by observing the reflection of light from a rock and categorizing them into the three types: C-type, S-type, M-type. Combining this with an estimation of size will allow creating a crude estimate of value. Location and trajectory will also play a part in estimating the cost of reaching the rock and getting the mined products to processing and markets. In order to settle claim disputes, a “tag and register” protocol can be used that requires in person inspection, leaving a beacon claim marker, and registering the claim with a central facility.
  • Extraction:
    • Thermal energy from solar collectors or lasers can be used to boil off frozen volatile gases from surface areas, which are then easily collected when they refreeze in space.
    • Anchors will be needed – when we drill on Earth, we depend on gravity to hold the drill in place and provide pressure on the drill bit to drive it into the hole it is cutting. Without gravity this become difficult. Anchor points will need to be established before most extraction processes. Ballasted guns and adhesive techniques will be developed to create preliminary anchors, then stronger secondary anchors can be installed.
    • Drilling using both lasers and conventional rotary bits will create holes.
    • Fracturing will use blasting, spreading jaws, and injection of liquids that will expand when they freeze.
    • Collection of the results will be done using a variety of screens and nets, grapplers, and even supplied medium vacuum devices that can create areas of low pressure. Think of an army of “space roombas” bots collecting debris of all kinds.
  • Smelting will use solar furnaces to melt down metallic rocks and then separate elements.
  • Processing will recombine the elements produced by smelting into the most usable compounds and in some cases actually manufacture components or complete products.
  • This will depend upon the process being used, the product considered, and current market conditions.

  • Transport will be accomplished using autonomous thruster packs and tracking beacons. Once the sale of a product has been negotiated, the product can be packed into a storage container and pushed into an orbital trajectory that will take it to the buyer. Tracking and reporting needs to be consider to reduce piracy.

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