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Moon mining: want to invest in the final frontier?
Reuters ^ | 21 NOV 2001 23:30 | Jeremy Smith

Posted on 11/21/2001 8:23:23 PM PST by CommiesOut

FEATURE - Moon mining: want to invest in the final frontier?  

    By Jeremy Smith 
    LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Space, the last frontier 
remaining to be truly explored and exploited by man. Vast 
mineral riches are believed to lie in its cold depths, 
especially on the moon -- an untapped resource just waiting for 
its first commercial landing. 
    Could it ever be possible to replenish the earth's supplies 
of gemstones and little-known rare metals such as osmium and 
rhodium by sending humans, or even robots, into space to set up 
mining ventures on the inhospitable surface of the moon? 
    An increasing number of private firms see no reason to wait 
for the world's governments to take the lead and are racing to 
launch their own space mining missions. 
    "Governments have no reason to go back to the moon. They've 
been there, there's no political reason to go back. But there 
are a lot of private reasons to go back," said Ian Randal 
Strock, a director of U.S.-based Artemis Society International 
(ASI). 
    ASI is helping sponsor a project to build a commercial 
manned moon base and plans its first lunar flight in the next 10 
years. According to Strock, technology is not the problem -- 
rather, just how to raise the massive amounts of cash required. 
    "If we had sufficient money, then it's just a matter of 
getting the pieces together, getting a launch and we're there. 
The big delay in any project to the moon is funding," he said. 
    "We're looking at $1.5 billion for that first flight," he 
said. "We have four companies up and running and making money, 
and we're looking to send up a robotic camera in two years." 
    The United Nations' 1979 Moon Treaty, one of several 
international outer space agreements, attempted to define the 
scope of private space activity. However, it was never ratified 
by some major powers such as Russia and the United States. 
    The treaty stipulated that any wealth obtained from the moon 
by any space-faring nation was to be distributed to all the 
people of the world. One clause, referring to space resources as 
the "common heritage of mankind", has been taken by private 
firms as legitimising efforts to mine on the moon and asteroids. 
    The handful of private firms competing to be the first to 
establish commercial lunar mining are convinced of a lucrative 
market for whatever they might eventually ship back to Earth. 
    To back up their claims, they cite a famous sale of Russian 
lunar samples held at a New York Sotheby's auction in 1993, 
where a pebble of moon rock weighing less than one carat fetched 
an astounding $442,000, or $2,200 a milligram. 
According to Applied Space Resources (ASR), a moon mission 
costing less than $100 million could return a quantity of lunar 
material with enough demand in the marketplace to make the 
return on investment attractive to financial backers. 
    A private company based in New York state, ASR aims to send 
an unmanned spacecraft to an unexplored region of the moon and 
return the first lunar samples to earth in more than 25 years. 
    "We have been at this for four years now -- we can do this 
technologically and we believe that the market exists," said 
Denise Norris, ASR's president. "The biggest hurdle is that we 
need about three to three and a half years to integrate 
everything. 
    "If everything moves on schedule, we would be launching 
within five years," she said, adding that ASR would soon be 
looking for $4 million in financing. 
     
    SCARCE METALS 
    Scientists believe the elements making up most of the earth 
are also present on the moon and make up most of its 
composition. Analysis of lunar rock samples indicates a wide 
variety of elements, with oxygen and silicon being relatively 
plentiful. 
    Germanium, molybdenum, tungsten, rhenium and gold rank among 
the rarer metals present, in small percentages. Cobalt, nickel, 
iron, aluminium, magnesium, manganese, calcium, sodium and 
titanium also feature. 
    But of more immediate commercial interest are the six 
elements known as the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) -- iridium, 
osmium, palladium, platinum, rhodium and ruthenium. 
    Among the world's scarcest metals, the PGMs possess unique 
chemical and physical qualities that make them vital industrial 
materials. They are especially valued for their catalytic 
functions, conductivity and resistance to corrosion. 
"There are certain minerals and precious metals that we are 
going to find where the supply is going to drop off soon," said 
ASR's Norris. "I believe that the platinum group metals are 
going to be a real problem on earth, with fuel-cell technology." 
    Fuel-cells, which are being developed to operate without 
fossil fuels, use around 10 times more platinum than internal 
combustion engines, mainly as a catalyst. If they were to be in 
widespread use, platinum demand would rocket. 
    Norris added, "but it'd be extremely foolish to say we're 
going to make a ton of money selling platinum group metals here. 
The resources are there and there's a lot of stuff up there," 
she said, adding that this was mostly from asteroid impacts on 
the moon. 
     
PRACTICAL PROBLEMS 
    However, the daunting number of practical problems facing a 
would-be moon miner may prove insurmountable, scientists say. 
    The largest obstacle is the lack of water, used in large 
quantities in most earth mining operations but only believed to 
exist as ice at the lunar poles. Water has been responsible for 
shaping the earth with its alluvial strata and mineral deposits. 
    Notwithstanding a similar lack of oxygen, which does exist 
on the moon but is bound up in compounds that are hard to break 
down, the low-gravity situation means that robotic mining would 
probably be more sustainable than sending humans into space. 
    "Nobody is going to think of doing (moon) mining with human 
beings," said Richard Taylor, a council member of the British 
Interplanetary Society. 
    "We aren't going to have little men with tin hats holding 
picks in their hands," he said. "All this exploitation of 
asteroid material will be robotic and remote." 
    Finding the actual mineral deposits could also prove tricky. 
 While the earth concentrates minerals in specific areas by 
dint of volcanic eruptions, the moon is volcanically inactive so 
new ways of locating minerals would have to be found. 
    So far, there is little hard evidence about in what form or 
where minerals are found on the moon, although scientists have 
made educated guesses based upon studies of lunar soil and rock 
samples. 
    "What you want is a means of establishing what exists where, 
and whether there are local concentrations. That requires very 
comprehensive mineral mapping," Taylor said. 
    "The moon has a semi-molten core but we're not going to see 
crystal formation or those types of veining that you would see 
on the earth with precious metals," said ASR's Norris. "There is 
no crystallisation in the same way that we see on earth." 
 
    EXORBITANT COSTS 
    Apart from the serious practical problems involved with any 
activity on the lunar surface, the first obstacle for companies 
looking to mine on the moon is cost -- and return on investment. 
    Experts say the cost of transporting items into space is 
exorbitant, ranging between $2,000 and $3,000 per pound of 
weight, meaning that any lunar bases would really have to be 
able to procure their necessities from space. 
    "If there was a layer of gold a foot thick floating over the 
earth at an altitude at which we could send up a shuttle to go 
up and collect, it wouldn't be worth doing it," said Taylor. 
    "This is for the simple reason that it would cost more per 
gram to go up and bring the gold back than the gold would 
actually fetch," he said. "And a lot of these metals have high 
values on earth only because they are rare." 
    The real key to lunar mining, Taylor said, was to reduce the 
cost of sending a craft into space so that its operators could 
afford to have a vehicle which went up partially empty into 
space and came back partially empty. 
 
21 NOV 2001 23:30:11


TOPICS: Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 11/21/2001 8:23:23 PM PST by CommiesOut
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To: madrussian; malarski; Askel5; GROUCHOTWO; Zviadist; kristinn; Free the USA; struwwelpeter...
-
2 posted on 11/21/2001 8:23:49 PM PST by CommiesOut
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To: CommiesOut
Bump and a bookmark.
3 posted on 11/21/2001 9:05:31 PM PST by NotJustAnotherPrettyFace
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To: NotJustAnotherPrettyFace
It seems like the EARTH FIRST!ers would be jumping all over this.
4 posted on 11/21/2001 9:14:39 PM PST by operation clinton cleanup
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To: CommiesOut
The real key to lunar mining, Taylor said, was to reduce the cost of sending a craft into space so that its operators could afford to have a vehicle which went up partially empty into space and came back partially empty.

I guess it is probably better than if it went up empty into space and came back empty.

5 posted on 11/21/2001 9:25:00 PM PST by malarski
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To: CommiesOut
"We aren't going to have little men with tin hats holding picks in their hands," he said. "All this exploitation of asteroid material will be robotic and remote."

Ahh, come on, have a heart.


6 posted on 11/21/2001 9:34:23 PM PST by jmp702
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To: malarski
All you need is enough dumb investors. It can go on empty both ways min. 10 years.
If you have balls you tell them: "Empty = fuel savings"!
Then you move to Patagonia.
7 posted on 11/21/2001 9:42:12 PM PST by CommiesOut
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To: CommiesOut
Are you familiar with Space Studies Institute and Gerard O'Neill, whose untimely death in 1992 set back the private push into mining the moon for materials to build solar energy satellites to beam energy to Earth from space?
O'Neill was the inventor of the mass driver, and coined the term "The High Frontier."
8 posted on 11/21/2001 10:00:05 PM PST by patriciaruth
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To: jmp702
Didnt the tin man want a brain?
9 posted on 11/23/2001 8:47:01 PM PST by operation clinton cleanup
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To: CommiesOut
Even if you did it on the dark side of the Moon, I'll guarantee you the e-wakkos would be all over it. And that would be no more silly than their concern about ANWR.
10 posted on 11/23/2001 8:53:01 PM PST by Rushian
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To: operation clinton cleanup
The tinsman forgot to give me a heart...:)

Click here.

11 posted on 11/23/2001 9:17:43 PM PST by jmp702
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To: redrock
I'm a rockthrower from way back.
12 posted on 11/23/2001 9:22:57 PM PST by nunya bidness
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To: CommiesOut
The real key to lunar mining, Taylor said, was to reduce the cost of sending a craft into space so that its operators could afford to have a vehicle which went up partially empty into space and came back partially empty.

Alternatively, we could send a robotically-operated minifactory to the Moon which would manufacture projectile shell casings for shipping metals back to Earth. The shells would be fired from the Moon, using oxygen compression. Such pressurized guns have been tested on Earth with velocities that equal lunar escape velocity.

This was the technology I used in my story, Incident at Clavius Gulch.

13 posted on 11/23/2001 9:35:34 PM PST by JoeSchem
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To: nunya bidness
Me too!!!

But.....it really wouldn't be beyond the ability of private business to do this....

But would the government allow it to happen???

After all...if PRIVATE individuals start moving into space...could the government still CONTROL them???

(After all...to them losing voters is a 'bad thing')

redrock

14 posted on 11/24/2001 4:52:04 AM PST by redrock
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To: CommiesOut
To back up their claims, they cite a famous sale of Russian lunar samples held at a New York Sotheby's auction in 1993, where a pebble of moon rock weighing less than one carat fetched an astounding $442,000, or $2,200 a milligram. According to Applied Space Resources (ASR), a moon mission costing less than $100 million could return a quantity of lunar material with enough demand in the marketplace to make the return on investment attractive to financial backers.

But if they returned a large quantity, it wouldn't be so rare and valuable, would it?

15 posted on 11/25/2001 2:46:24 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: redrock
In the late 60's and early 70's deep sea mining was the next frontier and I am still waiting.
16 posted on 11/25/2001 3:02:07 AM PST by monocle
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To: CommiesOut

"The treaty stipulated that any wealth obtained from the moon by any space-faring nation was to be distributed to all the people of the world."

The "have-nots" trying to run the lives of the "haves" again.

17 posted on 11/25/2001 3:10:43 AM PST by Stingray
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To: Stingray
The "have-nots" trying to run the lives of the "haves" again.

A good working definition of the U.N. in general.

18 posted on 11/25/2001 3:14:04 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Stingray

Two Chinese women walk past a billboard featuring a picture of the space shuttle, on a Beijing street Friday, Nov. 23, 2001. China on Thursday announced that it would send men into space by 2005, and that plans for a manned mission to the moon are under way. The billboard promotes a Beijing newspaper called Star Daily. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

19 posted on 11/25/2001 3:17:21 AM PST by CommiesOut
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To: monocle
In the late 60's and early 70's deep sea mining was the next frontier and I am still waiting.

You missed it.

Too much government involvement to make it profitable. ;^)

20 posted on 11/25/2001 5:58:38 AM PST by brityank
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Comment #21 Removed by Moderator

To: CommiesOut
Question: If tons and tons and tons of minerals and ore were mined from the moon and removed to Earth, wouldn't it alter the moon's orbit over time?
22 posted on 11/25/2001 6:10:16 AM PST by Clara Lou
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To: Clara Lou
If tons and tons and tons of minerals and ore were mined from the moon and removed to Earth, wouldn't it alter the moon's orbit over time?

No.

23 posted on 11/25/2001 6:12:38 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Clara Lou
I'd be happy if they figure out first what to do with terrorists and why they hate us.
24 posted on 11/25/2001 6:33:55 AM PST by CommiesOut
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Cool! (Why not?)
25 posted on 11/25/2001 6:40:15 AM PST by Clara Lou
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To: CommiesOut
For some reason this story is based on the eroneous assumption that the minerals listed are in short supply on earth. Not so...just look at commodity prices for copper, tungsten, gold, etc. There are PLENTY of reserves right here on earth of every commodity listed.
If anyone thinks this is a worthy investment, please call me first...I have some diamond claims in southern Nevada that we should talk about!!
26 posted on 11/25/2001 6:46:22 AM PST by Cuttnhorse
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To: CommiesOut
For some reason this story is based on the eroneous assumption that the minerals listed are in short supply on earth. Not so...just look at commodity prices for copper, tungsten, gold, etc. There are PLENTY of reserves right here on earth of every commodity listed.
If anyone thinks this is a worthy investment, please call me first...I have some diamond claims in southern Nevada that we should talk about!!
27 posted on 11/25/2001 6:48:10 AM PST by Cuttnhorse
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To: brityank
A mineral deposit becomes an ore when the mineral can be mined, recovered and refined in an economical fashion.
28 posted on 11/25/2001 6:51:12 AM PST by monocle
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To: CommiesOut
Mining for the sake of mining is a losing proposition. Mining for the sake of building hotels, large solar cell farms etc. would work. It's a catch-22. We won't build those things on the moon because there is no demand for it. There is no demand for it because there's noone there that needs it. There's noone there because there's no hotels etc. on the surface.

One way to break this catch-22 is to start up a lunar hotel. The only way a lunar hotel will be profitable will be with much cheaper launch costs. The Russians already launch payloads into orbit for about $600/lb. This is sufficient to enable construction of a hotel and maintain a potential profit.

Because of various laws, we'll have to wait until a private American or European launch company can offer launch costs in this range. I think there will be several companies that will achieve sub-$1000/lb. launch costs within 5 years.

NASA has no interest in such activities so they will not be involved, but that's a good thing. We can't afford a $100 billion lunar base that would keep out civilians. You build a colony/city with NON astronauts.

29 posted on 11/25/2001 1:25:46 PM PST by Brett66
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