Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Asteroid Mining: The Most Dangerous Job In The Solar System

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When a person thinks of the future of space, one often imagines rockets buzzing across our star system at incredible speeds, space stations thriving in the vacuum of space or solar cities gracing the surfaces of foreign moons and planets.

But while all of these things may come to pass (perhaps even a space elevator or two) the future reality is that there are some solar occupations that may entail individuals to risk their lives in order to keep our interplanetary economy going.

One of these jobs just might be an asteroid miner.

Unlike some of the other potential occupations throughout our star system, asteroid miners will face dangers unlike any other explorer. Often located in sparse regions throughout our star system, metallic asteroids will probably not become major spots for tourism, making them lonely companions for asteroid mining outposts.

With most of these invaluable asteroids tens of millions of miles away from the nearest colony world, asteroid miners will find themselves heavily dependent upon supplies for food and water. Their isolation will also make them prime candidates for space pirates, not to mention feuding powers from Earth, Mars and the Jovian systems.

Unless these outposts are protected by a space fleet, they may soon find their boring schedule filled with being invaded by unwelcome guests.

Another danger of asteroid miners will be radiation. Since most (if not all) asteroids lack a magnetic field, asteroid outposts will be at the mercy of the Sun's wrath, not to mention cosmic rays from abroad. Although outposts will probably have magnetic shields surrounding their bases, this does not guarantee that the rocks that they mine upon are free from being radioactive.

Despite the fact that future asteroid miners will probably have machines deal directly with the floating space rocks, their may be a possibility of these miners contracting cancer (later on in life), which could threaten future retirement plans (as treating cancer can be quite expensive).

If radiation and security were not enough to worry about, asteroid miners also face the dangers of micrometeorites piercing holes through their suits and stations, or (even worse) encountering a meteor shower from an incoming comet.

Future outposts will probably have to rely upon the eyes (and scientific "ears") of astronomers to warn them of the dangers of nearby comets, although they may have to "take a gamble" when dealing with incoming space pebbles as armor may prove useless against these solar bullets.

But despite the fact that these dangers surround future asteroid miners, there presence in our star system will be desperately needed. Asteroids have the potential of supplying invaluable resources, and the purity of metals could be worth up to $500,000 a ton.

Although this future job may be classified as one of the most dangerous occupations humanity has ever known (within our star system), space colonists may be willing to take on the risk in order to bring back the fruit of their labor towards major population centers living upon terrestrial worlds.


Note:
Due to lack of time, images will be added later on to this post.


Update: Images added.

Update (7/12): Corrected grammatical errors (replaced minors with miners).




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5 comments:

  1. Hi Darnell,
    "Another danger of asteroid minors will be radiation. Since most (if not all) asteroids lack a magnetic field, asteroid outposts will be at the mercy of the Sun's wrath, not to mention cosmic rays from abroad."

    Actually, the earth's magnetic field plays a minor role in shielding us from radiation . It is the cumulative material of the atmosphere that does the trick. Galactic cosmic rays, in fact, are barely affected by the field because of their high energies. The field definitely does help protect astronauts in LEO from solar particle radiation.

    Remember that the earth's field periodically reverses and during the reversal goes to zero. Life on earth goes on as usual during such reversals.

    Two or three meters of dense rock will block even most GCRs. So a miner standing on the surface of an asteroid will experience about 50% less GCR radiation exposure compared to open space. Protection from solar radiation depends on rotation, where the astronaut is standing, etc. but 50% is not a bad gross estimate for that as well.

    To get earth level protection, our miner can live in a shelter that is in a gully or trench that is covered over with rock. Or in a cave or in a shaft dug for the mining.

    About 5m of water are needed to get near earth surface level shielding. I like the idea of building a roof of a shelter using a water tank with transparent sections, like those at the big aquariums. This would provide excellent radiation protection while letting nice morale boosting sunlight to come through.

    - Clark

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh dear God... not another trillion dollar asteroid believer.

    Economics 101 lesson for you:

    Supply and Demand

    The reason certain rare items are so expensive (such as platinum group metals) is precisely because they are RARE.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The mining is dangerous for humans. It would be cheaper and easier to perform the mining using robots.

    http://www.spacedaily.com/news/asteroid-99i.html

    Near earth mining would be the first hurdle to overcome
    http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/the_technical_and_economic_feasibility_of_mining_the_near_earth_asteriods.shtml

    although greater use of Mars and lunar resources makes sense as we continue to send robots there

    ReplyDelete
  4. SpaceGuardian7/12/2007 7:30 PM

    Another danger of asteroid minors is that they would grow older and achieve majority status. Then they would no longer be minors.

    Another thing, if asteroid minors attempt to mine asteroids already claimed by asteroid miners, conflict might arise--particularly if by law asteroid minors are deemed too young to stake mining claims.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @ Clark: That is not a bad idea of using the asteroid itself as a shield.

    I wonder with the lack of gravity and all, would the threat of the asteroid cave collapsing be much lower than on Earth.

    @ Shubber: That is probably true. If asteroids dropped the prices of rare metals, I wonder whether or not the mining industries would be opposed to importing metals off world? ;-)

    @ Brian (aka BW): I could envision robots being used on asteroids initially and (after it became "popular") in the distant future, with humans merely transporting the materials.

    I do think somewhere in the middle they may need people to temporarily live and work on these space rocks.

    @ Space Guardian: Thanks for letting me know! I've updated the post.

    ReplyDelete

You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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