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The merits of Lunar resource mining versus mining on Earth


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3 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

I love the idea - but I would think we'd have to see some realistic return on investment for that to be implemented.  Like some serious will to 'get out there and do stuff' that needs that level of lift.  Certainly, its just looking like a technical problem that will soon be solved... I'm just curious what the new capacity (once available) will inspire the world to do.

Despite some people who claim that there is literally no economic need or benefit (for the short-mid term) in establishing either a Lunar Base or a Mars Base... Humans.  Someone will want to go and staff it - even if there isn't much to do once you get there besides keep the lights on and the fans running.  SOMEONE WILL DO IT.

(But that's kind of like the guy who's willing to man the lighthouse... what we need is the Rail Tycoons to compete and develop industries and towns.  It will happen - I'm just curious as to the timescale).

I've had a naive idea for awhile that because an airless environment would be ideal for working with titanium, given its reactivity to oxygen when hot, combined with the Moon having vast quantities of titanium, that there is a business idea for lunar manufacturing in there somewhere

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17 minutes ago, darthgently said:

I've had a naive idea for awhile that because an airless environment would be ideal for working with titanium, given its reactivity to oxygen when hot, combined with the Moon having vast quantities of titanium, that there is a business idea for lunar manufacturing in there somewhere

Especially if it were locally sourced and then able to be easily sent to earth for use.

That's the $30 Trillion Question; can we find stuff that we can extract easily and sell back home?

Edit - that brings up another question: I'm relatively certain that hydrology has played a part in the deposition of quite a few metals (we recently had this discussion around uranium).  What's unknown is how ores might be distributed elsewhere.

(I say this having read of early Western prospectors finding gold nuggets literally laying about the surface of the desert in AZ and NV)

Should Musk, et.al. get costs down sufficiently - its not unlikely some wildcatting operations might spring up and purchase lift just to get 'boots on the ground' in search of high-risk, high-reward payoffs.  (Heck, early adventurers could literally sell regolith and meteorites to cover the costs/break even).

Edited by JoeSchmuckatelli
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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

That's the $30 Trillion Question; can we find stuff that we can extract easily and sell back home?

Or, looking down the road further, rather than just selling back home, using off-world mining and manufacturing for off-world infrastructure and colonies.  It doesn't have to come back down the gravity well.  When you start adding up the potential efficiencies it looks good

Edited by darthgently
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Titanium wobbles around looking like it averages about $4800 (numbers online are all over the place) per metric ton.

Getting it back to Earth would cost more than it costs here.

Edited by tater
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1 minute ago, tater said:

Getting it back to Earth would cost more than it costs here.

That is why I don't think it would make sense to bring it back down.  Just use it up there.  Though I didn't do the math as you did (thanks) my gut told me that if it were profitable to bring it back down the well there'd be some start up out there with a bigger profile by now with big plans

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Loads of Al and regolith is >40% Oxygen (the metals are oxides). Useful on the Moon itself if building stuff, maybe useful in space. Shipping to Earth would need to be orders of magnitude cheaper to be worth importing (or extraction here would need to be orders of magnitude more expensive.

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, tater said:

Loads of Al and regolith is >40% Oxygen (the metals are oxides). Useful on the Moon itself if building stuff, maybe useful in space. Shipping to Earth would need to be orders of magnitude cheaper to be worth importing (or extraction here would need to be orders of magnitude more expensive.

Yes.  And water ice too, though more limited.   The key is not just to compare using lunar resources on Earth, but also the cost of using Earth resource in space.  Resources gotten from the Moon are resources that don't have to be launched out of a deep well.  So when comparing costs for use in space you have to add the cost of launching it to the price of it on Earth.  Lunar resources really only make sense for space use for the most part would be my take, but the vast savings over bringing all that up from Earth looks immense

Noticed this at same link I posted (https://www.space.com/13247-moon-map-lunar-titanium.html):

"...Furthermore, Apollo data indicated that titanium-rich minerals are more efficient at retaining solar wind particles, such as helium and hydrogen."

Nice

Edited by darthgently
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From a commercial standpoint, in situ extraction, refinement and eventually extraplanetary utilization will ultimately be the way to go.  But there's a lot to get through before that happens.

I do think that in the very early days of commercial exploitation (SX (et.al) or Subscribers) - there will be an incentive to bring back loads of whatever they find; research universities, commercial R&D, private collectors, entrepreneurs - all will want access to tons of whatever gets scraped up to play with, have and display.

But yeah, once that's done; I doubt there will be much utility in bringing stuff back down into the well - absent what @darthgently is talking about.  Refined or manufactured products in demand here that aren't as readily available.  Even saying that, however, I recognize that at some point (waaay down the road) the 'needs' will have shifted sufficiently off-planet that most extraplanetary extraction, refinement and manufactured goods will just keep getting used for the space economy.

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

I do think that in the very early days of commercial exploitation (SX (et.al) or Subscribers) - there will be an incentive to bring back loads of whatever they find; research universities, commercial R&D, private collectors, entrepreneurs - all will want access to tons of whatever gets scraped up to play with, have and display.

The upside is that if we are just talking bulk materials, it will be cheaper to bring them down than to launch them up.  In that, gravity is our friend.  But launching off the Moon and getting into LEO won't be cheap.  Once in LEO, getting non-delicate bulk stuff to the surface shouldn't be a huge technical problem

Edited by darthgently
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58 minutes ago, darthgently said:

But launching off the Moon and getting into LEO won't be cheap.  Once in LEO, getting non-delicate bulk stuff to the surface shouldn't be a huge technical problem

Once the infrastructure is set up, magnetic launchers will be dirt cheap, and why brake into LEO? Direct entry will be cheaper. 

Now for the controversial part: simply slam the slugs of metal into the deserts and pick up the pieces. The dust clouds raised will counter the greenhouse effect that causes global warming. But it also turns until a cheap, non-nuclear weapon of mass destruction, fired from some very high ground (although even higher ground is available outside Earth’s SOI…)

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1 hour ago, darthgently said:

A lot of iron and aluminum also.  More silica than we could ever use really

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_resources#Resources

Aluminum is extremely abundant on Earth.  Converting bauxite to aluminum is energy intensive to the point that sometimes aluminum is called "frozen electricity".  When ever I hear suggestions in converting excess water (really methane) via electricity, I have to wonder if there is enough to not bother with aluminum.  Perhaps the plants are sufficiently expensive (they also need a ton of heat, but the electricity keeps it expensive per kg of Al) that it doesn't make sense to run (or build to run) at less than max capacity.  There are a lot of chemicals that need *lots* of electricity, H2 (especially from water) is just plane silly.

Between the iron and the aluminum, that might do wonders for a lunar colony (for whatever reason you have one).  I'd have to assume that thanks to various gravity wells, the asteroid belt is probably the only place worth mining for return to Earth.  And the return to Earth will have some nasty politics all over it.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, StrandedonEarth said:

Once the infrastructure is set up, magnetic launchers will be dirt cheap, and why brake into LEO? Direct entry will be cheaper. 

Now for the controversial part: simply slam the slugs of metal into the deserts and pick up the pieces. The dust clouds raised will counter the greenhouse effect that causes global warming. But it also turns until a cheap, non-nuclear weapon of mass destruction, fired from some very high ground (although even higher ground is available outside Earth’s SOI…)

Yes, I have to agree.  Lunar based launchers with direct entry is the way to go. 

Have you read Clarke's Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by chance?

Edited by darthgently
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1 hour ago, StrandedonEarth said:

Once the infrastructure is set up, magnetic launchers will be dirt cheap, and why brake into LEO? Direct entry will be cheaper. 

Now for the controversial part: simply slam the slugs of metal into the deserts and pick up the pieces. The dust clouds raised will counter the greenhouse effect that causes global warming. But it also turns until a cheap, non-nuclear weapon of mass destruction, fired from some very high ground (although even higher ground is available outside Earth’s SOI…)

Firing metal slugs at Earth at 11 km/s, what could go wrong?

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10 minutes ago, tater said:

Firing metal slugs at Earth at 11 km/s, what could go wrong?

[sarcasm detector overridden]

Lots. That’s why I said it would be controversial. I’m surprised a Bond supervillain hasn’t tried it yet…

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48 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

What’s more energy-expensive: sending ore from Earth to LEO or sending ore from the lunar surface to LEO?

I would guess it would be from the earth as you have to fight through the atmosphere. Don't really have the time to the math, hope someone else will!

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34 minutes ago, Ultimate Steve said:

And if you can utilize aerobraking, it's even more in the favor of Moon -> LEO.

Sure - use aerobraking and just dump it into the ocean here:

No one lives on this remote Pacific island — but it’s covered in 38 million pieces of our trash - The Washington Post

 

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