Exploiting lunar resources and building a staging post to Mars are now a key part of America’s geopolitical strategy. The “barren” moon is really a commodity sweet shop – with significant deposits of gold, iron, magnesium and titanium….

Iron’s $100Iron’s $100 a tonne to any realistic level of accuracy. Titanium dioxide is $500 a tonne – it’s turning it into metal that costs the cash. Magnesium’s a couple of dollars a pound here on Earth.

Anyone think that Moon to Earth transport costs – forget the costs of the system to enable that – are ever going to get that low?

Quite, it’s valueless for whatever we do down here. Sure, there’s a value to what is done up there, building stuff to go further. But that’s a very different value calculation for it depends on what we’re going to carry on and do up there by going further. There never will be a payoff (Helium 3, possibly, excepted) to shipping minerals or metals from there to here. Never.

Orbiting solar panels, shipping down electricity by microwave link, that sounds pretty cool. But physical shipment down? Naaah. Never.

19 thoughts on “Oh FFS”

  1. Baring Heinleinien solutions (Moon is a Harsh Mistress – mass driver shipment of ore using a metal case to accelerate the shipment and accepting the loss of materials on re-entry) using a rocket is a non-starter for anything. You’d have to get the rocket to the start point, and the fuel. If you build it on the moon why bother sending it back to Earth?

  2. @ Mr Bailey.
    Yep. Mass driver. Since energy for refining on the moon is essentially free & it’s downhill all the way, it’s basically capital cost of plant. No reason it wouldn’t be competitive for a lot of metals. A ceramic re-entry shield would avoid scattering heavy metals through the upper atmosphere.

  3. And you needn’t worry about 100 tons of iron landing in Beijing, it’s perfectly safe.

  4. Perhaps some kind of a Total Recall (1990) type of system to harvest the resources in Mars, or the moon, could work? We could ask from John Carter of Barsoom what he thinks.

    FFS, I am still waiting for that nano-technology revolution promised in the 90’s.

  5. The Meissen Bison

    The moon is “shovel ready”; we need Mineral QE to finance the works.

    From QE to QED in a single bound!

  6. ‘Orbiting solar panels, shipping down electricity by microwave link, that sounds pretty cool.’

    Pendantry: that actually would be heating. Solar panels outside the earth’s atmosphere sending energy down to earth would add heat to the earth, an additional source beyond the sun.

    And another thing about abundance of materials in space: valuations of materials – ‘Titanium dioxide is $500 a tonne’ – is based on supply and demand. Addition of supply from space could greatly upset the balance. Gold could be worth $1,000 an ounce when you take off, and $50 an ounce when you get back, because of what YOU brought back.

  7. I love the wikipedia entry on Earth_mass#Variation:
    About 100m kg lost to atmospheric escape ( H2 and He), and 45m kg gained from captured dust and meteorites. So there’s plenty of the heavier elements coming to us, not pure of course. All figures estimated and less than a rounding error on the whole.
    But this: “Mass loss due to the combination of nuclear fission and natural radioactive decay is estimated to amount to 16 tons per year due to the mass-energy equivalence principle”.
    Nuclear really is amazing value.

  8. “Orbiting solar panels, shipping down electricity by microwave link, that sounds pretty cool. But physical shipment down? Naaah. Never.”

    I used to have an ESA study from the early 1980’s that played with that idea.
    If I remember correctly this required building an artificial island in the North Sea to have a reasonable margin of safety to have that microwave beam land from geostationary orbit without frying people and otherwise upsetting things. ( birds were supposed to naturally self-select to learn to avoid the beam…. ( no, not kidding…))

    The whole thing was terribly inefficient energy-wise ( about 8-10%) , but the reasoning was that Once Set Up, It’s Basically Free Energy. What happened with the rest of the energy ( supposedly several MWh at full deployment) was “of little issue” given that the ground installation was in open sea.. Some further study into atmospheric ionisation and its effects was recommended though…

    It’s one of the things that has burned itself into my mind because it might have sounded Cool SciFi-soon-to-be for my 13 yr old nerdy self, but after getting a bit of an education and reading it again at 20-ish it occurred to me that it may not be a pretty good idea to fire a megawatt microwave maser at something down on earth, or even through the atmosphere, without having a Good Look at the side effects of doing so.

    http://www.esa.int/gsp/ACT/doc/POW/ACT-RPT-NRG-2209-SPS_concluded_and_ongoing_activities_reduced_size.pdf says they’re still looking into it, by the looks of it.

  9. As for physical shipment down…

    Before that ever happens you’d need to build a serious amount of Stuff on one of the most inhospitable places in our solar system. So whatever you dig up and process is worth more on the Moon than on Earth…

    And only an idiot exports to where value is lower….

  10. Just find a Nickel-Iron asteroid and aim it at ………… (fill in favourite target destination)

  11. There’s He³ in the solar wind (~1/10,000 of total He) and some of that will be trapped on the Moon’s surface, where it’s been measured at 2.8 ppb. Of course, its utility would depend on gen 2 fusion reactors being up and running (gen 1 being D+T).

  12. I seem to recall an old discussion on rocket based mining that said something like “If the moon was stacked deep in solid gold bars it would cost more to retrieve them than they would be worth”.

    This assumes that the 2011 case estimates that cost of returning the rocks from the moon was $50,800 per gram (I assume that’s the cost in 2011 dollars) which is about $1,440,154 per ounce, when the price of gold per ounce was $1,900 USD in 2011, which was a record high at the time.


  13. Having said that, these calculations are based upon Project Apollo costs from 1969 – 1972 adjusted to 2011. It would be interesting to know what SpaceX reckons their costs would be for this sort of thing.

    Still, I doubt it would make sense for anything short of He3, even if there is still a non-research market for He3 (so shielding for the walls of torus based fusion generators excepted).

    He3 is rare, but it is still found on earth in natural gas at a rate of 70 to 242 parts per billion, so rare, but not non-existent.

  14. Space elevator has always been one of my favourite sci-fi gimmicks

    I agree. But it does require some new material with previously unheard of levels of tensile strength.

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