Friday, January 22, 2010

Fantastic Future Friday: For Sale $54 Trillion in Real Estate for just $12 Billion

In 2013 the asteroid Apophis will be close enough to the Earth to launch a probe to it. The Planetary Society had a contest to get ideas using off the shelf technology to design a probe and lay out a plan to have the probe send back useful data. So the concept for a probe is in place.

What is so significant about Apophis is it will make two fly-bys of Earth in the first half of this century. In 2029 it will come closer to Earth than Geo-Stationary orbiting satellites and then return in 2036. This offers mankind with a rare opportunity.

Apophis is an Asteroid weighing 2.7 Trillion kilograms, if were made of just low-grade 1% Iron ore it would be worth roughly $27 Trillion in today’s market.

Asteroids that have fallen to Earth have shown to have 95% concentrations of Iron, Nickel and Cobalt. The Iron ore found in meteorites has been used as refined Iron in the past. The 5% “junk” in asteroids is stuff like gold, palladium and platinum. But lets say we are unlucky and it’s a piss poor asteroid so it’s only worth double Earth bound Iron ore that’s still $54 Trillion dollars.

The problem is mining it. Doing some quick calculations I found it would be possible.

If we send up a probe in 2013 we can determine its orbit and where it will enter Earth’s space in 2029 and 2036 down to a few kilometers. With this knowledge we can plan out the next phase.

It would be impossible to use any known rocket science to capture this 27 trillion kilogram rock, but we could divert it by a few miles an hour.

If we altered its course in 2029 just enough for it to do a close fly-by of the Moon in 2036 we could use gravitational braking to capture it into an orbit that at its highest point is lower than the orbit of the Moon and its lowest point is higher than Geo-Stationary satellites, so its gravity doesn’t send them out of whack, then it will be at a nice convenient spot to set up mining facilities. Later we can think about adjusting its orbit to the LaGrange point permanently between the Earth and Moon.

(Warning Math ahead)

Without knowing its precise orbit I can’t determine the exact amount of change in speed it would need but I can determine the worst case scenario, its on the exact wrong side of Earth from the Moon and we need to move it 500,000 miles in 17 years.

In that case we would need to change its orbit by a whopping 8 miles per hour, or 13 kilometers per hour. In order to move 27 trillion kilograms of mass that much the Main Shuttle Engines would have to burn for 23 minutes which would use 1,434,229 gallons of fuel. That means 66,000 kilograms of liquid Hydrogen and 473,000 kilograms of liquid oxygen or a little over 500,000 kilograms combined.

When completed the Ares V will be able to lift 134,000 kilograms into Trans Lunar Injection so it could either get stuff into position where it can be captured by Apophis’s gravity or use the Moon to slingshot it into the proper orbit.

Including the launch to bring the engines to Apophis it would take 6 Ares V launches to be able to divert the asteroid the necessary 8 miles per hour.

The Ares V is supposed to cost less per launch than the shuttle, just like the shuttle was supposed to cost less per launch than the Apollo/Saturn 1b. I know per pound of cargo this is true, but in per launch cost it didn’t turn out that way. So lets say the Ares V costs twice as much as the shuttle to launch or $2 billion per launch. That means the 2029 mission would cost about $12 billion dollars. That means for every $1 spent on the mission it would return roughly $4,500. Those are the type of returns that Wall St can only dream of when they make mortgage backed securities and default credit swaps.

The weakest part of this mission is it would mean several Ares V launches in a few months, however if the Ares V is built on time and starts service in 2018 it would be in its 11th year of service so it could be called middle aged technology (or at least out adolescence) and should be relatively stable.

With $54 trillion of high grade iron at the their disposal the Space Programs of the world could really take off. With a sudden injection of $54 trillion, or 4.5 times the US debt, into the world economy a lot of the world’s suffering would be a thing of the past and that will lead to a fantastic future.

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