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          xyHt  | Pangaea Past Issues                                                                            August 25, 2015—No. 143


Surveying for Earth-saving Asteroids
Not all asteroids are bad; many have the potential to save the Earth

In part one we looked at a novel approach to surveying for Earth-killer asteroids. This issue we look at surveying and prospecting for asteroids for the purposes of mining.

Before we address “how to” we should discuss “why bother?” Why go to all the trouble and expense of going to space to mine asteroids? The answer in two words: vast resources. To get a better handle on the subject, I read “Asteroid Mining 101: Wealth for the New Space Economy” by Dr. John Lewis, chief scientist of Deep Space Industries, one of two asteroid mining companies (the other being Planetary Resources). My two-word review: mind blown.

To start with basics: Where do asteroids hang out? Most of us are familiar with the main asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter (more about that later). In fact, there are quite a few asteroids much closer to Earth called near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). As of this June, 12,745 NEAs have been discovered. These NEAs are considerably closer and thus easier to mine: the “low hanging fruit” of resources that will be the first phase in asteroid mining.

What are the estimated resources that could be harvested from just the NEAs? Hang on to your hats. Quoting from “Asteroid Mining 101”: “The NEA population could support approximately 400 billion people at a generous level of affluence from now until the Sun enters the red giant phase several billion years from now.” Some perspective: the Earth’s population at the end of 2014 has been estimated to be 7.2 billion. What about the resources of the main asteroid belt? Dr. Lewis puts the available resources of the main asteroid belt at 100,000 times the NEA number. With figures like that, is it any wonder asteroid mining is being considered as the next gold rush, on steroids?

Asteroid mining is comprised of at least four major tasks: prospecting, harvesting, processing, and manufacturing. Let’s focus on the first phase.

Prospecting and surveying. Both Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are developing unmanned spacecraft to tackle this phase. Deep Space is utilizing CubeSat technology in its Firefly-class spacecraft (image above) slated for launch in the next few years. Planetary Resources has its Arkyd-class prospecting spacecraft, the first of which was deployed from the international Space Station last month. The next Arkyd is slated for launch in 14 weeks.

On the sensing side, the development of sensors that operate over a wide spectral range is needed to find suitable asteroids to mine. The University of Southern California and the University of Utah have teamed together to develop cheap, lightweight, compact, disposable sensors to detect 74 trace elements to the nearest part per billion (ppb).

There is simply too much material to do justice to this topic in a single article, but I’d like to end with three thoughts. 1) Asteroid mining is not “pie-in-the-sky” science fiction; the prospecting phase is getting started right now. 2) Many observers believe that Earth’s supply of rare Earth and strategic materials (necessary for high technology, computers, smartphones, and clean-energy) will be exhausted in 50-60 years.  We will need asteroids to keep moving forward. 3) Many smart folks—Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking to name just two—make the argument that space travel and the colonization of other planets are needed to save mankind. Sooner or later there will be another extinction event on Earth. Nuclear war, global pandemic, and yes, even a massive asteroid impact could end life as we know it on our home planet. Asteroid mining can not only provide the metals to build interplanetary and interstellar spacecraft but fuel them as well, because water (hydrogen for fuel, oxygen to breathe) is quite common on asteroids. Asteroid mining, stairway to the stars!
Until next time,

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NEWS

Stockpile Reports Adds UAS Imagery
The big news: We’ve talked about Stockpile Reports in this newsletter; they combine iPhone technology and 3D photogrammetry to volumetrically survey stockpiles. Now they can use imagery from your UAS as well. What: the company has seen a rise in their customers using the eBee, the Aibotix, the DJI Phantom, and 3D Robotics IRIS and can now use UAS imagery to volumetrically survey stockpiles. Learn more on their website.


Maptek Spatial Data Systems for Mine Survey Productivity
The big news: Maptek technology provides the solutions surveyors need to maximize efficiency by enabling fast and accurate data capture and analysis. What: Maptek launched 3D point cloud modelling software in 2000 in response to market need for powerful processing, modelling and analysis of spatial data. Since that time, constant development of software and hardware has targeted improvements in survey productivity and the overall mine planning process including inbuilt mining workflows, simple data management, smart filtering and advanced geotechnical analysis tools, and visual reporting formats. Learn more on their website.
Boeing Patents UAS That Converts to AUV
The big news: “Q” from the James Bond movies must be green with jealousy. What: Boeing has patented an amphibious UAS that is launched from an aircraft carrier and separates near its target spot to enter the water. When the UAS hits the water, its rear wings, stabilizer and one of its sets of propelling blades detach to make it more maneuverable underwater. Read about it on the Business Insider

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