Ice extracted from asteroids or lunar craters will not be competitive with fuel launched from Earth on reusable rockets costing fifty thousand dollars. This should concern us.
15 tons of high quality fuels trucked from sophisticated refineries in Houston then launched for $250,000 on Falcon 9s in Brownsvile will always outcompete expensive fuels cracked from water-ice extracted out of lunar craters using as of yet non-existent multi-billion dollar technologies. In fact, the ability to launch tons of fuels from Earth to LEO on reusable rockets may delay the development of in-space resource utilization for decades.
When Musk achieves reusable rockets, development of all near Earth resources may be delayed from any cislunar source – even unfortunately asteroids with their superior concentrations of ore and favorable zero g environment. This ironically however provides a reason for taxpayer support of asteroid retrieval: private/public research partnerships teleoperating on an asteroid in Earth orbit owned by all U.S. citizens (NASA) could jump-start technologies humanity will need to develop asteroids. Humanity needs access to asteroids long-term. Asteroids – not the moon – will fuel a billion-fold increase in our industrial base. Despite a huge disparity in initial cost-competition with launches from Earth, government subsidized R&D on asteroids placed in an elliptical orbit around Earth could advance for-profit Free World leadership of in-space resource utilization by decades.
“I can remember thinking, truthfully, these words about twenty years ago: ‘That, unfortunately,
the space program is all dressed up – with no place to go’…now you might’a guessed, I don’t
believe that anymore. Now here’s what happened that changed my perspective. About ten
years ago I became part of a team at NASA that develops technologies to utilize resources in
space […] a robotosphere which will grow to have an economic output a million times that of
the United States. Imagine a million Americas in space. Then in just ten more years: America a
“The RepRap community is developing a printer using an electron beam in vacuum to melt powder to shape layer by layer. This machine will also be able to print solar panels. What is needed if we want to go deep space is a transistor printer (circuit board printer is more or less done), so we can have logic gates, CPU’s, memory etc without having to ship it from earth.”
“A factory in space complete with “assemble bots” that puts together the parts coming out of the printer, that should work indefinitely (since it can build itself multiple times before nearing the end of its lifespan) given a steady flow of processed raw materials. The idea here is to send up a complete system already loaded with raw materials to an ideal spot in/near the asteroid belt. You also send along an already built processing station for raw materials and some “mining bots”. When the system deploys, the mining bots will start collecting metals, water (to convert to oxygen and hydrogen for propulsion) and other materials needed. The processing station enriches/converts everything into appropriate format requested by the factory.”
“When you have sent a couple of system to different seeding places in the solar system, this will give an absolute material abundance, not only on earth but everywhere in space. We will also have a complete map of the solar system, down to the smallest asteroids and we will be able to catch incoming extrasolar objects instantly. And as Moore’s law states, in the next ten to thirty years (when this system maybe could be deployed) we will have computers hundreds to thousands of times faster than today, which will enable us to simulate the orbit of each and every little asteroid, enabling us to predict with great accuracy how objects will behave, and enabling us to really see the butterfly effect of a large object entering the asteroid belt, etc.”