MES Book 4 Chapter 8 Space miners and the copper asteroid

Grant and Dennis are discussing asteroid mining for a report they have to make for Space Studies B Stage 9B. An asteroid consisting largely of copper has been brought back from the asteroid belt by a robot miner. They are discussing it and the conflicts that occurred between groups before World Government was formed in 2645. Space miners would race to be the ones that would bring particularly rich asteroids to Earth. Conflicts between the space miners and their robominers in those times were infrequent but when they occurred were highly publicised.

Asteroid mining had changed completely with the introduction of the World Government.

 

GRANT

They had to start recycling copper in a big way even before the Impact.

DENNIS

Yes, humans in ancient times did not appreciate how long Earth was going to be their home. No idea of the billions of years.

GRANT

They certainly had their brains asleep. They just consumed and consumed. And bred and bred. Heads in the sand or somewhere else.

DENNIS

That was one good thing about the Impact. It was a catalyst for reducing the population. That meant less using up the planet’s resources, less pollution and less poor quality of life for many. Eventually anyway.

GRANT

For sure. To finally realise there was a plague of humans was good. It meant that all people had a better life, with enough to eat and drink.

DENNIS

Those countries which were rich had most people living all right, and it was from those that the first asteroid miners went out.

GRANT

Yes, to mine the asteroid belt from the surface of the Earth with chemical rockets was so inferior to today. And the countries needed to be rich to build the rockets.

DENNIS

Just as well that robots operating from Space City or the Moon took over the job.

GRANT

And so much more efficient. No need for the power to get off the surface and back to it. So now rockets are much smaller.

DENNIS

And much smarter. It is now not such a big problem if it takes ten minutes for the robominer to hear you say “Go left”. And so twenty minutes after you speak for you to see that it had gone left.

GRANT

Yes, with robots being enormously more capable they can basically find a good asteroid and bring it back to the Moon or Space City without any human intervention.

DENNIS

For sure. If robots can be spreading humans throughout the universe without humans on board except as DNA the task of gathering up an asteroid is simple.

GRANT

And they are so necessary. Today they bring antimony, zinc, tin, silver, lead, indium, gold, and copper from asteroids. I’m reading from the list here. And probably there are even more that should be on the list. These metals are still found on Earth but they are too expensive to extract.

DENNIS

In ancient times there was the huge problem of getting the asteroids down to the surface of Earth because Space Elevators had not been invented. It was all very well to get it into orbit around Earth but it needed to get to the surface.

GRANT

Well, just as well we had Janet Oliver doing research. While they had Space Elevators on the Moon and Mars early on the Earth had to wait until she invented the material for its Space Elevators in 2910.

DENNIS

Yes. Back then having to use rockets to slow the asteroids down so they did not just all burn up was a problem she solved.

GRANT

And it is just as well robots have always done the work. If humans were doing it then because the distance to the asteroids is at least 200,000,000 km and the distance between asteroids is around 1,000,000 km humans would need a huge ship load of provisions to last years for the time it took to fly to and around them.

DENNIS

Yes, if it would take over half a year just to get to the asteroid belt humans need to appreciate how good it is to have robots to do all the work. Not just here on Earth but especially in space. That is not an environment humans can be in without much, much support.

GRANT

The twenty first century humans knew that there were enough resources in the asteroid belt to last Earth indefinitely, and when extracting them on Earth became too costly it was a case of heading to the stars; well, planets anyway. So there were many who wanted to begin mining it as soon as possible.

DENNIS

And they did. Just not very efficiently. Compared to today anyway.

GRANT

And the asteroid belt will definitely be able to help us forever with over a million asteroids being over a kilometre in diameter and lots of the materials we need in the million asteroids.

DENNIS

The big ones provide bases for the robots and their service stations. From the list we have Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea with diameters of over 400km, and Ceres with a diameter of 950km.

GRANT

They are good places to have stores of supplies and also repair shops for the robot miners. All run by robots.

DENNIS

Especially the water the robominers need. It means propellant for the robot miners is there in the asteroid belt so they can take less from the Moon or Space City. So they have less mass to accelerate to get up to cruising speed.

GRANT

And while iron, nickel and titanium have not run out on Earth it is cheaper to use them from the asteroids. Just one asteroid can give you an awful lot of metal. Like the copper asteroid that is nearly back to the Moon. It has a diameter of one kilometre or so.

DENNIS

That means it has a volume of about half a cubic kilometre, or five hundred million cubic metres. Now copper has a density of about nine thousand kilograms per cubic metre so if the asteroid is all copper it has nearly five trillion tonnes of copper.

GRANT

Now that is an absolutely enormous amount of copper. Based on copper usage in 4570 that will supply all the copper Earth needs for about two hundred thousand years.

DENNIS

What a good reason for mining the asteroids. You would only need to bring back a copper asteroid of that size every two hundred thousand years.

GRANT

The people organising that must have got some extra credits for their life on Earth or whatever else they want to do.

DENNIS

For sure. Capitalism is not completely dead, just an incentive to people who want to work to go the extra mile.

GRANT

A bit dated when we use kilometres.

DENNIS

Good saying though.

GRANT

So they have parked the asteroid at the Moon.

DENNIS

The Space Elevator on the Moon is easier to get the copper down to the surface.

GRANT

The industries using it are largely on the Moon I guess.

DENNIS

Our calculations assume it is all copper.

GRANT

So if it is half useable copper it supplies our needs for a hundred thousand years and even if it is only ten percent copper it lasts twenty thousand years. That is a lot of copper.

DENNIS

Well, look at that. The reporters are showing the asteroid at the Moon and are adding some human content. There are the Albury sports team waiting for the Moon Bus.

GRANT

The images of the ski jumps in the Moon were spectacular.

DENNIS

Low gravity certainly adds something to action photos if you like heights.

GRANT

They were on before. Remember we saw the sports team on their excursion to see Neil Armstrong’s footprint; and the rest of the attractions in that tourist city.

DENNIS

They were not just running and jumping. They were getting to see the attractions of the Moon. One advantage being a sports person. You get to be out of this world.

GRANT

All the sports were in the Moon so when we say “The man in the Moon” we mean it literally, not like our ancestors when they said it. Of course we probably should say “The people in the Moon” or “The men and women in the Moon”.

DENNIS

I think you might be getting a bit carried away by the idea that you don’t want to be accused of sexism.

GRANT

Just as long as I get up there sometime.

DENNIS

Soon we will look at Maxwell 01 and say “The children on Maxwell 01”. We would need to be using a very big telescope of course.

GRANT

Except if we say “Hello, man in the Moon” he hears it in two seconds. The kids on Maxwell 01 will hear it in four years.

DENNIS

So that is all right. They get born in a year or so and if I say it now they will hear it when they are three years old.

GRANT

It will be worse if they send a Maxwell 99 to the other side of the Milky Way and it takes seventy thousand years for your greeting to get there.

DENNIS

That is what really upsets me. To have all this future exploration that I am going to miss.

GRANT

It upsets me too. Not being around forever is the pits.

DENNIS

We had better take up religion. That might solve it.

GRANT

What it would solve is a hungry pig wondering whether his breakfast is tasty. As you would be it do you think he would find you tasty?

DENNIS

I will ignore that but talking of food I think we should eat.

GRANT

Good idea. Thinking gives me an appetite.