Congress Passes Space Mining Act: There are No Limits to Growth

Artist's impression of double asteroid belt at Epsilon Eridani, source NASA JPL.

Artist’s impression of double asteroid belt at Epsilon Eridani, source NASA JPL.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Benny Peiser – Congress has just voted to legalise the mining of Asteroids. In doing so, they have opened the way to the next phase of human history – the unlimited expansion of industrial human civilisation throughout the Universe.

According to Popular Science;

After much delay, an important space bill has finally passed in the Senate.

The Space Act of 2015 would do a lot of things to encourage the private space industry–including extending the “learning period” wherein fledgling spaceflight companies can operate without too much government oversight. It would also give companies the rights to the resources they might one day extract from asteroids, such as platinum and water (which, believe it or not, is a valuable resource in space).

The bill has just passed in the Senate with unanimous approval and a few amendments. Now it will be sent back to the House of Representatives, which is expected to approve the changes, and then on to President Obama.

Although the bill hasn’t officially been signed into law yet, Planetary Resources–one such company that hopes to extract resources from asteroids–issued an effusive letter thanking the Congressmen who supported the bill.

“Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species,” said Planetary Resources Co-Chairman Eric Anderson in the press release. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

Read more: http://www.popsci.com.au/space/us-senate-votes-to-legalize-space-mining,411747

Obviously there is still the issue of how to get to your Asteroid – launching traditional rockets is prohibitively expensive. But most alternatives to rockets suffer substantial drawbacks, which have so far prevented their use.

For example, Project Orion powered spaceships would have no difficulty carrying a large payload into orbit, and propelling it to the vicinity of any Asteroid in the Solar System. The tough part is convincing a government to allow a private company to detonate nuclear bombs inside the Earth’s atmosphere, to propel the Orion ship into orbit.

Thankfully there is one solution, which involves far less controversial technology than atomic bombs. A solution which has already been tested, which worked, and which successfully delivered payloads, at a fraction of normal launch costs, into near Earth space.

The man who proved inexpensive launch into near Earth space is possible was the legendary Canadian artillery engineer Gerald Bull. Gerald Bull is well known in military circles. He was a ballistics genius, whose revolutionary design ideas dramatically advanced the world’s artillery capabilities. During the 1960s Bull was the director of Project HARP. His modified artillery pieces successfully launched payloads up to a peak altitude of 180km (110 miles), well above the lower boundary of near Earth space – proving that ballistic launch into space is possible.

Bull wanted to go further, to prove that he could launch a satellite into stable orbit using his cannon. Payloads launched from a cannon need a course correction during flight to achieve a stable Earth orbit, so Bull wanted to build gun big enough to launch an unmanned spaceship, which could perform that required mid flight course correction. But Bull’s desperation was his undoing. The only person at the time who was willing to support his final project was the infamous Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein.

Of course, Saddam wasn’t interested in space research, but he was very interested in a gun powerful enough to deliver large payloads all the way to Israel. Thus was born the infamous Iraqi Supergun.

Bull was assassinated shortly after he became involved with Saddam Hussein. Nobody knows for sure who assassinated Gerald Bull, or exactly why he was murdered. But Bull’s work didn’t die – the knowledge of how to replicate the launch technology which Gerald Bull pioneered lives on.

Now Congress has guaranteed people can keep the fruits of their efforts, other people can and will build on the ideas Bull pioneered, and the ideas of other space pioneers, and will use those ideas to open our way to the stars, to access unlimited resources from beyond the Earth.

Once you achieve a stable low Earth orbit, you are halfway to anywhere. There are a host of high efficiency low thrust space drives which could easily carry a low earth orbit satellite to a rendezvous with an Asteroid. Its getting into orbit in the first place which is the difficult part – the problem which Gerald Bull solved.

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220 thoughts on “Congress Passes Space Mining Act: There are No Limits to Growth

  1. This is a big reluef, although I was not previously aware that the congress of the United States had jurisdiction, or any other kind of say-so, in outer space.

      • It has jurisdiction over what US companies can do IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. It has no jurisdiction over what they can do in Europe, Africa, Asia.
        So which bunch of robber barons in the USA suddenly said that the USA owns THE WHOLE OF OUTER SPACE?
        Why should America own in rather than Russia, Europe, Africa, South America or more appropriately, humanity equally??
        What IS it about you Americans that you think everything belongs to you unless someone forcibly tells you that it doesn’t??

      • rtj1211, I do not think the implication is that the US owns outer space. The implication is that NO ONE owns outer space, so if anyone makes the effort to go get some of it, then it is theirs. If China or Cambodia are the first to snatch an asteroid, they own it. If YOU snatch it, it is yours.

      • rtj1211 – Why so much invective? ‘Robber barons? USA owning the whole of Outer Space? Really? Where does it say any of that? Are you saying that every other country can go and mine the asteroids but not the USA?
        You obviously haven’t read the detail but rather you use this topic as a lightning rod to unload some sort of personal grievance. This bill provides a legal framework for US companies to exploit the resources out in Space so that they can be sure that someone or some government won’t come along and demand some or all of the proceeds if those companies invest millions in the technology to do this. Perhaps like Boliva?
        FYI, it says:
        A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.
        And…
        Secondly, the Senate made sure to cover its bases when it comes to the Outer Space Treaty, to hopefully avoid angering other countries.
        It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does NOT thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.
        Why don’t you read article at the link provided because it says nothing about what you are alleging?

      • We did plant a few flags; just a custom we inherited from the Europeans a few hundred years ago. But since we haven’t done anything with it in 40+ years, squatter’s rights apply. Better hurry before the Chinese get there. Or before the UN declares it a world heritage site.

      • Actually I would say the United States And the Russian Federation own the solar system. through the blood off both of our dead astronauts & cosmonauts
        Any more questions?
        michael

      • Had we better not get up there and make sure it is uninhabited?
        Remember when Queen Isabella gave the entire New World to whoever it was she gave it too (OK, I do not remember either, but still…)?
        Imagine all the acrimony in a few hundred years about how we stole all of outer space from the Zeta Reticuli space aliens who were there first.

      • “What IS it about you Americans that you think everything belongs to you unless someone forcibly tells you that it doesn’t??”
        All your space are belong to U.S.!
        (From a NASA slogan contest some years ago)

      • Indeed, the US government often makes it illegal for companies to do things in foreign countries, because they can and do prosecute companies and jail individuals for what they do abroad. An extreme instance of this is the child sex trade. No matter that Thailand, and other places, did not make it illegal for decades, the US government would prosecute people, arresting them as they got off the plane to home in some cases. In more politically charged, cases companies have been prosecuted for bribing foreign officials, even when the country of those officials are unwilling to prosecute the company themselves.

      • Yes, I know what it is…I posted the picture.
        And, actually, Ceres is now categorized as a minor planet.
        Not an asteroid.

    • Knowing US tax policy abroad, they are probably saying that you won’t be taxed on your space goodies like you would be taxed for doing business in China or something.
      But, I do agree. The hubris is astounding. And is this what the US Congress should be focusing on? Asteroid mining policy?

      • Arsten wrote:
        “And is this what the US Congress should be focusing on? Asteroid mining policy?”
        Yes, they turned to the space mining topic because the debates over the proposed Chipmunk Control Act of 2015 were becoming too partisan and acrimonious.

      • It does no harm to nail down a noncontroversial framework for something many years in the future. The time spent is minimal. When the capability and demand to economically mine asteroids finally arrives, there will undoubtedly be many unforeseen complications that will have to be addressed, but that is for a future generation to deal with.

      • This is actually a very pertinent move by Congress as the ARM mission, where ion propulsion will be used to power spacecraft to the vicinity of an NEO, is developing at quite a pace now. The idea was that the Orion would rendevous with the ARM spacecraft near the Moon by 2020 so that astronauts or robots (with remote control) could practice mining on a small asteroid or asteroid piece. 2020 is not that far away in space mission terms.
        We already have the lift capability and technology to get to asteroids since well, we have already done that. Dawn, Deep Space 1, Hayabusa etc. All using ion thrusters. John Brophy has been giving talks about asteroid mining for a few years using thruster designs already in test. I remember seeing a talk about retrieving an asteroid and bringing it back to the Moon orbit at an EP (Electric Propulsion) conference some years ago. It was a light hearted talk but included realistic numbers. Funny that now the work is a lot more developed and part of the mission phase development or so it seems.
        In the long run I also want to get to asteroids with my own company endeavours but it’s going to take some work. Saying that, the timescales are looking like years rather than decades. Then the biggest impact is probably going to be commodity dilution if metals can be processed in any quantities from asteroids. There will probably be rules put in place limiting down mass transfer and most if not all of these metals will be used in space and habitat construction.

      • IMO, most asteroid mining will be to facilitate space travel. Eventually, humans will probably inhabit the asteroid belt.

      • Well might as well dictate the options of US citizens, and residents, as something over which one might reasonably exert control; rather than try to tell Mother Gaia at COP 21 what YOU believe is the proper Temperature of the earth; something over which you have no reasonable expectation of exerting any influence at all.
        g

    • But it planted a US flag on the moon so it must own all of space! After all, travel to the moon was described as “conquering space”.
      As you indicate, a little perspective would go a long way.

      • It’s not a matter of “owning space”. The problem is that prior treaties and “international law” prohibited the U.S. or private interests from owning any extra-territorial bodies or portions thereof. Nobody is going to mine asteroids or colonize the Moon if they can’t own what they find.

    • Just wait until they figure out the (energy) cost per pound to get aluminium from the asteroid belt.
      g

      • Why would that be an issue?
        Boil the out from its ore in situ then shape the melt into a long slow orbit down the gravity well from the Belt to near Earth … or just use it in the Belt to build habitats and a thriving society that will, one day, prove decisive in defending Earth from the Kzin or maybe from Union.
        You’ll need quite a few nuclear reactors up there to provide the power but that’s good because you certainly don’t want any CO2 being generated in the pristine wilderness of space.:)

    • it’s an example of the misconception that the American government parcels out rights to its citizens – the Founding Fathers had a different notion – they said there were “inalienable rights” – so the guiding principle that we might be holding in common is that citizens are free exploit unclaimed resources – with or without government permission – (it was hypocritical of the early americans to think that the lands of the aborigines were exploitable) – but at least there are no claimants to the resources of outer space – yet

      • I think it’s just political grandstanding and another feather in the presidential headdress which has been distracting the US from focusing on the real issues threatening our economy and security.

    • I wouldn’t mine an asteroid if it weren’t legal for me to sell the minerals in the US and couldn’t if I weren’t allowed to launch from here. I guess I could launch from French Guiana and sell to China, with German or Japanese financing, but would rather not run afoul of US law. Foreign banks also don’t want to do so.

      • Yes, better to have yo pappiss in order when doing any biz in the US…especially these days.
        I expect we may be full-on fascists in a few years if the dems win another White House term.

      • Sooner than we think computronium (& raw materials to make it), processor cycles, and joules will the the currency used in trade.

  2. By the time we are done paying to reverse all the damage the liberal loon climate change fiasco has cost us , we won’t have any money left for years to come !!

    • Then just print some more. QE is money printing, if you need money, print it.
      Hoest, this is exactly the way it works. There is no higher standard for the $, so just print more, it is backed up by , erm, well, you know, it’s backed up.

      • Money is a proxy for work in a bartering transaction, as long as the population grows we do need more money printed, it’s also why the 1% can’t collect all the “money”, but the growth of currency does have to match the amount of work being done, which they aren’t doing.

      • The 1% can’t collect all the money because the 1% buys stuff with it.
        As long as their appetites for more stuff increases with their bank accounts, there will never be any worry about the 1% collecting all the money.

      • That works for me. I figure you could completely eliminate US Federal taxes, and just tell the Gummint; you need money; just print it.
        By my calculation, the rate of inflation would be about the same as now, and I wouldn’t need about 75% of the income I now need.
        g

    • Part of the reason to mine asteroids of precious and rare earth metals is precisely because of the financial rewards inherent to [easy] mining on a rich source in space relative to diffuse extent here on earth. That would go a long way towards ensuring that the gold in Fort Knox is actually present and accounted for, that a return to the gold standard would be possible, and that things like catalytic converters can be made more affordable for the inevitable environmental controls which will be imposed on large energy producers. Plus, how cool would it be to be a space cowboy wrangling up asteroids for their minerals? Definitely a top notch line for picking up chicks at the bar.

  3. Space Lift. Or space elevator if you prefer.
    It’s the only way to reduce the cost of reaching orbit enough for mass commerce.
    It’s doable.
    Only a few material sourcing issues to iron out.

    • Imagine the worlds tallest building, Hotel, Apartments held up by the tallest elevator. But an asteroid would make a good anchor.
      And carbon nanotubes are strong enough, plus you can make them conductive or insulating, which means you can make linear inductive motors in them, so regen braking when you drop an elevator car can provide power to lift a car going space ward.

      • And if we lived on a planet without insane terrorist, we might actually be able to contemplate building something like this.
        Unfortunately, such a structure would be incredibly vulnerable to attack or sabotage.
        In addition to all the other dangers and engineering difficulties.
        I expect we will have fusion power before we have a space elevator.

        • I expect we will have fusion power before we have a space elevator.

          In the ball park, 50-100 years, though during those years technology could evolve at a log rate.
          On the comment about oxidation, a negative charge (+?) might be able to protect a carbon nanotube structure.
          This kind of material development will progress fast, Drexler pegged us now in the window for the first replicators in 1986, and he was really close on the technology to meet that timeframe (2012-2025).

    • I don’t think it’s doable. Wind sheer will drag it down, and the fuel needed to fire rockets to keep tension on the cable would make it cost prohibitive. The danger of a long cable falling would make it uninsurable.
      A better alternative is a magnetic levitation system that could accelerate and hurl bullet shaped, heat-shielded cargo containers into space. “Catcher” vehicles already in orbit would intercept them, unload and reroute their cargoes, and give them a push to send them back down for reuse.

      • I don’t think it’s doable. Wind sheer will drag it down, and the fuel needed to fire rockets to keep tension on the cable would make it cost prohibitive.

        They will be anchored to a large mass in orbit, no rockets required.
        I agree there will be concerns about liability, maybe we’ll get past them. But they will ultimately (IMO) be the choice for cheap access to space, and then anywhere in the solar system.
        If we build some other drive system, maybe they will replace beanstalks, but at the beginning those will be the domain of the very rich.

      • Have any of you worked out the orbital profile of a tethered space station that supports its own weight. Something tells me that it must wind around the earth, something fierce, since the surface end of the tether has a natural orbital period of 84 minutes, and the period increases as you go higher, but the whole shebang is whipping around the earth with a 24 hour period.
        Wake me when you have a formula for the tether shape.
        g

      • dbstealey
        November 13, 2015 at 8:34 am
        A space elevator is just a cost/benefit problem. Arthur C. Clarke said it can be done, that’s good enough for me.

        The songs of Distant Earth.
        By coincidence, I borrowed the Spanish translation of Clarke’s book from my local library and I bought a Mike Oldfield’s CD on the same week without knowing that the CD was based on the book. Some days after, when I was reading the book while listening to the music I realized that the two had the same title, the CD in English and the book in Spanish. I loved both.

      • No, it’s not really doable, even theoretically. As mentioned by others we’d have to have an equatorial tethered synchronous satellite which reached down to the surface. The trouble is that the electrical bonding energy of the molecules of is less than the tension the satellite would be under, even assuming a large taper of the satellite from orbit to ground (as maximum tension will be near the synchronous orbit). Work out the math and it will be obvious.
        OTOH, a revolving satellite which reaches from a low earth orbit to just about the edge of the atmosphere is feasible as long as you have a way to send rock, etc. back down so you don’t degrade the orbit of the revolving satellite.

        • ” The trouble is that the electrical bonding energy of the molecules of is less than the tension the satellite would be under, even assuming a large taper of the satellite from orbit to ground (as maximum tension will be near the synchronous orbit). Work out the math and it will be obvious.”
          At the time I first read about this, diamond fiber was mentioned as a material that would work, but that was before carbon nanotubes had been discovered, and I thought those would be as well. There was also some nitrogen(+ ?) fiber material I also remember as being possible. But they have been running X prizes events already run, as well as a few companies formed.

        • Oh, I forgot to mention another type I’ve read about, a long cable at the edge of the atm that is rotating around its center, where each end spins into the upper atm, then rotates up into space, cargo world connect at the atm end, and get flung up into space and then disconnect to be sent into orbit.

        • ” How you get from earth surface to geo-synchronous tether ??”
          Build equal mass up from your anchor while at the same time you grow a cable down to the surface, and if you wanted, build the tallest building on earth.

    • Good discussion.
      It’s still just a material problem that, when solved, makes all other satellite launching mechanism redundant.
      But those material problems are big ones.
      (This was good trolling by me).

  4. Launching an object using a gun is one thing. Having anyone on board survive the G forces is another.
    There’s also the problem of aerodynamics, such an object would be moving it’s fastest at the surface, right where the air is the thickest.

    • MarkW:
      You say

      Launching an object using a gun is one thing. Having anyone on board survive the G forces is another.

      True, but getting people into orbit is achieved using rockets. Significant cost savings may be possible if materials, propellants and equipment could be launched by supergun.
      Asteroid mining would be a commercial exercise that in principle is no different from any other mining activity. Reducing costs increases profits.
      Richard

      • The only cost that is relevant is the energy capital expended. The money cost can be solved with a pen and paper.
        g

      • george e. smith:
        You assert:

        The only cost that is relevant is the energy capital expended. The money cost can be solved with a pen and paper.

        No, the energy capital expended is not relevant except for its financial cost.
        Financial benefit (i.e. the net money gained) is the purpose of the activity and is achieved by sale of the mined product.
        Similarly, financial benefit is the purpose of thermal power stations and is achieved by sale of the generated electricity. The energy sold as generated electricity is less than the energy in the fuel supplied to the power stations.
        Richard

      • @ George e, “The only cost that is relevant is the energy capital expended. The money cost can be solved with a pen and paper.”
        you forgot the phone.

      • So Richard, you are gung ho even if the required energy capital exceeds the available energy recovered from the project.
        Wunnerful.

      • I think I actually said that the money cost can be solved with the stroke of the pen.
        So there IS no money cost to consider Richard.
        You simply put a tax (like $1M) per barrel, on all competing energy sources, and use that money to purchase the space resources (energy).
        So if oil is $50 per barrel now, and YOU can make 100 Watts of solar cells from the energy in a barrel of oil, then your cost is $0.50 per Watt for solar cells. (good luck on that).
        So when your oil is now at $1,000,050 per barrel, including applicable taxes, you can’t afford oil to make your solar cells; and there is nothing else you can use either.
        Well I guess your solar cells now cost you $10,000.50 per Watt !
        I think you may need to reduce the energy capital it takes to make your solar cells, or you will never make a profit.
        g

      • george e. smith:
        You say to me

        So Richard, you are gung ho even if the required energy capital exceeds the available energy recovered from the project.
        Wunnerful

        Most mined minerals are not fuels.
        The energy cost of mining any mineral is only important as a contribution to financial cost of the mining business.
        And you also say to me

        I think I actually said that the money cost can be solved with the stroke of the pen.
        So there IS no money cost to consider Richard.
        You simply put a tax (like $1M) per barrel, on all competing energy sources, and use that money to purchase the space resources (energy).
        So if oil is $50 per barrel now, and YOU can make 100 Watts of solar cells from the energy in a barrel of oil, then your cost is $0.50 per Watt for solar cells. (good luck on that).
        So when your oil is now at $1,000,050 per barrel, including applicable taxes, you can’t afford oil to make your solar cells; and there is nothing else you can use either.
        Well I guess your solar cells now cost you $10,000.50 per Watt !
        I think you may need to reduce the energy capital it takes to make your solar cells, or you will never make a profit.

        NO! That displays complete ignorance of basic economic principles (I suppose you must be a ‘libertarian’).
        Most minerals provide no energy: people mine to obtain iron ore, but iron ore provides no energy, it uses energy to mine, and obtaining steel from it uses energy.
        And your assertion that “there IS no money cost to consider” displays a complete ignorance of financial costs.
        The cheapest available resources (i.e. ‘low hanging fruit’) are mined first. When – and not until – there is a profit available from mining asteroids then asteroids will be mined commercially.
        Profit is financial return on financial investment: i.e. profit is financial income less financial costs.
        A subsidy is a transfer of costs from investors to others (e.g. tax-payers). It distorts markets by altering the profit (i.e. financial return on financial investment) obtained by investors. And it increases total financial costs (if only by the need to pay a bureaucracy to administer the subsidy).
        Governments may deliberately distort markets by applying subsidies. Indeed, men went to the Moon because that was financed by government subsidy. Such a deliberate market distortion requires a political incentive to provide financial investors (e.g. in rocket manufacture) with the commercial incentive of a financial profit.
        In summation, those conducting any mining activity require a financial return on their financial investment. Energy cost only matters because it provides the mining operators with a financial cost unless subsidies transfer the financial cost to others (e.g. tax payers). And subsidies increase total financial costs.
        I am surprised that anybody does not know this.
        Richard

        • And financial costs are actually the cost of labor and profit.
          Remember money is the abstraction of labor to make the exchange of labor and goods easier at market.
          It easier to buy a side of beef, with the chickens you raise, if you can exchange the chickens for credit (fiat money) first, because you don’t have to figure out how to exchange 1/2 a chicken (if the beef producer want to collect eggs, not meat) and he has to want chickens.
          Money is the proxy for labor.
          So when the collection of labor to mine and return materials from an asteroid is less than that’s material exchange for the labor to extract materials some other way, then asteroid mining will be profitable.

    • Though OT. I was just wondering how many here know that the catapults on the new Ford class Aircraft carriers are electro-magnetic and not steam as was always used before. Those new catapults will allow launches to proceed at a considerably faster pace than was possible with the steam driven catapults.

      • Fewer moving parts generally means greater reliability.
        The ones I read about use big capacitors to store up the charge for each launch. Whether they can recharge the capacitor faster than they could recharge to steam tanks is an engineering question that I don’t have the data to answer.

    • It’s a case of using the most efficient means for each major step of launch, travel, mine and return.
      Minimize people.
      Use the cannon to launch parts into stable orbit.
      Launch people is craft similar to the space shuttle where the cargo bay can be used for assembly of the asteroid belt traveler.
      Use ion drive, space wind sails, whatever is the most efficient cheapest way to get there.
      Use fuels to set up the return flight against solar winds.
      Send a long range drone scout. Search and map asteroids for desirable content. Rare earth and critical metals are the ones worth the search. Ferrous types of materials are low on the search/find list.
      Use the follow up asteroid traveler to collect small chunks and/or tow the biggest chunk they can. No reason why they can’t fill a cargo bay and tow a large chunk.
      Load is returned to the assembly area. Worry about dropping the rocks later, though a space elevator using the asteroids as the descending weights would be cool.
      Maybe the OAS (Open Atmosphere Society) should form a space corporation for investing in these ventures and issue stock.
      A side benefit would be using the space cannon launching research satellites for the space agencies. We give NOAA special discount using mannmath.
      An earlier benefit could be launching a space debris trash collection. There is a lot of valuable abandoned gear and valuable metals circling around up there. We could even charge various national space agencies for recovering their junk. We give NOAA special discount using gavinadjustment math.

  5. Eric Worrall:
    Your essay says

    Bull was assassinated shortly after he became involved with Saddam Hussein. Nobody knows for sure who assassinated Gerald Bull, or exactly why he was murdered. But Bull’s work didn’t die – the knowledge of how to replicate the launch technology which Gerald Bull pioneered lives on.

    Actually, he did not “pioneer” such a gun. He developed it from the German V3 gun intended to bombard London from France during WW2. The RAF destroyed the V3 with Tallboy bombs in 1944. And after the war Churchill ordered that its barrel and booster be filled with concrete, but tourists still visit the site.
    Richard

    • I suppose you could say the maker of the blunderbuss pioneered it. What Bull did was make it effective in getting 180km high for which he deserves some credit I should say.

      • Gary Pearse:
        You could say anything, but it would not a true to say “the maker of the blunderbuss pioneered” the pulsed explosion cannon.
        The method of the V3 and the Hussein supergun was to have additional chambers containing explosive charges up its length. Hence, an artillery shell would obtain additional propulsion because the charge in each chamber was fired when the shell passed it. (Bull also proposed using rocket assistance for some shells).
        Bull did not manage to get a pulsed explosion cannon to fire an object into orbit. The HARP project in Barbados was abandoned before his large howitzer was developed to be a pulsed explosion cannon, and construction of the Hussein supergun was never completed.
        Bull was probably the greatest artillery designer of the twentieth century and there is no need to embellish his achievements.
        Richard

      • And good luck on getting the added explosive thrust pointed in the correct direction, when those stationed explosions go off.
        g

    • When reading about Gerald Bull’s assassination, I was reminded of ‘Inspector Clouseau’ when the world’s best assassins were trying to kill him.
      Gerald Bull fell into the same predicament, only without the clumsy luck of Clouseau.

  6. Any product that can have a dual use, i.e. civilian and military, is already highly restricted in its availability by governments. I don’t see a bunch of prospectors being let off any more lightly than anyone else.

  7. “… would also give companies the rights to the resources they might one day extract from asteroids,..”
    This is a moot law. It would be silly but for an important Constitutional principle. The powers not delegated to the US government are reserved to the States and to the People. (See Amendment X). There is NO enumerated power in the Constitution that extends into space. It certainly is outside of any concept of “territory”. This mere proposition that it does just shows how much we have turned out backs on the principle that government must be limited or there will be no limits to government.

    • I am not at all sure the issue is moot. The 10th Amendment reservation of powers is a fine point. But asteroid mining could easily fall under interstate commerce. The profit potential of asteroid exploration will be squat if there are no recognized property right similar to a mining claim, but with terms suitable for the current state of engineering.
      Otherwise, you can spend a half century and $20 billion dollars looking for an asteroid that used to be part of the core of a planet (if indeed there are such), but without internationally recognized property rights the effort will literally be a Fools Errand because another party will swoop in a profit from your find.
      Internationally recognized property rights are the rub. I’d be curious to see what rights the US Congress actually created, if any. To attempt to get the UN to agree would be another Fools Errand and would likely result in worse property rights for all.

      • There are already asteroids that are estimated to be worth trillions, and I suspect property rights will be based on(at least during the beginning) on who can physically take possession.

      • Stephen Rasey November 13, 2015 at 7:40 am
        “I am not at all sure the issue is moot. The 10th Amendment reservation of powers is a fine point. But asteroid mining could easily fall under interstate commerce.”
        Perhaps it should be amended to include “interplanetary commerce”. While they are at it, they should add “interstellar, intergalactic and entire universe commerce” as well.

      • Interstate commerce clause is one of the two most abused clauses in the constitution. It’s purpose was to give congress the authority to resolve trade disputes between individual states. The idea that it could be used by congress to regulate anything that might potentially cross a state border would have been laughed at by the people who wrote the Constitution. Remember they set out to form a limited govt.

      • Well the ninth amendment trumps even the tenth amendment. It says the people retain ALL of their rights, that aren’t specifically ceded to the government in the language of the Constitution. And very few are mentioned in the specific language. Arguably, the Declaration’s ” right to life ” is compromised in the fifth amendment, with the introduction of a possibility of a ” due process of law ” that might enable the feds to deprive you of life or property. A similar wording, twice in the 14th amendment, might grant the same process of law option to the States. The word ” life ” appears just once in the fifth amendment (BOR), and just twice more in the 14th amendment.
        NOWHERE in the original Constitution as written, before the Bill of Rights, does the word ” life ” appear; absolutely nowhere.
        Look for ” the right to life ” (and ALL other rights) in ” The Declaration of Independence, ” not in the Constitution.
        G

      • What the new President should do first is issue an Executive Order rescinding all of Obama’s Executive Orders.

      • Hillary Clinton is not going to cancel any Obama orders; simply add more. And even supposedly intelligent readers at WUWT are lining up already to participate once again in that momentous historic opportunity to vote for the election of the first woman POTUS.
        And it won’t likely be Carly Fiorina.
        and yes; you guessed it ; they will also vote for her a second time, and then come here and apologize.
        g

        • ” Hillary Clinton is not going to cancel any Obama orders; simply add more. And even supposedly intelligent readers at WUWT are lining up already to participate once again in that momentous historic opportunity to vote for the election of the first woman POTUS.”
          She’s publicly admitted to security violations, she just thought the evidence had been deleted, yet another example of how big an idiot she is, she will not be legally able to run for any office.

  8. These asteroids sound like a good place for some US companies to park some of their none domestic profits until a more favourable tax law is passed.

  9. Once we accept and acknowledge that atmospheric CO2 is not a pollutant but rather necessary to support life (carbon based life forms) we can explore methods of “mining” CO2 from Venus.
    Since we understand the physical laws of gravity to such precision that we can land a craft on an asteroid, we can send robotic crafts to the upper reaches of the Venus atmosphere. These robots will collect and freeze chunks of CO2 and then launch them in a steady stream, on a trajectory such that they will travel through space and in time enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up prior to impacting the surface.
    Earth’s satellite’s orbits will need to be factored in.

    • I am thinking we might consider shipping the Venusian CO2 to Mars instead.
      Long term it would perhaps allow us to terraform Mars into a second liveable planet.

  10. Lonmin are about to close a platinum mine in South Africa because the cost of extraction is higher than the market price yet someone believes that there is a fortune to be made mining platinum in space. As most platinum is used for catalytic convertors and the greens want to see the back of petrol and diesel cars long before anyone manages to find an economical way of getting to an asteroid let alone return with millions of tons of rare minerals we might just be better off finding ways to resolve near earth problems first.
    I wonder how long it will be before the mafia boiler rooms start flogging parcels of asteroid acreage with a guaranteed return of millions of percent? Forget Lehman Bros, sub prime mortgages, derivatives, Libor, PPi and the green prattling the scammers will now forget wind and solar and turn their attention to the moon and beyond, think I will change my telephone number now.

    • Remember how the Hunt brothers tried to corner the world market in silver, figuring that Eastman Kodak would never ever find a substitute for it in photography.
      Then they first replaced it with iron oxide; total crap, and now it is silicon, which is as cheap as dirt, second only to crustal oxygen in abundance.
      Wanna buy a bag of silver dollars ??
      g

    • That was my thought. A supersized gun would only be capable of launching a payload small enough to be contained inside the barrel and of limited length to prevent wind drag and tumbling once deployed. A large linear accelerator on, say, the side of a very tall mountain in the Himalayas or Chile would allow both larger payloads as well as reduced drag by exiting above 500 mb atmospheric pressure (roughly 18,000 ft elevation) above where the majority of air resistance occurs. Why scientists and entrepreneurs together haven’t worked out a way for getting more stuff into orbit via this technology is beyond me.

    • Even a linear accelerator has to have a muzzle. And the muzzle velocity has to exceed escape velocity. Even at the top of the highest mountain, that’s a huge air drag.
      g

  11. We still don’t mine the sea bed – just bits of the continental shelf. This is like a toddler signing up for the Olympic Gymnastics team. Or ski jumping.

  12. obama and the warmunists are trying to de-growth America, but oh goody congress sez we can mine asteroids!
    The catch is that an Environmental Impact Report will have to be filed with the EPA to make sure that there aren’t any endangered space-critters on them rocks.

  13. A whole new meaning to ‘federal overreach’. I hope some passing trading aliens take offense at the attempt to regulate them.

  14. It might be a good idea for all the lawless Republicans blogging here to ask one fundamental question: ‘since when did the USA own the whole of the Solar System?’
    And also: ‘Since when did the USA have the right to say; ‘by passing an Act on Capitol Hill, we assign all rights to ownership of the Solar System to the first person who plants a flag down?’
    I know this is the basis of your ‘(snip) those damn Injuns’ philosophy, whereby you raped the whole of what is now called the USA from those who had husbanded it for millennia, but really: who do you think you are to tell the whole of humanity that everything is yours and nothing is theirs??
    Nuclear bombs have been launched for far less than that you know……

    • I think it’s safe to say most Americans alive today – even lawless Republicans – had no involvement in the destruction of the native people of N. America, nor the theft of their lands, nor the liquidation of their lifestyle. All that was done by Europeans staggering ashore in the New World, who were casting about for new adventures after the French and English had wrapped up their 100 Years’ War in 1453.
      You wrote:
      “Nuclear bombs have been launched for far less than that you know……”.
      As far as I know for sure, the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan are the only instances of operational nuclear weapon use, but perhaps you know something I don’t.

      • Europeans didn’t do anything to the natives, that the natives hadn’t been doing to each other for thousands of years.
        The only difference was the Europeans had better weapons. Even then, in the early decades, it was a close run thing.

      • MarkW:
        If is wasn’t for the various plaques visited on the American natives by the contaminated and infectious illegal immigrants, the early years would have been worse for the colonists.

      • Even with their diseases, North America proved a tough nut for would-be colonists to crack.
        The Spanish and Portuguese overran much of Meso- and South America from 1492-1605 before France and Britain were able to set up permanent settlements in North America. Even the Spanish fort at St. Augustine, FL, first built in 1585 to keep the French at bay, was repeatedly attacked (and wiped out and burnt down at least once) by the locals and Europeans.
        The Spanish tried several times to colonize the American SE, but failed, except for St. Augustine. Maybe the resources here didn’t justify the effort, but the lack of large, rich empires more easily taken over might have helped, too.

    • rtj,
      Simmer down, every comment from you is a rant.
      “Lawless Republicans”? IANAR, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, the US President is a Democrat, and he isn’t what any rational person would call ‘lawful’.
      Next, granted that immigrants — mostly from England at first — expropriated land from Native American tribes, how is that any different from what happened there in 1066? Or in just about every other location on earth? Where do we draw the line on what should be done about it?
      Finally, your rant ends with a confusing comment about nuclear bombs. I could guess what you mean, but it would be helpful if you just calmed down and explained without all the emotion.

    • Lawless Republicans? Raped the whole land?
      As opposed to the Indians who routinely used fire to drive more game than they could ever eat off of a cliff?
      Your hatred of all that is rational is making you say really stupid things today.

      • Perhaps one could inform them that Republicans didn’t exist until the Civil War… nothing to do with formation of the country or European arrival. a few hundred years earlier. BTW, we got most of the land by buying it from Europeans. Alaska from Russia. Lousianna purchase (whole center of the country) from France. Then some more from wars with European powers who took it from Indians. Spanish American war. Mexican war and that little Dust Up at The Alamo… So take it up with the European Powers that did the original sin.
        BTW, I’m not a lawless Republican, I’m a lawless Libertarian, and I resent other parties trying to horn in on our claim to lawlessness!

    • rtj1211 November 13, 2015 at 7:46 am
      ‘since when did the USA own the whole of the Solar System?’
      Strange question. Why don’t you answer that one yourself?
      Oh yes I see the US doing it’s level best to stop other nations getting out into space (that’s sarcasm in case you choose to misinterpret my meaning).
      Over the years I have seen the US working with other nations pooling resources so that we can ‘conquer’ this final frontier. I am absolutely knocked out by many of the photos coming back from Venus, Mars, Jupiter (and moons), Saturn (and moons), Uranus, Neptune and now Pluto and lastly the extraordinary images of earth and opposite that deep space. All this is free for me to see and marvel at and I’m not a US citizen. This bill will help pave the way for humanity as a whole to begin moving out into Space.

    • Tell you what rtj1211 pure, high and mighty; we’ll split it with you.
      All you gotta do is go out and work your claim. Remember, mining claims must be worked and improved or the claim reverts to open status. Fees must be paid to the proper authorities too.
      Given how vast the universe is, before we start discussing the galaxy(s); why the possessive rant!? Is your gold fever so severe that you are already threatening others?
      How about we just promise to vacuum up a few trillion pounds of non-fossil fuel carbon gasses and liquids? Would you mind if we bring that back to Earth for sale to Western civilizations for keeping their lights and heat on? Discounts to third world countries could be available.

    • The odd thing as I understand this Act is that it provides a legal protection in perpetuity to the first Russian to tag a rock.

    • Well they too just walked over here from Uzbekistan, and some of their (animal) husbandry was just stampeding a herd of buffalo (lots of those around) off a cliff to get a few steaks before the rest just rotted.
      g
      And many of those individuals sold off what their tribal communist society said didn’t belong to any person. Read up on the Klamath Indians, circa 1960s.
      I had a nice chat with some tribal persons, at the Taos NM pueblo, and they have some very enlightened social order. Like, those who work, can get to eat; truly handicapped excused of course. Resourceful people.

  15. The real value in asteroids is ices – mainly water. Some estimates by Dr. John Lewis et all suggest that up to half the Near Earth Orbit (NEO) / earth orbit crossing asteroids are inactive comets. If you can figure out how to mine and use the ice, you end up with propulsion, atmosphere, water, radiation shielding, and media to grow things in. No small number of these are relatively close in terms of delta-V, though the trip times are long. Unlike a lot of other foolishness out of congress recently, this one is actually progress. Cheers –
    http://scitechdaily.com/harvard-astronomers-discover-neos-that-are-dormant-short-period-comets/

  16. It’s worth looking at the link.
    At least these idiots are not claiming that they own the resources. (As yet that is.)
    So the law is not as overweening as it first looks.
    ***
    SEC. 403. Disclaimer of extraterritorial sovereignty.
    It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.

  17. SEC. 102. International launch competitiveness.
    […](B) consider the impact of the cost to both the industry and the Government of implementing an updated methodology;

    I take it then that, either there will be no cost to “the people,” or – more probably, as I see it – any cost to the people will not be considered by Congress.

  18. The topic happens to be the premise to a science fiction adventure I’ve penned.
    An asteroid mining company has access to deep space data that reveals a global catastrophe is imminent, ends up using the asteroid to perhaps save the Earth. By crashing the asteroid into Earth, naturally.
    Good to know the mining part of this will eventually become legal.
    Hope the rest of my predictions don’t come true.

    • Another story about asteroid miners is called Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card, when an incoming alien ship is found by the miners. Discussed are quite a few practical issues about ownership and competition among the miners. This is a prequel to the Ender’s Game series.

      • If you’re asteroid mining, how do you land the stuff on Earth? I have done some thinking on it, deciding in my fictional world on leasing a large ellipsis in the Australian Outback for controlled crashes of lump metal. I imagine that, in the real world, the first landing of asteroid mined metal would most likely crash the commodities markets.

      • Walt:
        One write up I saw has the mwtal solar melted and formed to aerodynamic shape and deorbit burn done. Other than not using a runway, pretty much like the space shuttle. Splash down in shallow coastal waters is easier to cool and recover than a land splat without a parachute… I’d go for a Canadian lake myself… but The Great Salt Lake would do too…

  19. Reminds me of a bumper sticker an old co-worker had.
    Earth First. We’ll strip mine the other planets later.

  20. “Throughout the Universe”? More like “beyond Earth orbit”.
    Seriously, do you have any idea how faaaaaar it is to the very next star? Do have any idea how small our solar system is, compared to our galaxy? And how small our galaxy is compared to the local group? And that is still nothing, a cosmic piece of dust floating through space, compared to the (visible) Universe. Please don’t use the word “Universe” synonymous with “space”, because the Universe is so freaking vast and big, it will blow your mind once you grasp this. If for comparison sake we say that “mining somewhere in our solar system” is like “taking one step on stairway”, then “The Universe” is more like “flying to the next star” – something with a hugely hugely hugely different shoesize.
    Having said that: I will be glad if have some rudimentary mining operation on a solar system body. I don’t care if it is the Moon, or an NEA, or an Asteroid parked in a lunar orbit, or if it is Phobos or Deimos or Mars. We need ISRU, an I hope I live to see it my lifetime…

  21. Too late USA. I am pretty sure the Chinese will be there first dredging up asteroid stuff to build space runways (for peaceful purposes of course) and Obama’s successors will be doing drive byes and waving their weapon systems. I don’t think the Chinese are going to pay much attention to any laws passed in Congress. Move over. The new world order, and off world order, starts here.

  22. I don’t think the problem is getting to the asteroid the problem is what do you do when you get there. Do you robot mine it, if so how do you bring the mined material back? Do you bring the whole asteroid back? If so how?

    • Hey I’ve solved one problem :-). Seriously the best non nuclear option might be solar sail. It’s slow, but it gets you there without needing lots of fuel. Other options are setting up an ion drive which used Asteroid ice and solar power, or even spray painting the asteroid, to use Orbital lasers to change its orbit.

  23. The first question that goes through my mind is “What idiot came up with this bill in the first place?” We don’t even have a manned moon presence and they’re enacting laws about mining asteroids…those rocks way out past Mars! If you can’t even send a simple manned scientific expedition back to an orbiting body only three days travel away, why are you even considering mineral extraction from a rock that you don’t even have the technology to return from?
    Freakin’ idiots!

    • Some asteroids orbit between Mars and Earth, which is why those which cross our path can and do hit us.

      • My point is that requirements to prospect, extract, and transport the mineral wealth of the Moon are far less than that of trying to do the same to much smaller objects much farther away in heliocentric orbits. So instead of Congress voting on a pointless bill, which is par for the course for them, a realistic initiative would be to demand NASA come up with a viable lunar strategy.
        It’s all meaningless though. I did the math on the world’s oil reserves compared to consumption today and the results are quite bad, quite bad indeed. About 50 to 70 years left…if OPEC hasn’t inflated their numbers in their estimates. If they have, maybe 30-40 years remaining.

        • ” So instead of Congress voting on a pointless bill, which is par for the course for them, a realistic initiative would be to demand NASA come up with a viable lunar strategy.”
          Except the legislation isn’t being done for NASA.

      • Andy,
        Asteroids and comets have mineral resources the moon lacks, but the main reason, IMO, for mining asteroids and comets is for water and other assets to facilitate travel to other planets, rather than to bring material back here.
        Lunar crust is composed primarily of oxygen, silicon, magnesium, iron, calcium and aluminum. It also contains traces of elements like titanium, uranium, thorium, potassium and hydrogen.

      • AndyJ November 13, 2015 at 8:42 pm
        So instead of Congress voting on a pointless bill, which is par for the course for them, a realistic initiative would be to demand NASA come up with a viable lunar strategy.
        ‘Demand’? Has NASA been given funding and a mandate to go to the moon and has it failed to do so?

  24. Limits to growth is, of course, the misanthropic, Malthusian control freaks’ cri de guerre (Holdren, Ehrlich, etc). Published in 1972 forecasting worldwide famine and the running out of mineral resources by 2000. Interestingly, the population in 1972 was about half the present day’s. Now, according to the World Bank in ~2008, 1.29 billion live in (their definition of) extreme poverty, fewer than in 1972 despite the doubling of pop. The world’s population is living better, longer, healthier lives today and famine has virtually disappeared from what was a chronic Asian condition for centuries. We will peak at 8-9B (at 7.3B, we are already 80 to 90% there!)
    The distopians exploit the; bean counter linear idea that the earth has finite resources which we will trim down to some point that we will have clunked up against the ‘limits’. This seemingly logical notion is however gravely flawed because it leaves out the ingenuity of humans (not a trait that biologists or social scientists are aware of nor have any need for, although it would be nice if they were educated in it anyway). The facts are this:
    a) except for a few tonnes of metals and other resources that we sent off to Mars, the moon, etc. every ton of material ever mined remains on the surface of the earth. Because of their value, metals have been recycled for millennia and in the latter quarter of the 20th century, we began recycling larger and larger proportions of most other minerals materials (glass, building material, plastic, paper, etc.). The bonus here is a saving of ~75% of the energy required to acquire the materials from mineral deposits.
    b) Engineering developments of the past half century have made it possible to stretch resources per unit of output. Computers that once took up a large air conditioned room and had the computing power of the modern hand held calculator, now are eclipsed by powerful machines weighing under a kg.
    c) Substitution of materials and entirely new engineered materials have entered the supply chain. The largest airliner in the world weighs in, fueled and ready to fly, at ~580 metric tons. Much of the wings and top half of the fusilage is made up of thin, alloy aluminum-fibre glass- carbon fibre reinforced laminates that are lighter and stronger than ordinary aircraft aluminum alloys. These materials are also now employed in passenger rail cars, autos, computer “plastics”, etc. Electrical conductors that used to depend on copper use aluminum and carbon (note aluminum makes up ~15% of the composition of the earth’s crust – it isn’t in short supply)
    d) The USGS in 2013 estimated world accessible geological copper resources remaining in the ground to be 3.5billion tonnes. Today, we use ~20million tpy 30 to 50% of which is recycled at present and the amount of copper mined since antiquity is estimated just over 500 million t (Copper Facts). So even the estimated (conservative) resources in the ground are good enough for topping up our supply for another half a millennium or even multiples of this considering a), b), c) above.
    There are no limits to growth on earth as far as mineral materials are concerned and our numbers will stabilize in a few decades. The reason for so much hysteria and possibly the keeping of poor nations poor by dystopians is that this scaremonger’s dream is soon to disappear.

    • @ Gary + 1 ,very well written I recall some-one writing that (less than a 100 years ago) cities would be buried under meters of horse manure and so I have to add to your statement, who knows what will be invented next and what are we not aware of what is already invented but not made public? (as in what goes on behind closed doors?).

  25. Just don’t mine too many of them. They help damp out mutual tidal forces and other perturbations of planetary orbits. Seriously, there really do need to be EIRs for this.

  26. I guess I could be shouted down by the usual panel of WUWT experts, but I have some expertise in the subject of space operations (patent #8,800,933 B2, “Space Debris Removal”).
    Space Elevators: I’ve been following the subject for a long time, and there is a very good technical exposition on the subject (I think it is “The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System” by Bradley C. Edwards–I read it a long time ago). But as I read through the discussion of each and every problem, with the suggested solutions, I became aware of a huge systemic issue. Everything has to work out exactly correct, or it is a disaster. As a result, I do not think it is at all realistic, in that every engineering enterprise of significance relies on margins of performance to account for any imperfections in our understanding of phenomena or environments. For example, is anyone here aware of the fact that the near-Earth orbital environment is a tenuous atmosphere consisting of atomic oxygen? Or that there is very little in the universe that is a more powerful oxidizer (excepting possibly atomic fluorine)? We have had long-duration missions come back with evidence of severe corrosion from this environment. I would remind one and all that the most prominent structural material for space elevator fibers is graphite, not known to resist oxidation when provoked. Also, space elevators would be terribly expensive to construct. When all is said, it seems to me that it would be less expensive, more certain, and more enjoyable to travel by rocket (I am a confirmed rocketeer)! Not to mention the fact that everyone seems to assume that you can endlessly scarf up excess momentum without having to somehow put it into the system. Conservation of momentum is one of God’s laws that brooks no violation.
    Gun/Accelerator Launchers: The price for near-Earth orbital velocity is a velocity increment of about 7 km/sec, corresponding to Mach 25 at sea level. You couldn’t do this all with a gun; you would still need an orbital circularization propulsion package. But the muzzle velocity for such a gun would probably be on the order of Mach 25. Does anyone here have any idea of the shockwave overpressure and temperature rise resulting at those speeds? I do, having had the experience of working it out for hypothetical railgun designs back in the SDI years. The overpressure is like an atomic bomb. The stagnation temperature would make the projectile incandescent. The atmospheric drag out of the muzzle would be on the order of hundreds of gs. Let us suppose you can accelerate to 7 km/sec in a device 0.1 kim long. If I do the math right (a = 1/2 v^2/ d), the acceleration is about 24,500 gs. I don’t think anything would stand up to that. Literally, most structural materials would slump (imagine a pound of aluminum supporting a column load of 12.25 tons). Everybody imagines a normal cannon, but they don’t grasp the implications of the basic physics. So, give me a break. Ain’t gonna happen.
    How to do it right: http://www.amazon.com/Krafft-Ehrickes-Extraterrestrial-Imperative-Apogee/dp/1894959914
    My guess for first returned product from asteroid mining? Mineral samples. (Sort of on the principle that surveying is easier than conquering.)

    • I agree about mining samples – come back with a lump of something really valuable and you’ll spark a lot of investor interest :-).
      The unsolved issues with Space Elevators are why I didn’t include that as a “current” technology proposal.
      Bull’s HARP gun achieved a launch velocity of 3600 m / s. It would have been very interesting to see what the Project Babylon gun could have achieved.

      • I have read, a group of 5 or so of the various tech.internet billionaires are working together with a plan to mine asteroids, and that they realize returning with tins of precious whatever would damage the spot market, so there is consideration of that issue.

      • Probably not much more. Gas-driven projectiles are pretty much limited to the maximum expansion speed of the gas, which is related to the speed of sound in the expanded gas. The way to increase this is to increase the gas temperature and decrease the gas molecular weight (thus, hot-hydrogen gas guns), but you get tapped out pretty quickly. This is why railguns and coilguns became items of interest in the 1980s, because they do not have such limitations (though they have others, including the “reverse rocket” effect that also imposes a maximum muzzle velocity).
        I really recommend the Ehricke book. I saw him in person twice in the 1970s, delivering his lecture on the “Extraterrestrial Imperative.” It was delivered to different technical audiences, and in each case, the result was the same: the audience sat awestruck for the first hour, then there was a comfort break, followed by a second hour of further engrossing delivery. Then the whole crowd was expelled from the venue, because it was closing time. There would have been no problem going for a third hour, either from Ehricke’s voluminous vision, or the audience’s amazement. (He is sort of credited as being the father of the Centaur upper stage.)

    • Thanks!
      How about gun-launching from 19,000 feet in altitude, where air pressure is about half that of sea level?

      • Then the overpressure will be half as bad. Ever sampled half a hand grenade?
        But I’ll admit that an upward trajectory might limit the aerothermal environment. But you realize you are now constructing a complicated and large machine in high topography…and it can only point in one direction.

      • Mining machinery has been carried to and operates at altitudes of 15,000 feet and higher. Difficult for such a project, but not impossible, in my inexpert opinion.
        All of the alternatives to rockets have major problems, to be sure.

      • Engineering an evacuated magnetic induction megastructure that runs for 500 kilometers and ends on top of a 6km Mountain but extends to 25-30 km will allow you to achieve escape velocity at a constant 5g acceleration.
        It would be cheaper, need less material (not to mention it avoids that pesky corrosive atomic oxygen and the huge electrical potentials), and present less of a danger should it collapse, than a beanstalk — and we could probably build it with today’s technology.
        To further lower the density of the atmosphere at rail tube exit — rf energy can be used to create a cavitation space in front of the launch vehicle — basically a vacuum that extends in front — like a cavitating torpedo in the water — in fact, if the kinks were worked out, it’s possible 10 km altitude would work — which is only 5 burj dubais on top of a 6 km mountain
        The 500 km trip up the rail would take approximately 2.5 minutes

    • Wonderful; so how much have you made from your patent rights so far ?? You get 20 years from the issuance of your patents to make a buck out of it.
      g

      • I just wondered who would show up with a cargo of snide.
        George, whether any money can be made from the patent depends on whether the government wants to award a contract for orbit-clearing. But, if you had actually read the patent award, you would understand that I have no prospect of making a cent, inasmuch as I have signed the rights to my employer–who thought the idea was important enough to protect with a patent.
        The difficulty with obtaining the patent was that there was a previous patent along similar lines–which never would have been feasible to implement (the inventor was assuming conveniently-advanced technology available to plug the holes in his Swiss cheese of ideas). But my patent lawyer and I managed to overcome that problem, and my patent is probably the only feasible way of clearing orbital debris, assuming anyone wanted to achieve that objective. (It is almost on the order of defining a feasible way to move Mount Everest to New Hampshire.)
        Getting a patent is like winning a chess tournament: a lot of mental work and some cleverness results in a pretty plaque one can mount on the wall. On to the next problem. The real issue is whether the invention solves the problem. If you can come up with a better solution, be my guest.

  27. What could go wrong?
    OK. So you go out to try to put an asteroid in a lunar orbit to mine it and the engines misfire and put it into a collision course with Earth.
    Paul Erhlich’s dreams come true. New Extinction Event. The Law of Unintended Consequences in action.

    • ;Too pessimistic Wayne…they are starting small so any and all “bugs” can be ironed out as experience is gained…the space age is just in the dawning phase… That is not to say there won’t stuff ups…but hopefully never catastrophic ones…

    • They’re not. US businesses however need to know that they can legally mine them and use in space or sell on earth whatever resources they obtain from them.

  28. The US government cannot at present launch even a single astronaut into orbit. How are they going to do anything about asteroid mining? I guess that”s what government is for – “to get in a man’s way” (Capt Malcolm Reynolds)
    For those looking for alternatives to rockets or beanstalks, look up “Lofstrom Launch Loop”

    • ” The US government cannot at present launch even a single astronaut into orbit. ”
      This is not about the US gov launching anyone, it’s clearing the way for commercial investment of billions of dollars into space exploration.

  29. Yes it is a relief.
    For a long time humanity has been threatened by the possibility the US and USSR would sign an international agreement declaring space resources the common property of all mankind, achieving through international agreement what they could not with domestic legislation.
    Since a single metallic asteroid has more iron than the world uses in a year, and there’s over 40,000 of them, we might not run out of metal resources after all.
    A special thank you on behalf of the free world to Doctor Jerry Pournelle.

    • ” we might not run out of metal resources after all.”
      And It can be done with none of the various “damage” conventional methods for extracting and processing of those materials.

  30. I’m sure someone will develop a computer model that’ll prove global warming will happen on any astronomical body where mining occurs. And, in the interest of preventing the human infection from destroying the universe, all off-world mining should be banned.

  31. “you are halfway to anywhere”. Interesting, I wonder how well read the author is?
    Read G. Harry Stine’s book of the same name
    http://www.amazon.com/Halfway-Anywhere-Achieving-Americas-Destiny/dp/0871318059/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1447541739&sr=8-1&keywords=G+harry+stine+halfway+to+anywhere
    The key is to develop fully reusable launch vehicles, which will drop the cost-to-orbit to a level comparable to that of a commercial air-flight. This is precisely what SpaceX is working on with its Falcon 9 rockets.
    Once you’re in space, there are any number of possibilities, from nuclear rockets to solar sails. Getting into orbit is the hard part.

  32. Congress has now authorized anyone to mine anything, anywhere not on earth (or at least as far as the asteroids), anytime? My God! We have now caused the whole universe to be contaminated with CO2! Everyone KNOWS all mining is BAD – especially COAL! Why didn’t the alarmists hear about this first! How can they possibly stop progress if they haven’t heard?

  33. There was something commonly called the “moon treaty” that was being haggled over at the same time as some major amendment of the “treaty of the seas”. One important element of each was that the collectivists were demanding a big cut of anything valuable that was mined. This was about the time Howard Hughes had designed and constructed a special ship — the Glomar Explorer — to let them recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine. The cover story was that it was designed to dredge up deep sea magnesium nodules or some such.
    Opposition to both treaties was in the Libertarian Party platform for decades. In the 1990s, the equivalent of the Republicans’ RINO “establishment” started whining that they wanted it removed because it wasn’t “with it”, i.e, not among the hottest hot button issues of that election year, that only SF nerds would care about such things, that we’d never be able to mine the deep sea bottoms nor the moon, other planets and moons in the solar system, nor the comets, asteroids, etc., so we might as well abandon the principles of creating and owning private property in such places…and a few asserted “or anywhere else”. (Actually, there were some lines in “Jerry Maguire” that came out of an extension of the on-going dispute. Even Disney’s “Commiehontas” theme song lyrics came up. But it was an open discussion with a wide range of people of various parties participating.)

  34. Some regulation may be in order. Perhaps the EPA needs an arm to deal with space regulation. At the very least they will want to do Impact Studies, both the controlled and uncontrolled types. Then there will be Sustainability factors to overcome. Are the asteroid belts really a sustainable source for this activity, what are its limits? Can we, the EPA, allow this outcome to be reached ? Inquiring minds might want to weigh in.

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