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Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 1) 134

I considered the near Earth object case. Clearly that's the easiest place to return material from; the problem is that it's coals-to-Newcastle. So far as we know the bulk of that material is stuff that's easy to get here on Earth: silicates, sulfides, iron, nickel etc. Judging from meteors found here on Earth there are exotic materials like iridium, but in trace quantities.

While there's no doubt lots of valuable stuff like platinum up there, I think people are picturing it as floating around as nuggets of largely native metal. The platinum deposits in Canada's Sudbury Basin were delivered by a meteor, but that meteor was fifteen km across. It contained a lot of Pt in absolute terms, but in relative terms the Pt was rare compared to silicates or nickel. The liquefaction of the meteor in impact separated the heavy metals into convenient deposits. If we tried to mine that object while it was in space we'd have had to crush and melt a lot of ore to get much Pt.

Comment Re: The treaty says no such thing. (Score 1) 134

You know, you post as AC but it's really obvious who you are, you have the same writing style everywhere you post ;)

Anyway, here's what the treaty actually says:

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

Any questions?

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 2) 134

The missing part is making explicit that an entity owns what it mines and has the right to work the mines it develops. I think given the context it's pretty clear that this was expected, but it is an oversight. You know, if one corporation spent billions clearing the overburden off an asteroid, then another company comes in and just starts mining the ore in question... that's a big problem. It needs to be controlled. Really, it should be allocated out in blocks, with exclusive rights given to use the blocks but only if they're actively working those blocks within a certain timeperiod from their last renewal.

On Earth this is done by nations auctioning off resource extraction rights, but since there's no national ownership of territory in space, no nation could rightfully profit from selling off resource blocks. Blocks would either have to be free or for profits go to an international fund. In the early days, since nobody knows whether space mining actually will play out to be profitable at this point in time, one would expect them to start out free.

But of course all of this would require a new treaty.

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 1) 134

Things don't always come down to that. Look at the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK. Three times Iceland pushed the UK - a nuclear power with hundreds of times its population - back further and further out its shores. The UK had the military ability to crush Iceland like an ant. But Iceland succeeded by combination of making it economically unfeasible for the British to fish Icelandic waters (net cutters, for example) and well-played international geopolitical maneuvering (for example, threatening to give the NATO base at Keflavík to the Soviets if the US didn't exert pressure on the UK, while also successfully positioning itself as a small weak state being bullied by a large powerful one)

Anyway, the Outer Space Treaty was well meaning. Think of the context of the Cold War and how that was all playing out. It seemed logical to think that both nations would begin laying claim to various bodies (or parts thereof), say by landing as many landers as they could to them... which would inherently lead to disputes, just like happens with worthless pieces of land on Earth - with the each side supporting their claim by military means, just like happens on Earth. It was seen as a ripe grounds for an unchecked military escalation, and while it would start out on other celestial bodies, it would progress to LEO and GEO, and then to Earth.

They were probably way overly optimistic about the space of advancement in space technology (remember, this was 1967) and overly pessimistic about everything else. They certainly weren't trying to "block commercial mining"; the goal was simply to prevent a space arms race between rival powers. Quite to the contrary, the treaty talks frequently about encouraging the peaceful use of space for the benefit of humanity. There's just one detail missing, which is to make explicit that corporations or individuals own what they mine. Without that, there won't be much of any "use of space" beyond exploration.

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 2) 134

Getting things *to* locations in space is inherently expensive. The cost of getting them *back* is not inherently so, if you don't insist on each return having a custom reentry vehicle and instead just shape it as its own reentry vehicle, with full expectation that it'll suffer some ablation during atmospheric entry. Some NEOs have only dozens of meters per second delta-V to reach earth intercept with an optimal trajectory and timing - a good baseball pitcher could do that unaided ;)

Comment Re:The treaty says no such thing. (Score 4, Interesting) 134

It does not prohibit colonization, it just prohibits exclusive territorial claims.

Right, which does not necessarily prevent claiming materials found as private property.

That said, this is all a tempest in a teapot. At this stage of technology asteroid mining is about the worst imaginable investment anyone could make. It's a purely emotional investment, driven by enthusiasm, and it doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny. We don't even go after the valuable on the sea floor because the cost of finding and raising them makes that unprofitable. If there were hundred pound chunks of refinery-pure platinum floating around in the asteroid belt it would cost more to fetch and return them than they'd fetch on the market.

The economics of space travel is dominated by the cost of moving mass in and out of gravity wells and imparting the necessary acceleration to match position and velocity with targets. It follows that we're looking for stuff with the highest value/mass, and until costs drop by a couple of orders of magnitude there's only one commodity worth returning from space: knowledge. The first physical substances worth mining will be things useful in the pursuit of knowledge -- e.g. water that can be converted to rocket fuel without tankering to the outer solar system.

Comment Re:Problem with the definition of a planet (Score 3, Interesting) 57

They'll say, "oh, it's okay, there's enough of a size difference between those bodies that they don't count". But the thing is that there's no way that most of the current "8 planets" would have cleared their orbits without help from the giants. It's pretty much accepted science in astronomy that Jupiter, and to a lesser extent Saturn, scattered most of the bodies in our solar system. Mars has a Stern-Levison parameter (rating of the ability of a body to scatter small bodies) two orders of magnitude less than Neptune, and Neptune has multiple Pluto-scale bodies in its orbit. Pluto may be small compared to Neptune, but it's not so small in comparison to Mars, yet Mars has two orders magnitude less ability to scatter them. Mars didn't scatter these things away - Jupiter did. Heck, a number of the models show that the planets didn't even form in their current locations.

There's all this misuse of the Stern-Levison parameter out there to say things that it doesn't. The parameter is based around a probabilistic simulation of the body and a bunch of "small bodies" with a mass distribution and orbital distribution similar to our asteroid belt. But of course, that tells you very little - our asteroid belt only has the size and mass distribution that it does today because of the influence of other planets - and when I say "other planets", I really mean overwhelmingly Jupiter (only a tiny fraction of asteroids are in Mars resonances). Jupiter has stopped these bodies from coalescing into larger bodies and scattered the vast majority of its mass elsewhere. That's not the situation that the solar system was in during formation. There were numerous large "planetissimals" scattered around. The Stern-Levison parameter says absolutely nothing about the ability of a body to scatter large planetissimals. And even concerning scattering asteroids, it doesn't state that the scatters are enough to "clear the orbit", only that their angle changes on a pass by more than a given number of degrees.

Basic point: a standard based around the "8 planets" having cleared their orbit is a lie. The science says that most of them aren't responsible for clearing their own orbits.

And while we're at it: what sort of stupid standard puts Mars and Jupiter in the same group but in a different group than Pluto and Ceres? There was a perfectly reasonable standard under discussion at the IAU conference shortly before they switched what they were voting on: a definition built around hydrostatic equlibrium. A lot of the planetary scientists left thinking that this was the version that was going to be voted on, and being happy with either "no definition" or an "equilibrium definition", saw no need to stick around for the final vote. Hydrostatic equilibrium actually is valid science, and it's very meaningful. A body not in hydrostatic equilibrium is generally made of primordial minerals. It's the sort of place you'd go to research, for example, properties of how the solar system formed. A body in hydrostatic equilibrium has undergone mass conversion of its primordial minerals to new forms. It's undergone massive releases of energy (which may still be present, depending), associated action of fluids, etc, and are the sorts of places you would go to study mineralization processes, internal processes or search for life. They're very different bodies, and there's a very simple dividing line - one that's much easier to calculate/measure than a pseudoscience "cleared the neighborhood" standard.

Comment The China Syndrome movie didn't kill nukes. (Score 1) 320

And it sure has hell wasn't Greenpeace or the Clamshell Alliance.

It was the 1980s oil glut that did the deed. That was especially devastating following on the heels of the 1970s oil crisis, because so many companies who entered the alternative energy business in the late 70s only to have the floor cut out from under them in 1980. I had a good friend who quit his job at a software company in 1980 to go to work for a company developing a seasonal thermal energy storage scheme. He was an accountant and according to him the numbers were solid as long as oil prices were north of $100/bbl. That was in May of 1980 when oil was trading at $114/bbl. 13 months later the price of oil had fallen to $60/bbl. For the next five years the Saudis tried to prop up falling oil prices by cutting back production, but in '85 they gave up, opened the spigots, and oil prices dropped to $23/bbl.

The economic reaction was entirely what you'd predict with oil prices at a 40 year low. The development of new energy technologies stalled. Cars got bigger again and SUVs of unprecedented size and low fuel economy became wildly popular. And new nuclear plant starts dried up. Oh, the industry pointed the finger at the big, bad environmental movement, which is laughable because so far as I know they only nuclear power plant ever canceled due to protests was the monumentally stupidly sited Bodega Bay in 1964. Imagine for a moment the Clams and all those guys didn't exist; it wouldn't have mattered in the least. Nobody is going to invest in new nuclear power plants when oil is priced at $18/bbl. But it sounds better to say that the Greens have put you out of business than to say the prices you used in your revenue projections were off by an order of magnitude.

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