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Advent of the ‘Belters’

On the Trail of the Space Pirates was a 1953 adventure written by Carey Rockwell, a house pseudonym used by a Grosset & Dunlop writer who may or may not have been one Joseph Greene, an editor for the firm in that era. We don’t know for sure who ‘Carey Rockwell’ was and no one has come forward to claim the title, but see the Tom Corbett Space Cadet website for another possible clue to authorship. In any case, On the Trail of the Space Pirates took readers such as my grade school self out into the asteroid belt, where all manner of adventures occur and uranium prospectors ply their trade harassed by evil doers. The asteroids became a lively analogue to the American wild west.

Asteroid mining and the culture it spawns has a robust history in science fiction, but I couldn’t help recalling this particular book when I read about Planetary Resources and its ambitious plan to mine asteroids. The company’s intentions don’t extend all the way to the main belt, but focus on asteroids much closer to home, of which there are plenty, and out of which some 1500 may prove to be of high interest if mining is the intention. What caught me up in the spirit of the science fictional ‘belters’ was this pitch on the Planetary Resources website encouraging people to work for the company. It’s titled ‘We’re looking for a few good asteroid miners’:

1. We are finding a new way to explore space beyond Earth orbit.
2. We are a growing business with incredible people who are dedicated to Planetary Resources’ long-term objectives.
3. Like all small businesses, we are a family. We love our team and what we do.
4. You will get your hands dirty. If you prefer your hands clean, go somewhere else.
5. We have a grill. We are not afraid to use it.
6. Seattle, Washington. Ok, so it rains. It’s gorgeous, and anyone who says otherwise is from California.
7. Bottom line – we build spaceships and explore asteroids. If you need any other motivation to apply, don’t bother.

The brash spirit of those comments is a nice tonic in an era when government space programs seem rudderless and strapped for cash. Whether Planetary Resources can deliver on its promise to study and then mine iron, nickel, gold, platinum and water resources on nearby chunks of rock remains to be seen, though the list of backers — Ross Perot Jr., son of the former presidential candidate, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google, movie mogul James Cameron, X Prize founder Peter Diamandis — offers hope and plenty of cash. And let’s not forget Eric Anderson (Space Adventures) and the well-traveled Charles Simonyi, who is unusual among space tourists in having made not one but two flights to the International Space Station.

This is a genuinely exciting startup that is going to teach us a lot about how fast and how soon we can develop resources in nearby space that can help us go much further afield. In Centauri Dreams terms, I always think about building the needed infrastructure in the Solar System that can one day support an interstellar effort. Extracting water that does not need to be boosted into Earth orbit and creating rocket fuel from space resources to supply future missions fits that bill, as does the hope that enough money can be turned from the extraction of precious metals to make the venture self-sustaining and prosperous. Good fortune to Planetary Resources!

The context in which this new company moves is suggested by a recent report from Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies which was released in early April, and which was invariably mentioned in news reports in tandem with the Space Resources news conference on the 24th. I want to start digging into this report in the next day or two because although it focuses specifically on retrieving an asteroid, it has obvious implications not only in terms of how we might exploit its resources but learn to manipulate its trajectory. All that, of course, takes us into the realm of asteroid threat mitigation. If we one day find an asteroid that is moving on a dangerous trajectory, will we have the time and the know-how to actually do something about it?

Here it’s worth noting that the Apollo missions were able to return 382 kilograms of lunar materials over the course of their six lander missions, while NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is slated to retrieve about 60 grams from the asteroid known as 1999 RQ36, which orbits the Sun every 1.2 years and crosses the Earth’s orbit every September. 60 grams isn’t much, but neither is the Apollo sample return when compared to the ~500,000 kilograms of asteroid material the Keck Institute study talks about, an entire asteroid delivered to high lunar orbit by around 2025.

Can it be done? Even more significantly, can it be done without endangering the home planet? I’ll be looking further into the report tomorrow. Meanwhile, have a look at Alan Boyle’s excellent discussion of Planetary Resources’ prospects and the problems they’ll encounter along the way. And check NextBigFuture’s challenging look at a different way to use those small, inexpensive telescopes Planetary Resources intends to put into space as part of the infrastructure for studying asteroid targets. They could conceivably be used as the basis for a ‘hypertelescope,’ an interferometer with a 16,000 kilometer baseline. The possibilities for a close-up look at an exoplanet are intriguing, to say the least, and we’ll discuss them further in coming days.

I’ve believed for a long time that planetary defense demanded we develop the technologies that would get us into the outer Solar System, and we may be seeing the first steps in that process now. The painstaking study of nearby asteroids that the Planetary Resources concept will demand should pay dividends if we ever have to move one not just for resources but for safety.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Greg May 1, 2012, 9:41

    There is never going to be a good time to move to a new frontier, never a good time when the technology will be ready, not until we commit to actually doing something will we be able to move ahead. Will they do it? it’s a long shot, but well worth taking. I to wish good fortune to Planetary Resources.

  • Alex Tolley May 1, 2012, 10:50

    The ownership of space resources will prove to be the main problem, much like copyright has proven to be the main problem for Google’s book scanning project. I have little doubt that mining asteroids is technically feasible, possibly even profitable. But claiming ownership and being able to deliver, especially to earth, is going to be a problem. I suspect that leaving volatiles in orbit is the best option to pursue.

    I’m not sure why this desire to electrolyze water to H2 and O2. The storage issues particularly for LH2 are problematic. Far better to leave the water intact. Spacecraft with efficient electrothermal engines could use the water directly for propulsion, easing handling requirements. manned spacecraft needing O2 would electrolyze the water on demand.

    lightweight parasols should allow the water to remain frozen, even in earth orbit, obviating the need for containers. The water could literally be scooped up from a frozen snowball. The snowball would be very safe, and any accidental entry into the earth’s atmosphere would break it up almost immediately.

  • kittlej May 1, 2012, 11:35

    Virtuous cycle
    It turns out that exploring beyond low earth orbit is expensive ( even robotically) because the cost of getting equipment and fuel into orbit is so expensive. This becomes even more prohibitive when equipment and supplies for life support are added. Thus IF material such as water and even low cost metal like aluminum or iron are available the cost of doing business goes down. As that infractructure is built then the cost of reaching mars and beyond dramatically plummets
    As is often noted the Pilgrims would not have survived if they had to live off of food sent from England and had to build their homes from imported wood. (!)
    To carry the analogy further, the success of the New England colony ultimately depended on the discovery of the rich fishing on the grand banks, and the ability to grow ( abet poorly) local crops. If resources from near earth asteroids become commonplace for space missions, then inevitably the economics of colonies in the main asteroid belt become feasible. Even the huge number of Trojan asteroids around the Jupiter La Grange points become fair game. Beyond that the limit is the availability of power sources for deep space, since solar energy for electricity is pretty anemic out past Jupiter. Fusion energy or perhaps local (asteroid) supplies of Thorium might work if these become available. – and who knows what else may be there? perhaps radioactive materials that can be harvested for energy by their decay?
    The data from the space telescopes will prove very interesting, and it likely going to supplement and then surpass the output form Wise ( at least at the near IR wavelengths) and complement the survey data from Pan Starrs. Thus we will at the same time be extending the search for objects in the outer solar system as well, ( the company assumes NASA will buy the data…)
    To dream is to take the first step.

  • JohnHunt May 1, 2012, 12:53

    I too wish Planetary Resources the best. Any success on their part will help open up the solar system which is good for humanity and yes, will lower the cost for in-space infrastructure for any interstellar mission whether fueled or beamed.

    However, I still lean towards the development of lunar resources as the likely most economic way forward. Both have their pros and cons and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It may not be obvious for quite a while which approach is the most cost-effective in the short-run. (After human space travel is safe and relatively inexpensive or, more likely, automated robotic mining is mastered then asteroids become the most cost-effective approach). The production of bulky metal parts on the Moon could result in an exponentially growing telerobotic workforce which could result in an in-space infrastructure the size of what we need for either a beamed or fueled interstellar mission.

    I would also add that any human-tended operations, especially on the Moon could also be relevant in giving us the confidence that we can create a working, sustainable habitat on an exoplanet.

    So what is happening to open up the solar system is very relevant to our interstellar interests.

  • Adam N. May 1, 2012, 13:01

    I’m hoping we are all seeing the beginning of an Isaac Asimov type “Foundation” Bully for Planetary Resources, when can I buy stock?

  • ljk May 1, 2012, 14:14

    The Space Review’s take on this hopeful planetoid mining plan:


    This is the first time in a long time (a.k.a. The Sixties – okay the Early Seventies when I was still fairly young and naive) I have had some real hope that a major step in securing a permanent foothold in space may actually come true.

    Now let us hope that the government doesn’t come along and muck everything up. It is pretty obvious they had no real idea or plan what to do with all those space rocks that any science fiction fan or space buff worth his or her salt knew from the moment they could watch Star Trek or read a novel.

    FYI – I am talking about the US Government/NASA. China has already produced a white paper on checking out NEOs. They know where the real value and power of controlling the Sol system lies, in what Earth-bound astronomers ironically used to call the “vermin of the skies.”

  • Wojciech May 1, 2012, 17:28

    Can’t wait for the post on the hypertelescopes. These offer us for the first time a real chance to find life and image it in near future.

  • Rob Henry May 1, 2012, 22:26

    Alex Tolley, I suggest the desire to electrolyse water ahead of need use is to take advantage of the Oberth effect. If a massive planet is not positioned conveniently between our refuelling station and our target and we have no other sufficient need to pay extra for high acceleration, then I agree storing LH2 is needless.

  • Rob Henry May 1, 2012, 22:44

    It is interesting how our perceptions change over time. Note how uranium mining was then seen as a more likely option than gold or platinum. As Joy has previously show, it is currently difficult to see how U mining in this belt could even be energetically positive. Given that I will take the opportunity to attempt its resurrection.

    If there are thriving colonies in the Oort Cloud, their ratio of cost of human input to cost of energy will be orders of magnitude worse than in the belt. Thus, if we still rate the human input into our economy as sufficiently valuable in that distant future, it is still just possible that U mining will happen on a huge scale there. Note how in this scenario, none of it would be used in the inner Sol system.

  • Joy May 2, 2012, 2:59

    The essential problem with the space fuel depot concept is that there is no existing market for fuel in space at any price. Incredibly, at 55 years into the space age, no one has ever even tried any sort of space refueling. I would be more sanguine about this market if the Russians had already established a business using $50 million Protons to loft 20 ton tanks of fuel to LEO.

    There is a ready market for platinum on Earth, and it is worth about $50 million a tonne. Ok, there is an existing X37-B OTV which has a 2.1 × 1.2 m payload bay and an ability to return things to Earth. It is plausible that (with some alterations) this 4,990 kg vehicle might be able to retrieve a tonne of material from space.

    Even though the Falcon Heavy has yet to fly, it was designed to lift the same mass as an Atlas V, and plausibly can be proposed as a replacement launch vehicle for the X-37B OTV, reducing expendable booster costs to $27 million. Hmm, if friendly aliens placed a 1 tonne ingot of pure platinum in LEO at an appropriate inclination, we would only have to expend a $27 million booster rocket to fetch a $50 million payload. Yay!

    The devil is in the details. The X-37B OTV has an unknown, likely very high, price tag. Anything designed for Mach 25 reentry is always going to cost considerably more than a modern fighter jet, even in mass production, and need more servicing after each flight. Bad news as the F-35 is expected to have a life cycle cost upwards of $600 million each. Hard to image an OTV life cycle cost less than $1 billion. Also hard to imagine that an OTV would have a life cycle greater than 100 scorching Mach 25 reentries. So depreciation on the OTV would be >$10 million per flight. So our mission cost is up to >$37 million and we haven’t even factored in the costs of administration, finance, and so on. At best, with existing space economics, fetching platinum ingots from LEO would be a business plan with slim profit margins, if any. Hard to sell to a corporate system based on such activities as selling Nike shoes at circa 2500% markup over production costs.

    As to the cost of going to an NEA, mining it for platinum group metals, refining the ore, and getting the metal back to Earth … I can’t even estimate how many orders of magnitude would be added to the cost. Hayabusa is our one and only asteroid return mission so far, and the cost/mass was, well, astronomical.

  • Adam N. May 2, 2012, 7:45

    I wonder what the IAU has to say about asteroid mining? Have they ever had it as an agenda item?

  • kittlej May 2, 2012, 9:12

    The possibility of long baseline visible/ IR interferometers are really pretty exciting . I visited Palomar a few years ago when I was living in California and they had set up some early instruments near the site of the venerable hale telescope. Part of the excitement here is the expected improvements in space telescope which will go form one in a generation effort like the Hubble and JWST to ” how many are you launching this year? “

  • ljk May 2, 2012, 12:11

    Adam N. said on May 2, 2012 at 7:45:

    “I wonder what the IAU has to say about asteroid mining? Have they ever had it as an agenda item?”

    I have the impression that they tend to be intellectually above – or should that be below – such things as space mining. Remember, for most of their existence, planetoids were little pinpoints of light whose streaks in astronomical photographic plates ruined observation runs of much more serious objects like galaxies billions of light years away, which often looked like little unmoving fuzzballs of light.

    They and their professional forebearers started calling them the “vermin of the skies” once they realized there were a lot of them and even the biggest was much smaller than Luna. Actually traveling to them was Buck Rogers stuff.

    You may be thinking of the United Nations, which has a space treaty that among other things says no one person or nation can own any part of space. Their hope is that space will be run like Antarctica has been for the last sixty or so years.

    What is really going to happen is that once corporations figure out how to make tons of money from space – the key is to keep things IN space rather than try to haul most of it back to Earth – their fancy and expensive lawyers will make quick work of any UN treaty and the Space Age we imagined will really and literally take off.

    Expect space to be the uber rich person’s playground for a good while longer, but then again who else can afford to get up there and stay, or has the will and resources to do so? Most governments don’t seem to be terribly interested and the military’s plans to put a fortress on the Moon and battle stations in Earth orbit are long back on the shelf collecting terrestrial dust.

    What we as a human society need to hope for is that as far as space is concerned, the trickle down effect actually works this time, with the super rich paving the way and laying the groundwork for the many colonists and explorers to come.

    I just hope they remember to save a few choice planetoids (or maybe comets would work better with all that frozen water handy) for the interstellar arks/Worldships. There are plenty of other space rocks they can turn into their private floating mansions. And keep in mind that the original and probably most feasible version of the Dyson Shell was as a vast collection of independent habitats circling Sol like moths around a light bulb.

  • Doug M. May 2, 2012, 12:35

    @Joy, yeah, the whole platinum thing seems like a huge red herring, thrown out for public consumption. The real money is probably in selling water and other materials — most likely to, um, governments.

    Doug M.

  • Eniac May 2, 2012, 18:18


    There is a ready market for platinum on Earth, and it is worth about $50 million a tonne. Ok, there is an existing X37-B OTV which has a 2.1 × 1.2 m payload bay and an ability to return things to Earth. It is plausible that (with some alterations) this 4,990 kg vehicle might be able to retrieve a tonne of material from space.

    Or, just wrap the lump of platinum in something resembling a reentry capsule like the ones so successfully used during the pre-shuttle space program. A single use one should be a lot less expensive than $27 million. I think there is even a good chance that a spray-on layer of foam, a carbon fiber blanket, or even nothing at all can bring the material down whole with careful choice of reentry angle.

  • Joy May 2, 2012, 23:17

    “Or, just wrap the lump of platinum in something resembling a reentry capsule like the ones so successfully used during the pre-shuttle space program. A single use one should be a lot less expensive than $27 million. I think there is even a good chance that a spray-on layer of foam, a carbon fiber blanket, or even nothing at all can bring the material down whole with careful choice of reentry angle. – Eniac”

    Ok, so you have a $$$ (startup cost incalculable) robot stationed in orbit applying reentry shielding material to your ingots. Either that shielding material had to be lifted out of Earth’s gravity well at circa $2.5 million a tonne (cost to LEO, higher cost for higher orbit) or manufactured somewhere else (Luna? on a NEA transported to L5 at Bernanke only knows what cost?) by a $$$$$ manufacturing facility whose economics would be even more speculative. The point of my Gedankenexperiment was to use real economics on known hardware for a very well defined scenario. The only way to make any part of the metal mining scheme appear to be economically viable is to make optimistic assumptions regarding a currently non-existent infrastructure.

    Another real world benchmark for robotic sample return was the Luna 16 mission, which returned 101 grams (505 carats) of unprocessed regolith to Earth in a simple scoop and boost operation. If the payload had been flawless 1 carat diamonds, it might have been valued as high as $5 million today. Unfortunately, Luna 16 probably cost at least as much as a Surveyor lander, each of which would cost circa $460 million in current dollars. So even if Luna were made of diamonds, the ROI of sample return would be 1%.

    Agree with Doug M., the only seni-hopeful business plan (unless launch costs are reduced by orders of magnitude) is gathering H2O to sell to governments. But there is no evidence that governments are interested in buying water in space, or ever will be. Old business saying, “No business can exist without customers”.

  • Eniac May 3, 2012, 1:35


    the whole platinum thing seems like a huge red herring, thrown out for public consumption.

    I don’t think so. It may still be grasping at straws, but high value items that already have a market are the closest thing to a potential money-maker in space that we know of. Platinum is the best price per weight you can get, and in space, weight is paramount.

    The cost of bringing it back is not a big issue. Atmospheric reentry is well understood and can be done cheaply, especially with something as robust and heat resistant as a lump of platinum. Mining and smelting will be much bigger hurdles, due to the huge amounts of materials that must be processed, and the amount of equipment that has to be launched into space to do it.

  • Stan May 3, 2012, 17:02

    Joy, it’s hard to see how any of your objections are relevant, since the whole idea is to start an industry with these costs, not just mine one asteroid and stop there. All the costs will drop tremendously once the early R&D is done. And further research will keep reducing costs. A functioning industry itself is its own market, as well as supplying other markets. How can the economy of scale not take over, especially given generous early backers.

  • Joy May 4, 2012, 7:23

    “All the costs will drop tremendously once the early R&D is done. – Stan”

    Strongly disagree! There is no realistic basis for this statement whatsoever, It is unfortunate that the combination of Moore’s Law in microprocessors and global wage arbitrage (thanks Foxconn) driving down unit cost of computation has led to this common error in thinking.

    In the real world, access to space is by ELVs with names and core technology going back to the 1960s; Atlas, Delta, Soyuz, Proton … If the all new 21st century R&D based Falcon Heavy flies next year it might come close to matching the cost/mass of the Proton, a product line little changed since 1965 other than updated electronics.

    Essentially zero progress in inflation adjusted cost after a half century of R&D! Using constant dollars, no transportation vehicle, civilian or military, has gone down in cost in the past half century. Not planes, not cars and trucks, not ships, and definitely not rockets. Ok, your 2012 car might have a DVD player, GPS, and air bags, which your 1962 car didn’t have, but the inflation adjusted cost has not come down at all.

    Consider the Cessna 172 which cost $8,700 in 1956. The current Cessna 172 costs $307,500 today. According to the BLS CPI inflation calculator, the 1956 cost translates to $73,372. So much for R&D and Moore’s law. A Cessna 172 has quadrupled in price! That’s why upper middle class American gents of the 1950s could have private planes, but only the rich have these toys now.

    The Enterprise aircraft carrier cost $451 million in 1961, the GHW Bush cost $6.2 billion in 2009. Again, using the inflation calculator the Enterprise would cost $3.2 billion in 2009 dollars. Gee whiz, aircraft carriers cost nearly twice as much now, even though the Enterprise was a one off and the Bush was the 10th of a production line. No Moore’s Law here, quite the opposite! Can anyone explain how all of a sudden Moore’s law is going to apply to spacecraft?

  • David Claughton May 4, 2012, 11:22

    Given that I’m far from being any kind of expert anything I say should be taken with a pinch of salt – but I’m inclined to wonder whether a re-entry vehicle is entirely needed.

    What if we send up a robotic vehicle designed to attach itself to a small asteroid picking one that is either already heading towards Earth (though velocity would be an issue here) or can be easily pushed into an Earthward trajectory.

    Set the asteroid initially on a “burn up in the atmosphere” trajectory (this is why I said a small asteroid!), and apply a second reentry burn at the appropriate point – that way if you miss the second burn due to malfunction there should be no danger.

    During reentry some of the asteroid will burn away, but you get to pick the trajectory that minimizes this while still making sure it lands somewhere safe – either in the ocean, though then you would have to salvage it from the bottom, or maybe in a desert where you can scrape it up afterwards.

    Then cart it off to an Earth-based facility for processing.

    Someone’s probably going to give me a list of reasons why I’m an idiot and this wouldn’t ever work – but I just thought I’d throw it out there ;-)

  • Rob Henry May 4, 2012, 16:55

    You have an interesting point on the consistency of costs for transport vehicles Joy, but your examples overstate the problem. We has discovered exotic, and very expensive ways to save lives, and other exotic and expensive ways to kill, and these are interwoven through the costs of your two main examples.

    If we go down the paranoid safety route of the air industry, we will end up with a space industry that is safer than driving – even when measured per mile. It will also be way to expensive to use. The biggest help would be for America to mend its litigious ways.

  • Dan May 5, 2012, 16:54

    Cost and complexity does not mean something cannot be done.

    On earth we make oil rigs by the thousand – even though they are hideously complicated and cost billions the industry’s order books are full.

    The challenge is – can someone come up with something like a 100 tonne self contained system that can fly out to an asteroid, carve chunks out of it and refine the result into crude platinum or gold, then send the completed ingots back to earth accurately over 10 years, for a crash landing in the Pacific Ocean.

    As with all engineering problems this one can and will be solved because the potential payoff is huge. No breakthroughs in technology are required, but we do need the 21st century equivalent of Reginald Mitchell (1st of the few) to lead the design team.

    This is the one flaw in Planetary Resources plan. They seem to think that they can shout loudly and a world class engineering team will beat a path to their door. Wrong ! Such a team has to be grown and nurtured from scratch by someone with the same genius as Mitchell. At present I see lots of hot air, lots of egos but no one sitting down and doing the 10 years of work it took to come up with the Spitfire.

  • Eniac May 5, 2012, 22:09


    The point of my Gedankenexperiment was to use real economics on known hardware for a very well defined scenario. The only way to make any part of the metal mining scheme appear to be economically viable is to make optimistic assumptions regarding a currently non-existent infrastructure.

    This is the correct approach. I was merely trying to point out that something a lot less sophisticated than an X-37B OTV could do the same job a lot cheaper and more reliably to boot. If foam or blankets are too experimental for you, a Gemini or Apollo reentry capsule should do just fine.

    And, while I am not expert enough to really do the math, I am with David Claughton that there is a good chance that a naked lump of platinum can make it down whole just fine when reentering at the right angle. Perhaps the heat of reentry can even serve as part of the refinement process.

  • johnq May 7, 2012, 13:01

    >”was to use real economics on known hardware for a very well defined scenario”

    Whatever that was, it was not “real economics.” Price calculations based on government programs provide the most useless and unreal of data. Real economies involve entrepreneurs establishing markets and setting prices to make a profit (i.e. money from our friend, Mr. Customer). Real entrepreneurs fail all the time of course when their prices do not enable the market to clear, putting it as gently as possible, and profit becomes unattainable. So they try again. Or they try something new that so one ever thought of before. Or they give up and serve as a useful object lesson to others.

    But gosh and gollies, I honestly don’t care if a government-supplied gimcracks cost so much money in the lamented Franistan program that no one, bureaucrat or other, ever tried it again. Real economies are chaotic systems and even small bits of information can propogate throughout the system cause amazing changes that other entrepreneurs see as incentives or constraints. And they act on that basis. Thus a market is born. The government can go fly a kite.

    To be fair, I have no idea if the Planetary Resources people are up to it, but neither does anyone else. There is no way to establish the odds of success or failure of such a venture. I do hope that they are very good when it comes to pricing (Steve Jobs, for example, seems to have been a kind of a genius in that regard), because that is a necessary condition for their success in this or any market. The point is they’re starting fresh here. The past is just a bunch of sunk costs, meaningless. Bury them, move on.

  • Rychle pozicky May 8, 2012, 8:14

    Joy: “No Moore’s Law here, quite the opposite!”

    I think, your examples are not the best.

    In the same way, as you are calculating inflation, you need take into account “belt law’s”, green law’s and maybe some other influences, that doesn’t exist in 60’s. Just look for Tata Nano car. In India is price around 2000 €, but proposed European version (that meets all EU regulation’s and maybe western-customer standards) will be 3 times more expansive.

    I don’t know about Cessna, but there can be something similar. Strict regulations -> higher price, higher price -> lower count of buyers, lower count of buyers -> higher price of factory amortization, higher price of amortization -> higher price, lower count of buyers -> worse profit margin and so on.

    For space crafts its little different, but again, i am not so pessimistic. For decades were states putting a lot of money into space. Development of something better, that have other side of Iron Curtain. I didnt know english so good, but in my language, there is phrase… something like “outrun own times/century”.
    If you subsidy something, and then you stop it (after end of cold war, budget cuts), then it will take some time, until your formerly subsidized stuff fit in to “real world”. If at all.

    (sorry for my english)

  • ljk May 14, 2012, 14:40

    And here is the online paper titled “The Role of Near-Earth Asteroids in Long-Time Platinum Supply” from 2000: