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  #51  
Old 04-27-2012, 01:24 PM
brazil84 brazil84 is online now
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
Only if it happens quickly and in large quantities and done quite cheaply.
i.e. only if the initial mining company makes a killing, right?

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Oh, and another thing. I think the first company to finally get space gold (or whatever precious thing) cheaper than Earth gold will likely become the DeBeers of gold
I doubt it. There are thousands of asteroids out there and no easy way for a private company to prevent people from mining them.
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  #52  
Old 04-27-2012, 01:28 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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About the venture in general:

First of all, this can be looked at as philanthropy. Bill and Melinda Gates use their billions to help the poor in Africa, and these guys are using theirs to help humanity move into space. That's all the justification they really need.

However, there is an actual business model behind this. While asteroid mining is the long-term end goal, these guys are being really smart about the way they are doing it. Recognizing they need the ability to inspect thousands of small objects in space, they're starting with small, orbital space telescopes. But these telescopes serve multiple functions: They can be turned on earth for use in remote sensing. They can be re-tasked as general space observation scopes. They can be used for observing orbital events or for detecting dangerous earth orbit-crossing asteroids. These scopes can be rented out to scientific organizations, educational markets, etc. Telescope time is valuable - scope time on a telescope in orbit would be even more valuable. So they'll have a ready market as soon as they launch their first round of vehicles.

Will that be enough to pay back all the development? Probably not. But as a secondary source of funding for further development to help bootstrap the next phase, it's great.

Along the way, they will be developing new technologies that will be available to sell to other groups or to use themselves. For example, NASA was supposed to fly an array of small telescopes to prove out the technology for coordinating arrays of scopes into large interferometry arrays that will allow us to see much further into space with greater detail. But that program was killed. These guys might be able to build up that technology and refine it with their program - and then either provide the interferometry arrays themselves or contract out their ability to someone willing to pay.
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  #53  
Old 04-27-2012, 01:36 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by RTFirefly View Post
I can buy the idea that water ice on asteroids would be a valuable commodity if you could get it to a space station without too many problems. But I'm not seeing that working out with metals of various sorts.

In order for them to be usable in space without bringing them up from Earth, you'd need to refine them from ore in space, which means we'd have to lift the pieces of a refinery from Earth into space. I expect that it would be cheaper just to continue to boost the metals themselves out of Earth gravity.
There are refining methods that can work in space that can't be used on Earth. For example, how do you mine an asteroid for gold? On option is to spin it in a magnetic field, letting eddy currents heat the asteroid until the whole thing melts.

Centripetal acceleration then separates all the material by density. Blow off the slag, and there you go.

Or maybe you put an ion drive on it to slowly nudge it into an elliptical orbit that will take it near the sun. Then you pulse the ion drive so that it starts the thing rotating. It goes past the sun and melts and separates, then you grab it when it comes back and you have a refined asteroid.

I'm sure there will be many other techniques developed as these asteroids are explored and their structure is figured out. Maybe we'll use high-power lasers to ablate the surface, then catch the flung material and sort it. Who knows?
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  #54  
Old 04-27-2012, 01:39 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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nevermind.

Last edited by billfish678; 04-27-2012 at 01:42 PM..
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  #55  
Old 04-27-2012, 01:56 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is offline
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
So, at some point space gold will be (maybe) on par cost wise with earth gold. And its still gonna cost a fortune in capital investment to go get. And it will still likely be risky with hits and misses.
But you're confusing the cost of production with the value.

Yes, it would cost umpty-ump billions of dollars to go out into space and find solid gold asteroids and bring them back to Earth. That means the cost of production will be very high no matter what the price of gold is. But if you bring back a solid gold asteroid and try to sell all of it, what happens? The spot price of gold plummets. Yes, we can absorb all that gold and it's not like the gold is intrinically worthless and a supply of cheap gold means we can do all sorts of useful things with gold that we can't do now.

But if the cost of space gold is high, and selling space gold drops the price, the first asteroid returned makes the price so low that it wouldn't make sense to go and get another one, and it might drop the price so low that even the first mission won't be able to pay for itself.

What I mean is, suppose current price of gold is $1000 an ounce, and it will cost $10,000,000,000 to bring back an asteroid, and the asteroid contains ten million ounces of gold. Well, it cost 10 billion, you sell the ten million ounces, and you get 10 billion, and the expedition breaks even. Except that won't happen.

It doesn't matter that it cost you 10 billion for the whole expedition, you still have to sell the stuff on the open market. The buyers don't care that the gold was expensive to get, the price is a function of supply and demand, and you've massively increased supply without affecting demand. So you can't sell your stock at $1000 an ounce. In fact, the mere likelihood that asteroid gold-mining would turn out to be feasible is going to drop gold prices before the first expedition ever sets out, because the market will anticipate the future increased supply and discount it in advance.

In other words, simply doing a credible public business case that gold mining in the asteroid belt would be economically feasible might be enough to make it infeasible, because if you actually could do it you'd drop the price enough to make it not worth doing.
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  #56  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:18 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
But you're confusing the cost of production with the value.
.
But you are assuming that once space gold can be gotten at, you can bring in enough to drastically alter the market. Yeah, you can in the sense that there's a shitload out there to be had. But you can't because the capital investment is going to be astronomical. And nobody is going to invest enough capital to mine enough to drive the price so far down that they loose money.

Last edited by billfish678; 04-27-2012 at 02:20 PM..
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  #57  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:27 PM
Doubticus Doubticus is offline
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The cost of putting/retrieving anything to/from orbit is so prohibitively high, it will be a long, long time until such a venture is profitable. If some new lift technology, such as the space elevator, can be developed, then there exists exceptional opportunities in space.
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  #58  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:40 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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First of all, it makes very little difference how far you go. Energetically speaking, low Earth orbit is halfway to anywhere. It takes almost as much energy to reach, say, the Moon, as it does to reach the asteroid belts in orbit around Sirius (though of course, the ones around Sirius would take a lot more time).

Second, asteroid mining isn't profitable now. But it will be eventually. And it just might be worth it for a company to start working on it now so that they're in on the ground floor for when it does become profitable. Especially if, as Sam Stone points out, they can bring in supplemental revenue streams along the way.
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  #59  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:44 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Originally Posted by Gray Ghost View Post
No one's mentioned the fact that, if you have the energy and delta-V to go asteroid hunting, then you also have the capability to turn those asteroids into WMDs. No government is going to lightly cede control of that capability to a private company.
"Cede"? If only a private company is doing this at all, on what grounds is the DoD going to interfere?
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  #60  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:47 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Originally Posted by RTFirefly View Post
In order for them to be usable in space without bringing them up from Earth, you'd need to refine them from ore in space, which means we'd have to lift the pieces of a refinery from Earth into space.
Why? What pieces are in a refinery, that can't be made in space? Some manufacturing equipment would have to be boosed from surface to orbit, but not the whole factory, ISTM.
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  #61  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:50 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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I just looked at world wide gold production. Its 2500 tons a year roughly lately. So, IMO to just start to take the edge off the price you'd have to bring in 250 tons. I'll let you guys figure you how much capital investment in spacecraft technology is required to bring back that much from asteroids every year (much less the technology and cost to go there and mine it in the first place).

Or in other words, no investors are going to invest so much they cause the price of gold to plummet. They couldn't invest that much money even if they wanted to IMO because they wouldn't have enough.
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  #62  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:50 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Of course, the only way enough "space gold" (or space anything else) to matter economically reaches Earth's surface is if we have a space elevator in place.
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  #63  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:52 PM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
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Getting up theres expensive but once in place the costs plummet.

Doing everything in situ, with an abundance of solar power etc.

As to the price of minerals dropping if there becomes an abundance, if they're, then they are still valuable.

If its just intrinsic value as in jewellry and theres an abundance, then yes the "value " would drop.

I believe that De Beers restricts the output of diamonds to prevent this very thing happening, though I could be wrong.

Money making aside, we need to get into space because we are due an Earth impacting asteroid/comet in the not too distant future.
And we won't have time to do anything about it if we only try to develop that capability once we've detected it on its home run, no matter how much money and resources we throw at the problem.

The annoying thing is that people like myself won't get the satisfaction of saying "I told you so " to the Luddites who have an illogical fear of space exploration when that happens because we, and most of the life on this planet, will all be dead.
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  #64  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:58 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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Originally Posted by BrainGlutton View Post
Of course, the only way enough "space gold" (or space anything else) to matter economically reaches Earth's surface is if we have a space elevator in place.
Why? If you can take it apart in space you could drop pretty big pieces to earth with a parachute and a heat shield.
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  #65  
Old 04-27-2012, 02:58 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Originally Posted by Lust4Life View Post
Money making aside, we need to get into space because we are due an Earth impacting asteroid/comet in the not too distant future..
Oh, come on, that kind of thing is entirely random. Even we had enough past instances to go by that some kind of statistical predictions were available, we could not say when we're "due," no more than we can say when California is "due" for its next major earthquake.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 04-27-2012 at 02:59 PM..
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  #66  
Old 04-27-2012, 03:16 PM
billfish678 billfish678 is offline
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Originally Posted by BrainGlutton View Post
Oh, come on, that kind of thing is entirely random. Even we had enough past instances to go by that some kind of statistical predictions were available, we could not say when we're "due," no more than we can say when California is "due" for its next major earthquake.
Oh come on. That not quite right either

unless you think tectonic stresses can build infinitely
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  #67  
Old 04-27-2012, 03:41 PM
Gray Ghost Gray Ghost is offline
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Originally Posted by BrainGlutton View Post
"Cede"? If only a private company is doing this at all, on what grounds is the DoD going to interfere?
"F**k you; those are my grounds." Doesn't roll off the tongue like one of the originals, but I think you get the point.

The energies involved in interplanetary travel---which is what we're talking about if they're not just going to the Earth Trojans---and large mass manipulation are, appropriately, astronomical in size. I have a difficult time imagining any of our present significant world governments allowing that kind of capability in private hands without oversight tantamount to control. Hence my use of the word, 'cede'.

If you think I'm overstating things, play with the calculations of the energy required to get to and direct a 30 m mass of processed rock, ~ density 5 g/cc. Then see what happens when that mass of rock is directed directly on top of a city. At 10 miles per second+, which I understand is the ballpark speed for an impacting meteor. I like this calculator, but I'm sure there are others. The impact energy of the above scenario is comparable to a multi-stage nuclear device. Cover it with carbon black, direct the exhaust impulse away from any detectors, and you probably wouldn't even see the damned thing coming. I don't want to divert this discussion of asteroid mining with closer to home political concerns, but compare the destructive capability of Iran's alleged nuclear program with that of this proposed idea.

Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of asteroid mining. I like the idea of the spinoffs I mentioned in my first post. I think we'd all be better off. But asteroid mining by necessity implies some awfully significant energies, all too easy to weaponize.

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 04-27-2012 at 03:42 PM.. Reason: Does the Earth-Moon system even have trojan points?
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  #68  
Old 04-27-2012, 04:12 PM
Skammer Skammer is offline
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Talk of the Nation on NPR today interviewed Eric Anderson, Chairman & CEO of Space Adventures and Co-Chairman & Co-Founder of Planetary Resources who is leading up this group of would-be space miners. You can listen to the whole interview here. They talked a lot about the primary resource being water that can be used as rocket fuel, but also the precious metals and how they might extract them.
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  #69  
Old 04-27-2012, 04:59 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Originally Posted by billfish678 View Post
Oh come on. That not quite right either

unless you think tectonic stresses can build infinitely
Seismologists can perhaps predict California will get X number of earthquakes in a century, but don't press them to specify by decade. I doubt astronomers can narrow down Earth's next asteroid-impact to the nearest million-year period.

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 04-27-2012 at 05:01 PM..
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  #70  
Old 04-27-2012, 06:10 PM
Otara Otara is offline
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From Plaits article:

"I have to admit, Lewicki’s answer surprised me. “The investors aren’t making decisions based on a business plan or a return on investment,” he told me. “They’re basing their decisions on our vision.”"

Which is fine, but means my take is correct - its not being done for foreseeable profitability, but for other reasons, ie the 'this is neat' factor.

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  #71  
Old 04-27-2012, 07:02 PM
XT XT is offline
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Originally Posted by Alka Seltzer View Post
That's a terrible analogy, as the new world was conveniently equipped with essentials such as water, air and food, unlike space. Nor did the ships need to be launched out of a deep gravity well.
Naw, it was a good analogy, as far as analogies go, you simply missed the point. Early European exploration and colonization were all losing propositions for years, even decades. That's because they had to transport all manufactured goods and even a lot of their food from Europe, especially in the early days, and relative to the amount of wealth they had at the time it pretty much cost a lot of money relative to today. Remember, to outfit Columbus expedition he had to go to the crown for enough scratch to make it happen.

EVENTUALLY Europeans exploration and colonization and exploitation of resources in the new world paid off, but it took a long time before that happened, and if you look at the relative costs (compared to today when countries like the US are so much richer than the most powerful nations in the past that there is no comparison) and the long return on investment it works out pretty even. Consider...what percentage of GDP did it cost Spain for their early explorations? What did the early colonizations cost? What did it cost for Spain to start to set up their trade network to begin exploiting resources in the new world? What did it cost to set up all the slave trading system to make that early colonization work?

I have no idea, but I bet it cost them more as a percentage of their GDP than it cost the US to put a man on the moon...and certainly more than even a bunch of billionaire types are going to spend doing this, as an overall percentage of the US's annual GDP. We don't want to spend the money, but consider what we could do with, say, 10% of our GDP (say, roughly $1.5 trillion spent annually). What COULDN'T we do for that kind of money? My wag is that a fraction of that spent over a decade or so would give us access to a huge supply of space resources that would eventually turn a profit...a rather large one when you think of what all is out there waiting to be exploited.

This isn't pie in the sky...it's stuff we could do today and could have done decades ago. We CHOOSE not (to paraphrase) 'go to the moon for the last several decades and do the other things, not because they are impossible, but because they are hard and cost money that we'd rather spend on other things'. It's a choice though, and other countries are starting to catch up and develop their own space programs because the solar systems resources are, for all intents and purposes, unlimited, and the knowledge and prestige that will accrue to the country that does it will be vast.

-XT
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  #72  
Old 04-27-2012, 07:05 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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"I have to admit, Lewicki’s answer surprised me. “The investors aren’t making decisions based on a business plan or a return on investment,” he told me. “They’re basing their decisions on our vision.”"

Which is fine, but means my take is correct - its not being done for foreseeable profitability, but for other reasons, ie the 'this is neat' factor.
The point is that they can do both.

Take Elon Musk, for example. His motivation for creating SpaceX was to take humanity to the stars. He intends to build Mars missions and wants to be a leader in creating a permanent presence for mankind off of Earth. But being a practical man, he understands that he needs to find a way to do that which will also return money on his investment. So he launches commercial satellites into orbit, on May 7 his company will send a re-supply rocket to the ISS, and his new lifter, the Falcon Heavy, will be able to launch large private and military payloads into LEO or GEO or even to other planets.

What's interesting is how he's building his capability to match commercial requirements while building the capacity for his grand vision. For example, his cargo pod also happens to be a 7-astronaut man-rated capsule when so configured. His rockets were built with man-rating in mind, even though he's got no planned manned missions. SpaceX's escape system, rather than being a jettisonable rocket on top of a latticework on the nose of the rocket like Apollo's, is instead managed by rockets built into the capsule itself - rockets which just happen to have been designed to be fully throttleable and reusable, allowing them to be used as retro-rockets for soft landings on Earth or other planets.

SpaceX is slowly building a capability to send manned missions to the moon or deep space, but they're doing it on the back of a commercial launch delivery service. I think Planetary Resources is doing the same thing - building a commercial model that builds into a capability to do extraordinary things for which no market yet exists.

Between all of these companies and a few others, the private space industry is ramping up faster than I ever thought was possible. Bigelow Aerospace has inflatable space habitats. SpaceX will have a booster flying next year that will lift more than the shuttle ever could, at 1/6 the cost. SpaceX's contract with ISS will allow them to build out and prove space rendevous and docking technology. Planetary Resources will have telescopes and rendevous capability. Other companies are working on airlift for cheap access to orbit, ascender balloons that could reach orbit with very low cost, and other radical technologies.

At the rate private space is accelerating, we could be seeing absolutely amazing things happening just a few years from now. Asteroid mining may not be as far away as you'd think.

NASA could never have done this. It is too mired in bureaucracy, conflicting requirements, political power struggles, and mission creep. Cutting LEO and manned space development away from NASA was the smartest thing the Obama administration has done.

Last edited by Sam Stone; 04-27-2012 at 07:06 PM..
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  #73  
Old 04-27-2012, 07:08 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is online now
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Originally Posted by Gray Ghost View Post
No government is going to lightly cede control of that capability to a private company.
And if you can launch an orbital rocket, you have the capability of delivering a weapon of mass destruction (even a block of tungsten would do the trick) to anywhere on Earth. Surely no government would ever let a private company do that...
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  #74  
Old 04-27-2012, 07:12 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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As for driving down the price of resources - that's just fine. Remember, though, that there is always an equilibrium price. You can't and won't drive it down to zero.

Gold is a very useful material. We'd like to use it for many applications that today are unaffordable. If we suddenly found ourselves with an increased supply of gold, the price would decline - until it gets to the point where new applications for gold become feasible. Then demand for gold will increase. Where the price will stabilize, I have no idea. Probably somewhere near the cost of recovering it from space, plus an amount representing the risk and the recouping of the R&D investment, plus a small amount of profit. At first the profit will be larger, but once a new market has been established for gold, competition will set in and we'll see competing asteroid mining companies and they will drive the price down to the equilibrium price plus the amount that represents the capital investment, risk, and competitive profit.

That's what has happened in all other commodity industries. At first, a new material may sell at high profits. But those profits attract new producers, and they compete with each other and eventually drive the profit down to the level where it barely makes sense to produce the material when the cost of risk and capital is factored into the equation.
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  #75  
Old 04-27-2012, 08:12 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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This is very interesting:

How Billionare Asteroid Miners make Money without Mining Asteroids:

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To me, even more audacious than the claim that the company will mine asteroids was co-founder Peter Diamandis’ claim that Planetary Resources is already “a positive cash-flow company.”

So when I had a chance to discuss the technology and business of asteroid mining with Chris Lewicki, the company’s President and Chief Engineer, one of my first questions was about that statement – is it true that Planetary Resources is already making money?

“That’s correct,” he said. “When we started the company, one of the first things we did was to identify the roadmap that would get us from now until we got to the asteroids. That way, we could identify who would be interested in the things we’d be developing along the way. We already have contracts with NASA, some private companies, and even a few private individuals.”
Read the whole article. It's very interesting. For example, they're planning to mass-produce their telescopes. That will lower unit costs, and make it cost-effective to sell access to them to governments, education, and other facilities - profiting from each sale.

Years ago when the Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars, I remember reading that the NASA web sites for them had received hundreds of millions of hits. That level of interest can be monetized. Imagine a fleet of telescopes that have enough availability that scientists and even astronomy clubs could rent telescope time or share time with others observing the same region of space. There might be a real market in that. if the company has an Arkyd 300 approaching an asteroid, they might even be able to sell the video feed to the public like we buy pay-per-view sports events today.

I remember years ago reading of a speculative business model where a company wanted to design a micro-lander that could be landed in quantity on the moon or some other body. One mission could land hundreds or thousands of them. With a swarm of landers, new scientific exploration techniques become available, but you can finance it by selling the ability for people to rent 'lander time'. Imagine paying $20 for the right to fully control a robot lander on another world - to look at whatever you wanted, draw your name in the dust, whatever. Or hell, maybe the lander is just programmed to be able to draw in the lunar regolith with a styulus, and for $50 you can have an image drawn right in the lunar soil, to be undisturbed for millenia. Your money gets the image drawn, a high resolution photo of it taken, and an image of the moon with the location of your drawing highlighted.

There are many ways to monetize space, if you can get the cost low enough.
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  #76  
Old 04-27-2012, 08:21 PM
XT XT is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone
As for driving down the price of resources - that's just fine. Remember, though, that there is always an equilibrium price. You can't and won't drive it down to zero.
Yep...platinum and rare earth metals as well. The potential markets for those materials is huge, if you consider what is needed for a lot of this green energy stuff. A lot of the more exotic battery technologies cost so much because the metals and other materials are so scarce. But imagine if you sell hundreds of millions of batteries that use the now cheap metals available because of asteroid mining. Gold is the same...it's quite useful, even leaving aside it's value for prosaic stuff like jewelery, which is also expanding and would further expand in an era of more abundant gold.

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That's what has happened in all other commodity industries. At first, a new material may sell at high profits. But those profits attract new producers, and they compete with each other and eventually drive the profit down to the level where it barely makes sense to produce the material when the cost of risk and capital is factored into the equation.
Exactly. Remember when aluminum was priced higher than gold? It used to be. Now it's cheap, but it's so abundant and available that it's penetrated myriad markets and changed our society by doing so. Imagine titanium and platinum or gold or other rare earth metals that were cheap and plentiful...and what that could do for our society, the new products it could enable, the new world wide markets it could penetrate.

-XT
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  #77  
Old 04-27-2012, 08:56 PM
Otara Otara is offline
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Look its great if you win a lottery ticket too. But the issue here is the odds of success, not whether winning will be great.

If they're 'positive cash-flow' thats great - but without a breakdown of how thats done, it doesnt mean much, and it doesnt meant this project will be a money maker.

The problem is Im being drawn into proving a negative, and by definition I cant until they actually fail, until then 'anythings possible'. But I wont be too shocked if Im not watching gold asteroids coming into orbit in my lifetime, or even a credible roadmap of achievements thats on the way towards managing that

Otara
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  #78  
Old 04-27-2012, 09:49 PM
Sam Stone Sam Stone is offline
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The nice thing about the free market is that you don't have to care. If their venture fails, the people who lose will be the owners and investors - not you. There are lots of very expensive, very risky business models out there, and society is better off for people taking them on - even if most fail. It took a long time for deep-ocean drilling to be feasible, then profitable. There were lots of failures along the way, and still are. Commercial aviation was risky and expensive and there have been so many failures of aviation startups that as of the 1980's the industry had still not turned an overall profit. It sure is a good thing that no 'reasonable' people decided it was crazy and stopped the industry before it got a chance to start.
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Old 04-27-2012, 10:17 PM
XT XT is offline
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Originally Posted by Otara
Look its great if you win a lottery ticket too. But the issue here is the odds of success, not whether winning will be great.
You seem to see it in terms of pure luck, while to me it looks more like calculated risk with the potential for huge rewards if proven correct. Hell, even if these guys fail, that doesn't mean the effort will be a failure in the long run. To me it's win/win...I think it's important, and that no matter how it turns out we'll all learn something.

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If they're 'positive cash-flow' thats great - but without a breakdown of how thats done, it doesnt mean much, and it doesnt meant this project will be a money maker.
I doubt they will be, initially at least and maybe not ever, even with all the interesting revenue streams they are looking at. It might never be a money maker for these guys...again, think in terms of European colonialism. Not every venture was a money maker...certainly not every exploration was successful for the government or even private company that attempted it. There are plenty of historical examples of out and out failure, and even the successful ventures took a long time to spin up to be money making propositions.

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The problem is Im being drawn into proving a negative, and by definition I cant until they actually fail, until then 'anythings possible'. But I wont be too shocked if Im not watching gold asteroids coming into orbit in my lifetime, or even a credible roadmap of achievements thats on the way towards managing that
It works the other way as well...no way to prove to the nay-sayer types that such things are even possible. I've seen that before in threads like this...it's almost a choreographed dance. I doubt we'll see gold asteroids coming into orbit either...but then, I doubt that's the plan. What I'll be shocked with, however, is that if at the end of my life there isn't serious and permanent manned exploration and the beginnings of exploitation happening out in space. THAT will be shocking to me, especially the way things are moving forward with the private sector taking more and more interest in space, let alone with the various governments out there also taking an interest.

-XT
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  #80  
Old 04-28-2012, 04:00 AM
brazil84 brazil84 is online now
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Second, asteroid mining isn't profitable now. But it will be eventually. And it just might be worth it for a company to start working on it now so that they're in on the ground floor for when it does become profitable. Especially if, as Sam Stone points out, they can bring in supplemental revenue streams along the way.
It might be, but then again it might not be. Imagine if somebody had tried to start an Ebay or an Amazon.com back in the 1970s. It's hard to believe they would have accomplished much besides wasting money.

My gut feeling is that asteroid mining is the same way. That these guys have a good idea, just a bit too early.
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  #81  
Old 04-28-2012, 06:37 AM
Otara Otara is offline
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The nice thing about the free market is that you don't have to care. If their venture fails, the people who lose will be the owners and investors - not you. There are lots of very expensive, very risky business models out there, and society is better off for people taking them on - even if most fail. It took a long time for deep-ocean drilling to be feasible, then profitable. There were lots of failures along the way, and still are. Commercial aviation was risky and expensive and there have been so many failures of aviation startups that as of the 1980's the industry had still not turned an overall profit. It sure is a good thing that no 'reasonable' people decided it was crazy and stopped the industry before it got a chance to start.
I dont have to care if someone invests a billion in telepathy either. But I can make a judgement that any investor putting money into it might be primarily doing it for other reasons than profitability, and that any chance of said profitability is pretty unlikely. Eg they think telepathy is neat, and they really want to see it work.

We seem to be in a position where more data is the only thing thats going to tell us much about this particular venture.

Otara
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  #82  
Old 04-28-2012, 06:57 AM
Shalmanese Shalmanese is offline
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One of the things I haven't heard mentioned is that asteroid collisions with earth represent an existential threat to humanity and there is value to developing long range asteroid detection and manipulation technologies before it's too late. This in itself might be enough to justify the investment, even if the whole mining thing doesn't pan out.
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Old 04-28-2012, 07:21 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Hey, as long as private investors are paying, it fine. But when the taxpayers are made to pony up for projects doomed from the start (Solyndra, Evergreen Solar), I object.
Solar energy is a chimera that will never pay its own way.
But when you have the public treasury access, who cares?
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  #84  
Old 04-28-2012, 10:06 AM
msmith537 msmith537 is offline
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A couple of figures for reference.

the cost of a typical satellite mission is anywhere from $50 million to half a billion dollars.

An olde time space shuttle missions also costs about half a billion.

The cost of one ton of gold at about $1600 an oz is about $50 million.

A total of 165,000 tons of gold have been mined in all of human history.

A typical terrestrial mine only produces a fraction of an oz of gold per ton of ore.


Now while there are single asteroids that probably have more gold or other precious metals than have ever been mined, it seems to me the cost is prohibitively expensive at todays launch costs. It doesn't matter how much gold and palladium and whatnot is out there because your company will lose money with each mining mission.

Last edited by msmith537; 04-28-2012 at 10:06 AM..
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Old 04-28-2012, 11:32 AM
GIGObuster GIGObuster is offline
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Originally Posted by ralph124c View Post
Hey, as long as private investors are paying, it fine. But when the taxpayers are made to pony up for projects doomed from the start (Solyndra, Evergreen Solar), I object.
Solar energy is a chimera that will never pay its own way.
But when you have the public treasury access, who cares?
Of course, a lot of those items are myths:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/...yvRK_blog.html
Quote:
2) Solyndra proves that energy-loan guarantees are a flop.

Not exactly. The Energy Department’s loan-guarantee program, enacted in 2005 with bipartisan support, has backed nearly $38 billion in loans for 40 projects around the country. Solyndra represents just 1.3 percent of that portfolio — and, as yet, it’s the only loan that has soured. Other solar beneficiaries, such as SunPower and First Solar, are still going strong. Meanwhile, just a small fraction of loan guarantees go toward solar. The program’s biggest bet to date is an $8.33 billion loan guarantee for a nuclear plant down in Georgia. Improper political influence in the process is disturbing, but, at least so far, Solyndra appears an exception, not a rule. (That said, the GAO and others have pointed out potential pitfalls and the need for stricter oversight in the loan program.)
*SunPower and First Solar have slowed recently, but that is due to fierce competition that actually caused a reduction in prices and that makes solar not a Chimera:

Quote:
4) Solar is a doomed industry.

This view has been gaining popularity, but it’s not borne out by the numbers. Prices for solar photovoltaic modules continue to tumble, even as fossil-fuel prices rise. A June report by Ernst & Young suggests that large-scale solar could become cost-competitive within a decade, even without government support. Of course, grid operators still have to grapple with the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine, but storage technologies continue to improve — in July, a solar plant in Seville, Spain, achieved continuous 24-hour operation using molten salt storage. All told, some 24,000 MW worth of projects are in the pipeline in the United States, led by California. Those projects may not all get completed, but that’s a lot of growth underway.

Last edited by GIGObuster; 04-28-2012 at 11:36 AM..
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  #86  
Old 04-28-2012, 07:10 PM
E-Sabbath E-Sabbath is offline
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The point is that they can do both.

Take Elon Musk, for example. His motivation for creating SpaceX was to take humanity to the stars. He intends to build Mars missions and wants to be a leader in creating a permanent presence for mankind off of Earth. But being a practical man, he understands that he needs to find a way to do that which will also return money on his investment. So he launches commercial satellites into orbit, on May 7 his company will send a re-supply rocket to the ISS, and his new lifter, the Falcon Heavy, will be able to launch large private and military payloads into LEO or GEO or even to other planets.

What's interesting is how he's building his capability to match commercial requirements while building the capacity for his grand vision. For example, his cargo pod also happens to be a 7-astronaut man-rated capsule when so configured. His rockets were built with man-rating in mind, even though he's got no planned manned missions. SpaceX's escape system, rather than being a jettisonable rocket on top of a latticework on the nose of the rocket like Apollo's, is instead managed by rockets built into the capsule itself - rockets which just happen to have been designed to be fully throttleable and reusable, allowing them to be used as retro-rockets for soft landings on Earth or other planets.

SpaceX is slowly building a capability to send manned missions to the moon or deep space, but they're doing it on the back of a commercial launch delivery service. I think Planetary Resources is doing the same thing - building a commercial model that builds into a capability to do extraordinary things for which no market yet exists.

Between all of these companies and a few others, the private space industry is ramping up faster than I ever thought was possible. Bigelow Aerospace has inflatable space habitats. SpaceX will have a booster flying next year that will lift more than the shuttle ever could, at 1/6 the cost. SpaceX's contract with ISS will allow them to build out and prove space rendevous and docking technology. Planetary Resources will have telescopes and rendevous capability. Other companies are working on airlift for cheap access to orbit, ascender balloons that could reach orbit with very low cost, and other radical technologies.

At the rate private space is accelerating, we could be seeing absolutely amazing things happening just a few years from now.

I've been saying this for five years. Maybe ten. Imma gonna do a little gloating dance now.

Okay, I feel better. Yes. Finally, we're in a position where we can let a thousand flowers bloom. Back in the 60s, we weren't. But we are now, and this is where the game begins to change.
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Old 04-29-2012, 07:55 AM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Originally Posted by GIGObuster View Post
Of course, a lot of those items are myths:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/...yvRK_blog.html


*SunPower and First Solar have slowed recently, but that is due to fierce competition that actually caused a reduction in prices and that makes solar not a Chimera:
OK, what is the cost per kilowatt hour of these "successful" solar plants? Compared to natural gas or nuclear, it simply isn't worth it.
Or take Germany-the government subsidized solar farms-that generate power for (maybe) 2 hours in winter).
It is not about generating electricity-its about subsidizing German solar panel mfgs.
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Old 04-29-2012, 03:55 PM
Steve MB Steve MB is offline
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Why? If you can take it apart in space you could drop pretty big pieces to earth with a parachute and a heat shield.
Bringing bulk materials down from orbit is relatively simple -- shape them into hollowed-out aerodynamic forms and apply a relatively small delta-v to put them on an atmosphere-skimming course. From there, they just need enough rudimentary guidance to make sure they drop in more or less the right area of ocean (where they float; see "hollowed-out").
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Old 04-29-2012, 07:13 PM
DagNation DagNation is offline
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ISTM that the point of mining asteroids is not to bring stuff to earth, but to have stuff in orbit that can be used for building things in space.

For example, once the materials sciences are ready for a space elevator, the next big challenge is getting a whole lot of material to geostationary orbit. It would be nice if a lot of that can come from passing asteroids, and not be launched from earth.
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Old 04-29-2012, 11:49 PM
buckgully buckgully is offline
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The last time something like this happened, it turned out to be a huge CIA plot to recover a Soviet submarine, the K-129, which sank in the Pacific ocean.

That event was actually much of the inspiration for the James Cameron movie "The Abyss".

James Cameron is one of the primary investors in this venture.

All of which leads to one inescapable conclusion: The Soviet Union didn't collapse, it escaped into space in submarines! Wake up sheeple!

Anyway, I'm seriously getting a Glomar Explorer vibe from all of this. Not that I think it's a CIA plot to recover something in space, but that it's actually a front for something else. I'm thinking space tourism. Cameron went to the bottom of the Marianas (for a lot more than 20 minutes), and now he probably wants to get to orbit. They frown upon simply buying trips to the ISS these days, but if there's an important scientific reason, there might be some leeway.
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Old 04-30-2012, 02:30 PM
Pleonast Pleonast is offline
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Putting aside the technical and economic issues, what about the legal issues? Especially property rights; who owns an asteroid? The person who discovers it? The person who remotely surveys it? The person who lands on it? (Themself or via robotic proxy?) The person who brings back a piece of it? (Back to where?)

What governments claim jurisdiction? What governments can enforce their jurisdictions? What legal framework is used? Is it even possible to own an asteroid like a mine (an owned asset) or are they like the ocean (a commons)? Are we going to see a Wild West or Pirates of the Caribbean situation?

I'm sure there is or will be answers to all those, but there's a lot of risk.
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  #92  
Old 05-05-2012, 10:25 AM
brazil84 brazil84 is online now
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Putting aside the technical and economic issues, what about the legal issues? Especially property rights; who owns an asteroid?
I would say that as a practical matter, it's whoever gets there the firstest with the mostest. I mean, if you have the ability to retreive billions of dollars of gold and platinum from space, it should be easy enough to find a friendly state to use as a base of operations in exchange for a piece of the action.

Who is going to stop you?
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  #93  
Old 05-05-2012, 10:28 AM
brazil84 brazil84 is online now
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Here is a nice quote I found from Paul Graham which I think is apropos:

Quote:
What I mean is, if you're starting a company that will do something cool, the aim had better be to make money and maybe be cool, not to be cool and maybe make money.
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Old 05-15-2012, 11:56 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Originally Posted by brazil84 View Post
Here is a nice quote I found from Paul Graham which I think is apropos:

Quote:
What I mean is, if you're starting a company that will do something cool, the aim had better be to make money and maybe be cool, not to be cool and maybe make money.
Nonsense! Cool conquers all!


(That's all about "suspension-of-disbelief," of course -- which is pretty essential, when you're looking for investors in something new!)
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  #95  
Old 05-17-2012, 01:14 PM
RTFirefly RTFirefly is offline
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Originally Posted by Sam Stone View Post
There are refining methods that can work in space that can't be used on Earth. For example, how do you mine an asteroid for gold? On option is to spin it in a magnetic field, letting eddy currents heat the asteroid until the whole thing melts.

Centripetal acceleration then separates all the material by density. Blow off the slag, and there you go.

Or maybe you put an ion drive on it to slowly nudge it into an elliptical orbit that will take it near the sun. Then you pulse the ion drive so that it starts the thing rotating. It goes past the sun and melts and separates, then you grab it when it comes back and you have a refined asteroid.

I'm sure there will be many other techniques developed as these asteroids are explored and their structure is figured out. Maybe we'll use high-power lasers to ablate the surface, then catch the flung material and sort it. Who knows?
Sure, Buck Rogers, whatever you say.

But we have the technology, right now, to get nearly a ton's worth of fully refined precious metals to the space station on one unmanned rocket, in one launch. In fact, we've lifted that much stuff into near-Earth orbit many times now - the crew of a space shuttle is 7 people, plus food and water and all the stuff you need on the trip to maintain a habitable space for the crew.

Asteroid mining will be worth its while someday. But my prediction is that that day will come at one of two times:

1) When we're seriously colonizing space anyway; or
2) When some metals that are useful in small quantities get so rare that the price gets high enough to make it worth developing the infrastructure to do asteroid mining.

In the year 2050, asteroid mining will still be a money-losing operation, and I'd be surprised if it's advanced past occasional experimental efforts by then. With decent luck, I'll still be alive and posting to the Dope (if the Dope still exists), and you can laugh at me if I'm wrong.
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Old 05-17-2012, 01:20 PM
RTFirefly RTFirefly is offline
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Why? What pieces are in a refinery, that can't be made in space? Some manufacturing equipment would have to be boosed from surface to orbit, but not the whole factory, ISTM.
Sure, you can probably make anything in space that you can make down here on Earth, but even on Earth, things are awfully interdependent. The pieces of a refinery don't all come from one place, probably don't even come from just a dozen different factories themselves. Boosting the infrastructure to build the components of a refinery in space would be a hell of a lot more expensive than just boosting the components of the refinery.
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Old 05-25-2012, 12:28 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Relevant story: Private-sector space-triumph! The SpaceX Dragon successfully launched to, and captured by, the ISS! (MPSIMS thread.)

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 05-25-2012 at 12:29 PM..
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  #98  
Old 05-25-2012, 12:55 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Of course, these guys are essentially government contractors -- we won't really have private-sector space travel until we have some involving no tax dollars at all. But this at least suggests the possibility.
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Old 05-25-2012, 02:19 PM
JoelUpchurch JoelUpchurch is offline
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Flashing on Cowboys and Aliens:

Really? Would it be, for any spacefaring civilization? Valuable enough to warrant robbing gold prospectors in another star system -- gold prospectors who do not even have access to their own system's asteroids?

OK, I know, it's dumb to nitpick something titled Cowboys and Aliens . . .
You have to admit it makes a lot more sense than coming here to steal our water?
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Old 05-25-2012, 02:32 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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You have to admit it makes a lot more sense than coming here to steal our water?
Agreed.
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