Wednesday, February 1, 2012

- Not Completely Crazy

This is really for my buddy Gary the Physicist, who thinks that over the very long term, hedging our planetary risk should be one of humanity's biggest priorities. He's right of course (he usually is). There is little doubt that sooner or later something big is going to hit the earth and when it does, it's going to hurt. If we have a self sustaining human colony someplace else, we hedge our risk as a species in a very big way.

That's one of those college dorm room conversations. But thanks to the costs when you talk about actually doing it, it immediately becomes a 'not today' sort of endeavor. But this idea appeals to the investment manager in me. It's a way to bring the constraints which are immediately applied by the free market to the space program, which has never really benefited from them. It's the difference between the way that Solyndra was built and the way that was built. The incentives for growth are all different.

Even with our current financial issues I personally wouldn't object to seeing a 5 or 10 billion dollar prize for 'big efforts' like this one. This is really the best way for government to get involved if they're going to. Public funded, not publicly provided.

But I still don't think it's an issue to run for President on.


frithguild said...

Asteroid 1986 DA, just to pick one, contains over 10,000 tons of gold and 100,000 tons of platinum. All of the metals in that body, if delivered in 2010, would have had a value of over $25 trillion.

So I want to appeal to the investment manager in you. I need to raise $1 Billion to get a vehicle up to 1986 DA and affix some ion drives, which we will use to ease that puppy to a low earth orbit and then use our own vehicles to cut it to pieces that will re-entry and then be sold for profit. So the profit will be 25,000 times the investment.

I think we can beat any government led efforts - they will be just Solyndra in space.

We have the technology. Why not buy in?

frithguild said...

Here is another scenario. Get around the $10,000 per pound cost for heavy lift by delivering a package to the lunar pole that robotically employs solar powered electrlysis to produce ceramics and metals from regolith while capturing oxygen. Later, a manned enterprise uses these materials to establish a mine.

Aluminum oxide powered rockets can be fabricated for transport to and from the lunar surface. A magnetic accelerator can be employed to eject a steady flow of semi-refined raw materials into orbit for collection by an orbiting facility.

The orbiting facility will evolve into a material collection, manufacturing and transportation hub. The refined products can contribute to the expansion of the orbital structure, to fabricate transport vehicles, tools, etc. and for export back to the surface. It will have the advantage of continuous solar energy for power and thermal applications. Product from the surface may be used as raw material to fabricate larger scale electrolysis refineries. Eventually, large quantities of high margin product like titanium can be exported back to earth for commercial sale.

We can do it if we raise $1 Billion. Will you put some of your high risk allocation ont thi venture?

Tom said...

The big issue is the risk. You're being kind of fast and loose with some 'as yet to be fully developed' technology.

But don't go thinking there isn't capital out there for that sort of thing. If it looks realistic, then you can find money for it.

frithguild said...

So there is some capital out there for that sort of thing. Great!

I can't be fast and loose with describing my venture. So we get the lawyers involved, who will throw some sand in the wheels by meticulously describing material risks. Fine.

What about the risk that a court may find that we cannot own any material we mine:

"The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind." Article I of The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967.

How does that effect your decision, as a portfolio mamager, about putting capital at risk?

A good question for Governor Romney or for Mr. Newt, I would think ...

Tom said...

So you're just toying with me. You know full well that there are legal hurdles to climb for any of these projects, and now we all know that I didn't know that.

That's OK, there are all kinds of things I don't know anything about.

But I still don't think this is a priority question for a presidential election; not with so many other issues hanging out there.

The risk of asteroid collision or some other space borne calamity is small. Non zero to be sure, but in the near term, quite small. The odds of an Iranian bomb going off in a US city are larger. The odds of a financial collapse of the Federal government, larger still. The odds of a declining living standard over the next decade are well above 50%.

These other things may be fun to think about, but they're small potatoes in my opinion.

frithguild said...

Sorry about toying with you, but I suppose that is my point. Nobody is looking at the legal blockade to extraterrestrial profits, because they don't even know that they exist. Johnson managed to apply principals of socialism to anything outside of the earth.

Small potatoes - maybe. Ferdinand and Isabella gave Columbus a few sheckles, but it took quite some time before finance evolved enough to put together profit making ventures that yielded boatloads of gold.

I do not favor any large government expenditures for Solyndra on the Moon. I just wish that when the debate tries to revive the excitement of Apollo, that SOMEBODY would say the Outer Space Treaty makes for profit investment IMPOSSIBLE.

Withdraw from the Treaty.

Rant over