Master of Science (Hons.)
Department of Physics
Sonter, Mark Joseph, The technical and economic feasibility of mining the near-earth asteroids, Master of Science (Hons.) thesis, Department of Physics, University of Wollongong, 1996. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/2862
Future space industrialization will prompt the search for in-space resources, for construction and propellant mass.
This thesis reviews the literature regarding space resources, and notes the tremendous expansion in knowledge of the Near-Earth asteroids over the last decade, in regard to their population, compositions, and accessibility, making them primary targets of interest.
The literature highlights, and this thesis addresses, the need to consider details of potential mining and processing methods.
The literature also highlights the need for rigorous ways of comparing alternative hypothetical projects and deciding between competing targets, and competing mining, processing, propulsion, and power system choices, which all interact in complex ways.
This thesis identifies that the most useful high-level design-driver for assistance in making these choices and comparisons is the project Expectation Net Present Value, and produces flow diagrams, equations, and a calculation process enabling easy N P V calculation for various target orbit types, mission types, and system choices.
Examples are worked, using reasonable numbers for equipment mass and throughput, and basic celestial mechanics constraints. The conclusion is reached that robotic resource recovery from NEAs is technically feasible in the near term, and that the returned product can potentially be highly profitable, given an in-space market of some thousands of tonnes per year, in competition against Earth-launch costs of several hundred dollars per kilogram.