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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sat Apr 21, 2012, 08:29 AM

11. I think it has a chance to turn a dime.

The perfection of ion propulsion, as evidenced by the epic and already highly successful Dawn mission, means that the major cost of the operation lies in launch to low earth orbit.

Once it's up there, it can begin to pay for itself by "prospecting," if you will, returning science data of potential value to governments and institutions while traveling between targets. Energy is effectively free, continuous, and limited only by the surface area of the collectors. The propulsion system has almost no moving parts which can fail. Refueling tanks of xenon or whatever they use can be sent out with a very high chance of successful rendezvous, since given time and reaction mass an ion-powered spacecraft can match most orbits.

Some astute government will realize that having the right suite of materials collected somewhere, like in lunar orbit or at one of the Lagrange points, and the facilities to convert those materials into needed things will make the chances of long-term space missions, manned and robotic, far more likely to be successful. If these guys are the only game in town, or have a head start, the launch costs will be quickly regained once they demonstrate success. (An even more astute government may wait for such an infrastructure to be created, then go and take it by force or artifice.)

The key will be fairly quickly identifying a small asteroid which is rich in highly sought-after elements--a house-sized rock rich in rare earths would be enough to wrest China's iron grip on that market, for example. Bring one of those home and suddenly you control wealth that simply cannot be equaled on Earth.

Or, it could be another scam along the lines of the Moller air car, one that makes the cover of Popular Science every year, but never actually gets off the ground.

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Judi Lynn Apr 2012 OP
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LineReply I think it has a chance to turn a dime.
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