Section 3 is the Market Assessment/Market Analysis section, it contains the following sections:
3.1 Communications Market 3.2 Space Manufacturing 3.3 Remote Sensing 3.4 Government Missions 3.5 Transportation Missions
3.6 Entertainment 3.7 New Missions 3.8 Space Utilities 3.9 Extraterrestrial Resources 3.10 Advertising

Table of Contents for Section 3.9

3.9 Extraterrestrial Resources
3.9.1 Introduction
3.9.2 Lunar Liquid Oxygen (LOX)
3.9.3 Helium-3 (He3)
3.9.4 Extraterrestrial Resources
References
The Full Section Index is at the end of this Section

Commercial Space Transportation Study


3.9 Extraterrestrial Resources

3.9.1 Introduction

This market area was established to investigate the commercial potential for extraterrestrial (ET) resources. Man is restricted to the use of Earth resources at this time, but in the future resources from other parts of the solar system may become available for use either on Earth or in space. Development of ET resources is in the early exploitation stage and the time frame for more aggressive exploitation is dependent on the development of primary markets that would use these materials. The section is divided into three material resource areas: lunar liquid oxygen (LOX), lunar helium-3 (He3), and asteroids, comets, planets, and their moons.

Some planetary satellites may be captured asteroids (those of Mars, in particular) and there is a continua of characteristics of comets, asteroids, and the larger bodies.

Some ET resources are considered potentially valuable on earth, but are difficult and expensive to obtain. He3, a lunar regolith production product, is an attractive fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. Asteroids may offer platinum production and low concentrations of gold. Use of these materials will require a significant space transportation cost reduction. Some ET resources are considered for their potential use in space. Liquid oxygen, for example, can be produced on the lunar surface and used in space to enhance planetary exploration and lunar base missions. At this time it is envisioned that the large-scale use of ET resources will begin in space and not on earth.

3.9.2 Lunar Liquid Oxygen (LOX)

3.9.2.1. Introduction

LOX produced on the lunar surface has the potential of replacing LOX transported from Earth for lunar orbit operations and for return of astronauts and equipment from the lunar surface. It also has the potential of being used in deep space or planetary missions.

3.9.2.2. Market Description

The primary market force is the potential for use of lunar LOX to enhance planetary exploration, lunar base development, or other missions. Since LOX is used in a resource support role for other missions, the market for lunar LOX is dependent on the planned activity levels for lunar exploration, science missions, and planetary exploration missions that use lunar LOX.

The cost of delivering LOX from Earth to the lunar surface has been estimated at $40 million per metric ton or approximately $18,000 lb1-2. This includes the following assumptions:

  1. $2,000/lb for delivery to lunar Earth orbit (LEO).
  2. A $300 million lunar transfer vehicle (LTV) with a payload of 20 metric tons that handles transfers between the LEO and lunar orbit (each LTV has a five-use lifetime).
  3. A $300 million lunar excursion vehicle (LEV) with a payload of 20 metric tons that handles descent and ascent from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back to lunar orbit (each LEV has a five-use lifetime).

The same examination estimated that LOX could be produced on the lunar surface for about 25% less than this amount if a commitment were made by the government to purchase 10 metric tons per year for 10 years from a lunar LOX production facility.

The development cost for this facility is estimated to be $500 million. The weight estimate for this facility is 10 metric tons, which would cost an additional $400 million in transportation to place it on the lunar surface.

3.9.2.2.1 ROM Market Assessment

Growth Projection The primary growth path is by increasing the size and scope of primary missions, such as planetary exploration, lunar base development, and so forth to the point where lunar LOX can make a cost-effective contribution to the mission. Elastic Analysis

The in-space use of lunar LOX is entirely dependant on demand from the primary missions such as planetary and lunar exploration. Initial missions will probably be designed to be self-contained and are not likely to use lunar resources. These resources will only be used when the cost of bringing additional LOX from Earth for larger missions exceeds the cost of the mining and processing equipment needed to use in situ lunar LOX.

3.9.2.2.2 Market Enablers

The key market enabler is the level of public will to fund lunar and planetary exploration efforts of a size that would justify using lunar LOX.

3.9.2.3. Prospective Users

The primary users of lunar LOX will be lunar missions that need to return personnel and/or material from the lunar surface to Earth.

3.9.2.4. Needed CSTS Attributes

The primary attribute needed from the CSTS is the ability to deliver cargo to orbit for a consistent low cost, which would increase the probability of primary missions that could use lunar LOX. A desirable attribute would be the capability to send payloads into a translunar orbit.

3.9.2.5. Conclusions and Recommendations

The use of lunar LOX is not likely to occur in the near term. The demand for lunar LOX will be driven primarily by a large and continuing lunar exploration and science program.

3.9.3 Helium-3 (He3)

3.9.3.1 Introduction/Statement of Problem

Demand for lunar He3 is predicated upon the commercial generation of electrical power from fusion power plants that use deuterium/helium-3 or helium-3/helium-3 fusion reactions. There is only enough He3 in weapons stockpiles for research and initial development of these types of fusion. Predictions for the achievement of commercial fusion of this type ranges from 2015 at the earliest to 2030 in more conservative projections.

A cost-to-orbit of $300/lb to LEO must be obtained before lunar helium becomes a viable space launch market item. This cost is based on achieving He3-generated electricity rates that are competitive with current rates. He3 is an attractive fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. There are two reasons for this attractiveness: (1) the deuterium/helium-3 reaction does not produce any fast neutrons and (2) the helium-3/helium-3 reaction produces no radioactivity at all (Fig. 3.9.3.1-1).

Because of the very large amount of energy that can be generated by even small amounts of He3, it appears economically viable to mine it from the lunar surface. Figure 3.9.3.1-2 outlines an He3 mining strategy developed by the University of Wisconsin that produces 33 kg of He3 per year. Figure 3.9.3.1-3 indicates the required equipment and crew needed for a mining operation.


Figure 3.9.3.1-1. He3 to KwHr Relationship


Figure 3.9.3.1-2. University of Wisconsin Mark II Lunar Miner


Figure 3.9.3.1-3. Lunar Payload Needed to Process He3

3.9.3.2 Market Description

The primary market force is the demand for electricity and the competitive price for electricity in different geographical regions. The cost of He3 fuel and the cost of the associated reactor hardware must be low enough to produce electricity at rates per kilowatt hour that are competitive with electricity produced by other methods.
Figure 3.9.3.2-1 shows the world's electrical production distributed by cost per kilowatt hour. Hydroelectric production accounts for most power less than 6¢ per KwHr and with fossil fuel production in remote areas (e.g., equatorial Africa) accounting for the highest rates, up to 25¢ per KwHr.


Figure 3.9.3.2-1. Electricity Market Versus Kilowatt-Hour Cost

3.9.3.3.1 Space Application Description

Growth Projection The primary growth path is by increasing the share of the market that is captured by He3-produced electricity. The method of accomplishing this is to lower the cost of He3-produced electricity.
Figure 3.9.3.2-2 correlates the consumption of He3 to electrical power output.


Figure 3.9.3.2-2. He3 Market Versus Kilowatt-Hour Cost

Elastic Analysis The cost of electrical power varies significantly by geographical area. In areas with many large hydroelectric dam facilities (e.g., Pacific Northwest), the cost can be as low as 2 to 3¢ per kilowatt hour. In residential areas of developed countries, it ranges from 8¢/KwHr to 15¢/KwHr. In rural areas of undeveloped countries, it can approach twice these residential rates.

For the purposes of this study, the focus is on producing electricity in the 8¢ to 15¢ per kilowatt hour range. Rural areas of undeveloped countries would not provide sufficient demand to justify the large capital expenditure needed for a He3 production facility and distribution system, and it is probably not feasible to try to compete with 2¢/KwHr hydroelectric dam power.

Figure 3.9.3.2-2 correlates He3 consumption to cost of other available electricity. This correlation is based on the ratio of 3,000 pounds of payload to LEO for every pound of He3 delivered to Earth. This ratio comes from an annual He3 production of 72 pounds (Fig. 3.9.3.1-2) and 110,000 pounds delivered to orbit for each 6-month tour of duty for extraction teams (Fig. 3.9.3.1-3). Figure 3.9.3.2-3 shows the market size based on a 1% share of those markets where other available electricity is more costly than He3 electricity. For example, at 8¢ per KwHr, the cumulative market is 66 Gigawatts.


Figure 3.9.3.2-3. Cumulative He3 Versus Kilowatt-Hour Cost

Figure 3.9.3.2-4 illustrates the cost per pound to LEO that must be achieved to generate electricity with He3 at a given cost per kilowatt-hour. A sample calculation is provided to show how the information from Figures 3.9.3.1-2 and -3 is used to calculate this relationship.


Figure 3.9.3.2-4. LEO Cost Versus Kilowatt-Hour Cost

Figure 3.9.3.2-5 correlates the information from Figures 3.9.3.2-2 and -3 to form a launch market elasticity analysis. If the cost per pound to orbit is above $330, the resulting cost for He3-generated electricity is over 19¢ per kilowatt-hour. There is no significant market for electricity at this cost (Fig. 3.9.3.2-1), so there is essentially no launch market. However, as the cost per pound to orbit is lowered, the cost per kilowatt-hour becomes much more competitive, and the launch market increases dramatically. If the to-orbit cost can be lowered to $110/lb, then the launch market increases to 3 million pounds per year. This equates to 150 launches per year of a 20,000 lb payload class launch vehicle. However, it should be noted that it is a very significant challenge for a launch vehicle to reach even the $330/lb cost level.


Figure 3.9.3.2-5. He3 Launch Market Elasticity

3.9.3.3.2. Market Evaluation

The key market enabler is the achievement of sustained nuclear fusion. This technology has been pursued for several decades, and predictions for its achievement range from two to five additional decades. In addition, deuterium/tritium fusion is probably the first sustainable reaction to be achieved because it occurs at lower temperatures than the deuterium/helium-3 reaction. Production of significant amounts of electricity from He3 will require the following developments: (1) achievement of D-T fusion, (2) achievement of D-He3 fusion, and (3) development of commercially viable D-He3 reactor/generator facilities.

Per Dr. Kulcinski, the current fusion community plans will result in fusion plants that could use lunar He3 in about the year 2025 to 2030. The University of Wisconsin is pursuing a technology called inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC), which has the potential of being ready for lunar He3 in 2015 (research activities use He3 from weapons stockpile materials). Thus, the initial need for lunar He3 ranges from 22 years to 37 years.

Use of lunar He3 in fusion reactors will also require a lunar He3 mining operation. Achievement of this type of a mining operation will require the following technologies and capabilities:

  1. The capability to transport humans to and from the Moon.
  2. A lunar base capable of supporting long-term habitation by work crews (not just scientist and astronauts).
  3. A logistics/transportation system to provide supplies, equipment, etc. to mining crews.
  4. Mining equipment capable of extracting He3 from the lunar regolith.
  5. Space suits suitable for hard physical work.
  6. Telerobotic systems.

3.9.3.3.3 Market Infrastructure

3.9.3.4 Prospective Users

The near-term prospective users of He3 will be those electric utilities that take part in the development of the fusion reactors. Additional evaluation of the He3 market is based on interviews and reviewed articles of:

  1. Dr. Gerald Kulcinski, director, Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin.
  2. Dr. Duke, deputy for science, New Initiatives Office, NASA-JSC.
  3. Dr. Robert Zubrin, Advanced Exploration Programs, Martin Marietta.
  4. Review of proceedings of "Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space" II and III (1990 and 1992).

3.9.3.5 CSTS Needs and Attributes

3.9.3.5.1 Transportation System Characteristics

The primary attribute needed from the CSTS is the ability to deliver cargo to orbit for a consistent low cost. The required cost level can be directly tied to the cost of electricity that the He3 production facility must achieve. In conjunction with Dr. Zubrin and Dr. Kulcinski, a methodology was developed to correlate the cost per pound to orbit to the resulting cost per kilowatt of electricity. This methodology takes into account such factors as:

  1. Net kilowatt hours per pound of He3.
  2. Efficiency and rate of extraction of He3 from lunar regolith.
  3. Weight of mining equipment, supplies, and crew needed on the lunar surface to extract a given amount of He3.
  4. Pounds in LEO per pound delivered to the lunar surface.

This methodology indicated the CSTS would have to deliver cargo to orbit for $294/lb to achieve 16¢/KwHr electricity, and $147/lb to LEO to achieve 8¢/KwHr electricity (Fig. 3.9.3.2-4).

3.9.3.6 Conclusions and Recommendations

Additional refinements of the methodology and associated numbers are possible, but only small changes would occur. The current numbers agree reasonably well with University of Wisconsin cost analysis numbers that predict commercial viability of He3 power generation at a cost of $1,000/lb (delivered to the lunar surface). Based on these factors, it is not recommended that significant additional resources be spent on this area.

3.9.4 Extraterrestrial Resources

3.9.4.1 Introduction

The use of ET resources can be considered in two categories: use on Earth or use in space. Whichever the site of usage, there are primarily four sources of ET materials. These are lunar, asteroids, comets, and planets and their moons. These categories are not entirely precise and distinct. Asteroids are typically thought of as being like meteorites: stony, carbonaceous or metallic objects in orbits between Mars and Jupiter. Comets are usually thought of as "dirty snowballs," having "tails" due to the outgassing of volatiles. Comets may have very long, nearly parabolic orbit periods or shorter orbit periods when they have been captured by major planets.

As more information is obtained on the characteristics of objects in space, it is becoming apparent that there is a great deal of overlap between these categories. There are comets, or the relatively devolatized remnants of comets, in orbits more typically associated with asteroids, and there are asteroids in orbits outside Jupiter and well inside Mars. In fact, some asterioids have orbits with mean distances from the Sun less than that for Earth.

Some planetary satellites may be captured asteroids (those of Mars, in particular), and there is a continua of characteristics of comets, asteroids, and the larger bodies. Use of these resources on Earth has been confined to the scientific study of their characteristics, occurrence, and origin.

Use of ET resources will probably occur first in space, where they would be used to enhance planetary exploration, lunar base development, or other missions. Since they are used in a support role for other missions, the market for ET resources is highly dependent on the market for the primary missions. Use of ET resources is likely to decrease rather than increase the net space transportation demand for any given primary mission.

3.9.4.2 Market Description

The primary market force is the potential for use of ET resources to enhance planetary exploration, lunar base development, or other missions. Since they are used in a resource support role for other missions, the market for ET resources is highly dependent on the market for the primary missions. As resupply stations, they offer "a payback (on the order) of 100 times more mass to Earth orbit per trip than is initially launched."3 Use of ET resources for resupply is likely to decrease rather than increase the net space transportation demand for any given primary mission, and the promise of more performance (increased duration and orbit) per pound of vehicle from earth may expand the market.

3.9.4.2.1 Space Application Description

Growth Projection The primary growth path is by increasing the size and scope of primary missions, such as planetary exploration, lunar base development and other missions to the point where ET resources can make a cost-effective contribution to the mission.

If space transportation costs can be reduced sufficiently, it could become cost effective to obtain precious metals such as platinum from asteroids for use on Earth.

Elastic Analysis The in-space use of ET resources is entirely dependent on demand from the primary missions such as planetary and lunar exploration. Initial missions will probably be designed to be self-contained and are not likely to utilize ET resources. These resources will only be used when the cost of bringing additional supplies from Earth for larger missions exceeds the cost of the mining and processing equipment needed to use in situ resources.

On-Earth use of platinum from asteroids would be determined by cost and market size issues. The current cost of platinum is around $360/oz. If platinum could be mined, processed, and returned to Earth for less than this cost, then a market potential would exist. The other aspect to consider is the size of the platinum market. The world platinum market is of the order of $10 billion per year. The price of platinum is based largely on its scarcity, and the introduction of even small amounts of additional supply would be likely to result in a significant reduction of platinum prices.

3.9.4.2.2 Market Evaluation

The key market enabler is the level of public will to fund lunar and/or Mars exploration efforts of a size that would justify use of ET resources.

3.9.4.3 Prospective Users

The primary users for ET resources is expected to be those entities currently using space systems, including both the booster and satellite operators. Mining, milling, reduction, and distribution entities will need to be developed.

3.9.4.4 CSTS Needs and Attributes

3.9.4.4.1 Transportation System Characteristics

The primary attribute needed from the CSTS is the ability to deliver cargo to orbit for a consistent low cost, which would increase the probability of primary missions that could use ET resources. On-time performance is not as great of a concern to most users in this area, especially as the payload size increases. Smaller replacement parts would impose better on-time performance.

For Earth utilization of most ET resources, the CSTS must reduce the cost of space access by one to two orders of magnitudeÑan optimistic expectation for the foreseeable future.

3.9.4.5 Conclusions and Recommendations

The use of ET resources on Earth is not likely to occur (except possibly for novelties) in the near term. Space transportation costs will need to be reduced by one to two orders of magnitude for ET resources to begin to be attractive for use on Earth. ET resources should be reevaluated in an iterative process as better assessments of primary markets beyond LEO and the lunar surface are available in this study.

References

  1. Proceedings from "Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space II," 1990.

  2. Proceedings from "Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space III," 1992.

  3. "Rocket Fuel to Earth Orbits From Near-Earth Asteroids and Comets," Zuppero,A., "Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space III," 1992.

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3.9 Extraterrestrial Resources
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