NASA
Health + Tech /16 Jul 2019
07.16.19

The Riches of Space Beckon Us

With the recent breakthrough in fusion technology by MIT, and the founding of Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), the need for helium-3 will mark the first push by the human race to harvest the riches of space. As of the date of this writing, CFS estimates that a working ARC (Affordable Robust Compact) tokamak (a tokamak is a fusion reactor) that will be able to generate electricity off of the fusion process will be available in 6 years.

CFS is currently constructing the SPARC (Smallest Possible Affordable Robust Compact) tokamak, that while showing that they indeed have fusion, will not be able to generate electricity from this initial prototype.

In September of 2016, MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) ran its last experiment on their Alcator C-Mod tokamak. This experiment was done with the last of government grant money from the US federal government. Because of the enormous data from previous experiments, the breakthrough was not realized by the PSFC until late in the fall of 2017.

The results from this experiment, where a 3-ion fuel of helium-3, deuterium, and hydrogen were used in conjunction for the first time, the PSFC found that with an input of 50 MV (an MV is a theoretical megawatt (MW)) an output of 500 MV was recorded. This was the first time that a fusion experiment was done where the output of the tokamak exceeded the input.

The process of the experiment yielded, in the words of MIT scientist John C. Wright: “These higher energy ranges are in the same range as activated fusion products…To be able to create such energetic ions in a non-activated device—not doing a huge amount of fusion—is beneficial, because we can study how ions with energies comparable to fusion reaction products behave, how well they would be confined.”

During the experiment, the helium-3 was ignited using radio frequency waves and was consumed in the process. The helium-3, in turn, ignited the deuterium which in turn ignited the hydrogen. This, in turn, led to the observed fusion product and revealed as discussed above a 500 MV output from a 50 MV input.

Yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO)

One of the issues with plasma fusion is the immense heat necessary to reach the fusion process. The temperature necessary to reach the fusion process is 100 million degrees Fahrenheit. Such immense heat would melt any type of metal known to humanity. In order to reach fusion, the fusion process must be suspended in mid-air by a Magnetic Containment Device (MCD). The MCD used by the ITER project is 840 cubic meters.

By using electrical tape coated with the chemical YBCO, wrapped around their magnetic containment device, the size of CFS’ tokamak will be 1/65th the size of the ITER magnetic containment device, making the CFS tokamak the size of a railroad car, and transportable on the back of a semi-truck.

Helium-3 as a constraint of the growth of fusion tokamaks.

The problem of using helium-3 as an ignition fuel is its limited availability. Helium-3 is not indigenous to Earth. Helium-3 which is emitted as waste from the Sun and the radioactive element tritium. Because of the Earth’s electromagnetic shield, helium-3 that has been emitted from the Sun as a waste product and borne on the solar wind, cannot penetrate the Earth’s electromagnetic shield. To harvest helium-3 from tritium, which needs to be made in a fission reactor, is time-consuming and produces radioactive waste. After tritium is created in a fission reactor, it is then necessary to wait 12.3 years for the tritium to decay enough so it will begin emitting helium-3 as a waste product. After the helium-3 has been harvested from the tritium, the remains of the tritium are still highly radioactive and must be stored in a lead containment environment. This imposes a serious constraint on the supply of the element helium-3 that is necessary to ignite the fusion process.

Currently, the world’s supply of helium-3 comes from the world’s nuclear powers. During annual maintenance of nuclear weapons, helium-3 is drained from the nuclear warhead. Prior to 9/11, the uses of helium-3 were confined to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines.

After 9/11, the US government began deploying neutron detectors which need helium-3 to detect nuclear material that could be used to make dirty bombs or a smuggled nuclear weapon into the United States. Prior to this, there was a glut of helium-3 on the market. Afterward, the glut has vanished and the cost for helium-3 has skyrocketed. Add to this the need for helium-3 for the fusion process, and helium-3 will become very expensive due to the limited supply versus the growing demand for helium-3.

The cost for a ton of helium-3 ranges from $40,000 per troy ounce (a troy ounce is 14.583 troy ounces to a pound) to $3 billion a ton. As the demand for helium-3 grows as fusion tokamaks become more and more commonplace on Earth, the price of helium-3 will only increase.

It is estimated that there is 1,100,000 metric tons of helium-3 on the Moon.

To come to a market price of helium-3, first you must convert metric tons to regular tons. 1 metric ton is equal to 1.10231 regular tons. 1,100,000 x 1.10231 = 1,212,541 regular tons.

Using the figure of 1,212,541 tons and multiplied by the above prices, and assuming a worldwide demand for helium-3, the commercial price of helium-3 ranges from $1.55 quadrillion to $3.637 quadrillion. A quadrillion is one thousand trillion. The estimated wealth of the world, according to CNBC.com, is $280 trillion.

The economic benefits to Earth using fusion as an energy source.

Aside from the fact that fusion energy emits no pollutants, the economic supply shock as it relates to the generation, and consumption of, electricity will be substantial and change economic reality as we currently know it.

In 2017, in the United States alone, the retail sales cost of residential and commercial use of electricity was $390 billion.

Using the Solow-Swan model on inputs of technology into the production function (land + labor + capital with technology being a subset of the capital function), an increase in production due to an exogenous supply shock, if viewed over an appropriate amount of time, would dramatically reduce the cost of retail purchases of electricity (in the United States alone) to $40 billion, leaving $350 billion available for additional investment or consumption.

Asteroid 16 Psyche

16 Psyche is one of the ten most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt. It is over 120 miles in diameter and contains a little less than 1% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt. It is thought to be the exposed iron core of a protoplanet. It is the most massive metallic M-type asteroid. Psyche was discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis on March 17, 1852, from Naples and named after the Greek mythological figure Psyche.

Initial analysis of the asteroid has shown the asteroid to apparently be the exposed core of a protoplanet that was destroyed during the formation of our galaxy. All the metals that are considered precious to Earth are openly exposed, and instead of drilling deep into the asteroid, it appears that strip mining would be a more efficient means of extracting the precious metals from 16 Psyche.

16 Psyche is in the asteroid belt that is between Mars and Jupiter.

Located in the asteroid belt as well as Ceres. This is important as Ceres has water. Ceres will be able to supply the water needs of the mining station near 16 Psyche. 16 Psyche is estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion.

NASA had originally planned to send a robotic probe to 16 Psyche in 2023. But after a radio spectrographic analysis of the asteroid, NASA moved up its plans to examine the asteroid to 2022.

The NASA team responsible for the probe was ordered to examine ways that would speed up the 2023 launch date, and according to Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C., the team came through in a big way.

The team altered the trajectory of the 16 Psyche probe that eliminated the need for an Earth gravity assist, which allows for the probe to be launched in 2022 rather than 2023.

The estimated time to reach 16 Psyche is 4 years using conventional propulsion. If nuclear, or fusion, propulsion was used, it would cut the travel time to the asteroid from 4 years to 1 year. Such a travel time is feasible and economical enough to bring the riches of 16 Psyche within reach of mining companies on Earth.

Despite the claim of Joao Peixe in his article in Oilprice.com, 16 Psyche is not worth $700 quintillion. The asteroid has been estimated to have a value of $10,000 quadrillion by NASA.

The $700 quintillion mineral wealth in the asteroid belt.

While 16 Psyche is richer than the minerals of Earth, the riches of the asteroid belt is stunning. The asteroid belt is estimated by NASA to be worth $700 quintillion.

Establishing support mining facilities on Mars will be necessary as will the construction of a space dock and shipyard.

Mining 16 Psyche and the asteroid belt will require a permanent human establishment on Mars. 16 Psyche and the asteroid belt is too far away from Earth to be able to use the Earth as a mining support facility.

For a serious attempt be made to reach Mars to establish a mining support facility, an Inter Planetary Vehicle (IPV) would be necessary. An IPV because of its sheer mass would need to be constructed out of the Earth’s orbit. Such construction would need the construction of a space dock first. The technology to construct a space dock already exists.

The crew and future colonists when they go to Mars will have to bring everything with them to establish the first human colony outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

The amount of supplies necessary will be tremendous, and even then, the future colony will be dependent on Earth for food, the equipment necessary to claw out a toehold on an environment hostile to human life, and the materials needed for building the facilities to support the mining of 16 Psyche, and later on, the asteroid belt.

A united effort by the nations of the Earth would make all of the above possible in less than 40 years.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), $1.82 trillion was spent in 2016 on the purchase of military arms and equipment worldwide.

If for just one year, every major military power in the world did not purchase arms but used that money to fund establishing a permanent mining operation on the Moon for helium-3, and NASA estimates that for $10 billion a permanent station fit for 10 humans to live in is possible, the harvesting, processing and shipment of helium-3 could be up and running by 2022 to benefit all the peoples of Earth.

With helium-3 worth between $1.55 quadrillion and $3.637 quadrillion, the return on investment by forgoing just one year of arms sales would make the Earth fabulously rich and dramatically reduce the need for human conflict.

So, I ask: with the riches of space so close to us, why do we fight, and die, over the puny resources of Earth?

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