I wanted to create this thread because my imagination has been brimming for years about this topic, but ever since the BFR, there are so many possibilities that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. I thought it was going to be some nutty futuristic breakthrough. With BFR coming out, I see a much greater age of exploration coming. So, feel free to just dump your colonization ideas (especially those of you in STEM areas who have a more educated sense of this stuff).
So, the Falcon Heavy has already enabled a bit of a paradigm shift, but the BFR is going to be the secret sauce.
Mining is Now Seriously Possible
Asteroid mining is the first that comes to mind. BFR’s return payload is 50 metric tonnes. If it delivered 50 metric tonnes of cargo precious metals to earth, each return trip would be coming back with 114 million to 1.9 billion dollars worth of cargo per launch should it be extractable. So, if this stuff was just floating around in space in a way that was easy to find and all you had to do is bring it down and you could do it at the rate you could launch the BFR, we’d be talking about making ~1 billion per launch at 10->20->40->80->160->320->640 and so on launches per year. So, maybe in a year you could look at bringing a trillion dollars down. That’s the thought experiment to show the kind of economic return this provides if you can extract that resource directly from the asteroids. It would lower the market value of these metals, but only after a large sum of money has been made and significant infrastructure has been built.
Larger vehicles could be optimized for return mass. So, that raises the next question: how do you actually extract all of that ore? Well, the cost of creating an in situ refinery in the asteroid belt, the cost of doing the science of determining the compounds of these asteroids by exploration may not be prohibitively expensive if you’re bringing down a billion dollars by spending 5-10 million on a launch.
So, lets do a little financial analysis. The value of an asset is the sum of all future cash flows divided by their respective interest rates. So, the bottleneck will be how quickly you can refine the material (which is also the thing in this topic that I know the least about). So, there will be a specific problem of “how well do you refine ore” and measure that against the launch cost of the BFR and its successors.
If you play around with parameters of a revenue growth rate of 30% a year off of a starting revenue of 20 billion at an interest rate of 10% for 20 years, about a present valuation of a trillion dollars would happen somewhere between 10 and 15 years.
That’s a lot of wiggle room to start your refinery and exploration project - but it has to pan out. You need to have some capital first, and you need to start on a smaller scale. What works here is that the market for metals is clear. The question here is if you can produce the cost-benefit necessary to compete with on-earth production. Given the abundance of these metals in space, it probably isn’t too terrible, and once a foothold is reached and tech incrementally improves, it’ll be the thing that gets an economy in space going. So, the market will flood, but the infrastructure in place will be paid for by the initial projects.
As this happens, more factors of production go into space so that you lower your annual costs. Reusable rocket tech will have advanced a great deal by this point. You can now mine and produce rocket fuel in space, which means that you can refuel spacecraft that get into LEO. With factors of production in space, it may even be cheaper at this point just to build vehicles in space. So, earth to space travel will be less prohibitive and necessary. Information is basically free to transfer to space, and some more complex things with more factors of production like computer chips would be best processed on earth. But hulls, frames, wires and things of that nature might be produced in space. It will all depend on what’s available. This process will likely transform and incrementally improve, with gradual shifts from mere fuel production to full-on space assembly.