Fully automated mining and factories on Earth a precursor of automation for space

Fully automated mining and factories and advanced robotics on the moon and asteroids could be leveraged for the exponential development of space. Here we review some of the developments of robotics for mining and factories on earth.

Robotic mining

Rio Tinto has 73 self driving trucks hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia. They also use robotic rock drilling rigs. They are starting to use self driving trains that will be loaded and unloaded automatically. Driverless locomotives hae been tested extensively in 2017 and will be fully deployed by 2018.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

Driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel. The mining companies are going as aggressively as possible down this path.

Robotic and automated factories

Foxconn plans fully automated factories and already has automated production lines. The three step plan is:

1. set up individual automated work stations for work that workers are unwilling to do or is dangerous.

2. entire production lines automated along with a decrease of the number of robots used by the manufacturer.

3. which is aimed to be fully automated factories “with only a minimal number” of human workers.

Tesla also has highly automated factories.

Mining robots for space

RASSOR – Short for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot, RASSOR is a robotic miner that has the ability to operate autonomously and can excavate space dirt, or regolith, to be studied for producing water, breathing air, and much more. Engineers are developing and testing RASSOR, and RASSOR 2.0—the second phase of the technology’s prototype—on Earth’s surface for potential use on the Moon or an asteroid. RASSOR’s excavation capabilities are a critical aspect of NASA’s deep-space travel goals.

Swarmies – These autonomously operating robotic vehicles are equipped with sensors, a webcam, GPS, and a Wi-Fi antenna that can be used independently or in a swarming pattern to locate, identify and collect valuable resources over unexplored space areas.

Electrostatic Dust Shield (EDS) – By using an electric field that spreads across the surface it is trying to protect, this technology is prevents dust and debris from collecting on surfaces such as spacesuits, thermal radiators, solar panels, optical instruments and other devices.

There is an analysis of lunar resources writtenin 2014.

* Water most important first
* local refinement of metals
* longer term, if a substantial lunar infrastructure is developed to support wider economic activities in cis-lunar space, then local sources of metals, semiconductors (for solar arrays), and even uranium (for nuclear power) would become desirable in addition to indigenous volatiles and building materials.

The availability of resources obtained from the much shallower potential well of the Moon would help mitigate these obstacles to further economic development in Earth orbit. Near-term lunar exports to a cis-lunar infrastructure could include the supply of rocket fuel/oxidiser (such as hydrogen and oxygen; especially oxygen which dominates the mass budget for liquid hydrogen/oxygen propulsion), and simple structural components. Later, as the lunar industrial infrastructure becomes more mature, the Moon may be able to provide more sophisticated products to Earth-orbiting facilities, such as Ti and Al alloys, silicon-based solar cells, and uranium (or plutonium derived from it) for nuclear power/propulsion systems.

* significant future expansion of economic activity in cis-lunar space would be the development of solar power satellites

20 thoughts on “Fully automated mining and factories on Earth a precursor of automation for space”

  1. The article was going great until this nonsense came up: Tesla also has highly automated factories.

    It makes me wonder whether you did any research for the rest of the article, because this is pure fabrication; so is the rest of the article also made up Brian?

    And for the faithful who will be up in arms to defend their fearless leader (Musk not Brian), just check the number of employees at the Fremont factory and compare it to other car makers, or even compare it to Toyota who used to operate Fremont.

    • Your argument was pretty much ok until you asked to compare Tesla and Toyota employees in Freemont company. Construction of cars is far complex to be easily compared like this. Toyota for example is practically just assembly of part from suppliers while Tesla is vertically integrated making so many parts themselves. Also there is Model 3 ramp up going on which requires a lot of manual labor at start. I am not saying TESLA is top of the class in automation but certainly has a lot of automation. Former Audi executive for production is now working for Tesla. He went into Tesla factory and said that what he saw is 10 years ahead of anything he has seen before.

  2. We should never have given up R & Ding the Fusion Torch. Heck, we can do most of what it promised with just plasma torches like the kind that can break up garbage into constituent atoms and molecules.

    • Be aware that a lot of the regolith includes are of very small concentrations, useful for science mostly. There is a vast amount of CO in the “ice” at the poles, however. So BFR is set!

  3. Sweet! The faster they get infrastructure in space the faster I can leave all the political stupidity behind and go gypsy through the solar system.

  4. “* significant future expansion of economic activity in cis-lunar space would be the development of solar power satellites”. Curious that the one project where it is better to do something on a planetary surface, namely collect solar energy on the Moon’s surface, is the ONLY project where majority thought thinks first of orbital. All other projects start on a surface, then eventually go orbital, which is backwards to O’Neill basic observations, other than minimal mining needs. Lunarsolarpower.org

    • Solar panels on the Moon’s surface, except some small areas near the poles, would have a limited duty cycle, and not be in a position to beam power continuously to a given point on Earth. Both could be worked around, but the satellites do have real advantages.

      • This has been explained to Dan several times, but he seems unable to grasp it.

        Not only do you want to position the satellites in open space, but the energy to launch material from the Moon (1.5 MJ/kg) is small compared to the energy to convert raw rock to useful products (typically 10-20 MJ/kg). So you want your processing plant to be in sunlight all the time, to get higher throughput. It is also easier to get rid of waste heat and create cold zones when you haven’t got a big moon underfoot taking up half the surroundings. Some industrial processes want cooling/cold temps.

        • Dan has been aware of these issues for 30 years now. The cost of building sats is far more than the extra panels needed. The size of the transmitters is not an issue, as they have to be that big to carry the load, thus there are ~ 10 sets at full scale.
          Not to mention H2 economy solving all storage problems.
          Now, in general Danielravennest is correct about orbital mfg advantage, but LSP is a counter intuitive exception to this rule, as it needs vast SURFACE to work, free on the Moon without station keeping, Space junk, light pollution or construction costs. I am not sure the panels should not be made in Space and lowered to the Moon surface, for that matter.
          Thanx all for thinking about this! The lack of new or real “show stopper” objections to LSP, particularly at 20 to 200 tWe scale, gives me further confidence! But I am sure tired of being informed about the day/nite, Moon down and distance considerations, as if they were not already addressed from the start!

      • Also, if beaming energy to the Earth’s surface, you prefer to be in a closer orbit, because transmitting and receiving antenna sizes are a function of distance and frequency. That’s why no communications satellites are on the Moon, it is too far away.

  5. I think the biggest difference between mining on Earth, and in many of the places in space we’d want automated mining, is that Earth has a lot of highly enriched hydrothermal ore bodies. Many of the places we’d be doing mining in space haven’t been subject to hydrothermal processes, and often will be little more than lightly modified primordial matter, with little or no concentration of elements of interest.

    This is going to really change the processing; We’ll want to take basically random rocks and dirt, and just separate out everything, rather than looking to separate ore and waste.

    • I’ve wondered about that. Hydrothermal is part of it, volcanic activity and plate tectonics are other concentrating actions.
      But we’ve mined most of the really high-concentration rocks, so if it’s even a couple % scattered evenly thru the asteroid, that’s still pretty close to an Earth mine.

      Plus no pollution issues to worry about it, no overburden (top soil, trees, etc.), so if you chew thru the whole asteroid, no big deal.

      • We are not even close having started to

        mine most of the really high concentration rocks

        Don’t believe what you read from mining stock promoters trying to create an artificial sense of scarcity. It isn’t even a little bit true.

    • That’s not completely true. The lunar crust underwent fractional crystallization as it cooled, even if all the water and other volatiles were lost early on. The Apollo samples showed some variation in composition depending where they came from., There are several types of asteroids, whose compositions differ from each other, and from the Moon. They are the result of formation at different distances from the Sun, and in some cases from protoplanets which differentiated, then were smashed up.

      So we do have “ores” that have more of certain elements than others, but not the high concentrations of rare elements we find in places on Earth. Rather than separating ore from waste, what you do is choose where to go for certain materials, where solar system processes have done some of the work for you.

      Fortunately, many of the common elements (oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, etc.) are quite useful.

      • That’s true on the larger bodies, but once you get out into the asteroid belt, a lot of the material is hardly processed at all.

        I tend to think the best solution is an omnivorous processing system, and a library of technologies that let you work with what you’ve got, rather than insisting on particular elements. You might end up with lower performance systems than if you insist on building everything with the highest performing materials, but being able to just “eat” what’s available would make it worth while in terms of doubling time.

        For instance, there are a lot of different materials you can build solar cells out of, you don’t have to restrict yourself to one particular element. Structural components can be just about anything that’s solid.

        Then you can reserve the high performance combination of elements for the product, rather than the factory.

      • *smashed up* after extremely effective gravity separation, so we just need a few of these “goodies” to get started, out of the truly astronomical amounts to prospect, including those that formed craters on Moon without water explosions, erosion or tectonics.

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