Influence of Launcher Cost and Payload Capacity on Asteroid Mining Profitability

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M. Vergaaij et al. (2019), JBIS, 72, pp.435-444

Refcode: 2019.72.435
Keywords: Asteroid mining, Economic modelling, Trajectory optimisation, Launch vehicles, Net Present Value

A range of resources can be extracted from asteroids, for example volatiles for propellant and consumables for (crewed) spacecraft, semi-conductors and metals for in-space manufacturing or platinum group metals for terrestrial use. One of the key justifications for in-situ manufacturing/resource utilisation is the high costs incurred during launch from the Earth’s deep gravity well. However, selling asteroid-derived resources in Earth orbit at a price competitive with launching the same resources from the Earth’s surface is largely dependent on specific launch costs, especially for low value-to-mass resources such as volatiles and construction materials. This paper investigates the influence of the cost and payload capacity of launch vehicles on asteroid mining profitability. Results demonstrate that for resources delivered to GEO, if the launch cost decreases, the specific launch cost (per kg) decreases in such a way that the decrease in total cost is smaller than the decrease in revenue, resulting in a less profitable mission. Similarly, when the payload capacity increases and therefore the specific launch cost decreases, the resulting mission also generates less profit. Sensitivity analyses show that for an example mission with two round trips to the same asteroid, profits increase with the increased number of trips, if the asteroid has not been fully depleted. Similarly, a further sensitivity analysis demonstrates that by changing the destination orbit for the processed resources to the Lunar Gateway, increased profit margins can be realised. .

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