Tapping more Distant Space Mines

As humanity's in-space infrastructure develops, it will become possible to economically tap resources ever-deeper in the solar system. Main-belt asteroids, small planetary satellites, and the atmospheres ofgiant planets are but a few examples of the destinations and resources available there.

Using solar concentrators such as those developed for solar-thermal propulsion (see Chapter 12), sunlight could be used to separate space resources according to melting point. Huge solar sails constructed from in situ materials could be utilized to transfer mined material back to near-Earth processing facilities.

As discussed by John S. Lewis, robotic space miners could ultimately tap the atmosphere of Uranus, shipping home large quantities of helium-3 for use in terrestrial thermonuclear reactors, or perhaps interstellar spacecraft.

In the farther future even the Kuiper Belt Objects and Oort Cloud comets could provide resources for our growing civilization. Space mining could support a very large solar-system population at a high standard of living. And it may serve as the springboard to the stars.

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