To Build a Mine: Prospect to Product
Richard E. Gertsch
Resources on Earth
The terrestrial definition of ore is "a quantity of earth materials containing a mineral that can be extracted at a profit." While a space-based resource-gathering operation may well be driven by other motives, such an operation should have the most favorable cost-benefit ratio possible. To this end, principles and procedures already tested by the stringent requirements of the profit motive should guide the selection, design, construction, and operation of a space-based mine. Proceeding from project initiation to a fully operational mine requires several interacting and overlapping steps, which are designed to facilitate the decision process and ensure economic viability (Baxter and Parks 1957, Ptleider 1972, Kuzvart and Bohmer 1978, Crawford and Hustrulid 1979... Church 1981).
Market Identification: Formulating the Project
All mineral extraction projects are market driven. The market determines product, project size, location, and extraction technology. The market will eventually determine all manner of project detail, such as distinguishing ore from waste. Questions such as possible products, product price, and infrastructure cost (e.g., power, labor, ar)d transportation) must be answered. These answers provide an estimate of the scope of the projected mining operation and indicate reasonable geographic regions to explore. At this point, a regional exploration program can begin. Usually several regions to explore are identified and plans for the exploration of each region formulated.
Exploration: Finding Prospects
Regional exploration identifies specific mineral prospects within each region, which are then investigated in more detail. Large- scale regional exploration begins with historical studies. All references relating to the area, geology, markets, past production, etc., are researched. Concurrently or soon after, field work begins. Regional exploration tools include geochemical and geophysical remote sensing, aerial and satellite photography, stream sediment studies, studies of outcrops, and limited core drilling. In addition to the obvious geologic and mineralogic questions, many other factors enter into the picture: transportation needs, water supply, local labor force, local power supplies, equipment availability. Location of one or more properties that have passed the initial screening signals the end of regional exploration and the beginning of detailed site evaluation.
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