Mine Design and Construction
Even with limited data on prospective lunar mining sites, basic site characterization supplied by Apollo allows some generalized design work to begin. Integrating limited data with a few assumption$ can yield a reasonable baseline lunar mining and milling operation.
The high cost of space transportation, especially of people, suggests that a lunar or asteroidal mine should be highly automated. But terrestrial mining industry experience with automation has been bleak. Mining operations, because they are complex, difficult, hard on equipment, and have many degrees of freedom, are poor candidates for automation. While systems like ventilation control, haulage trains, and equipment monitoring have been automated, no mine production system has ever been completely automated. Even though removing workers from a relatively dangerous environment seemed sufficient justification, production automation was too complex and unreliable to be economic. Present industry practice is driven solely by economics: Can money be saved by automating? The strategy is to automate a small, well-defined task and then do extensive debugging before automating another task. Given this poor record, automatic systems should be used with caution, have plenty of redundancy, and, if possible, have people present to solve the inevitable unexpected problems.
The automation trend does appear to be accelerating, however. The latest attempts are far more sophisticated and complex. For example, a Swedish firm has been experimenting with an automatic underground blast hole drilling rig. Underground blast hole drilling is a complex operation with many degrees of freedom and multilevel decision-making.
Our study group advises caution in automatirng lunar or asteroidal mining operatiorls. Although it is possible that a completely automated mine would be less experlsive tharn a similar manned operation, the issue is still in doubt and needs further study, We further note that a completely unmanned system is highly unlikely; no matter how well designed they are, automatic systems will eventually require human intervention. The basic tradeoff question is, "Would it be less expensive to develop an automated system or to accept the higher operating costs of a manned operation?" One more, important point should be made: The development of reliable automated mining systems would find a lucrative terrestrial market.
We recommend that several steps be taken to clarify the questions of lunar and asteroidal mining:
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Curator: Al Globus
NASA Responsible Official: Dr. Ruth Globus
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