The Technology Behind the SpaceGold Mining Engine
In order to achieve being able to successfully mine and refine gold on asteroids, SpaceGold Corporation uses a laser pulse to create a plasma pulse that is deflected by a powerful magnet. Gold is then selected by atomic weight vs charge which causes it to impact a glass ribbon that uses a physical vapor deposition process.
While the Chem Cam laser used by the Curiosity rover on Mars uses remote laser vaporization to produce a spectrum, other laser plumes are produced in mass spectrometers that identify molecules according to the charge and mass of the resulting ion. Just as chromatography is used to process as well as identify chemicals, so two mass spectrometers of sufficient capacity may be used to isolate materials. This is how SpaceGold Corporation mines, refines and mints physical gold bars in space from physical gold found in the regolith of asteroids still floating in Outer Space.
Concept Maturity Level
This study was conducted as a Concept Maturity Level (CML) 3 – 4 study (see Appendix B for Concept Maturity Level Definitions). A staged cradle lander mission architecture matured for the Robotic Asteroid Exploration Program (RLEP) was used as a point of departure. Benefits from technology advances and progress from similar mission concept developments were incorporated where relevant.
Hyper-Efficient Solar Pumped Laser
We have developed a hyper-efficient solar pumped laser technology that converts 2/3 sunlight into laser light using a 300 meter diameter shell of specialty glass and uses optical phased array across the glass surface to beam that energy to wherever its needed. The weight is 5.16 grams per m2.
At 1 AU there is 1368 W/m2 of sunlight. A sheet of highly structured photonic glass that consists of 100 layers of 60 glass atom thick glass with sapphire titanium coating that produces 912 W/m2 of intense UV laser light at 125 nm.
912 W/m2 UV laser pulses create a plasma stream from asteroid regolith with an efficiency of 21 MJ/kg. That is it takes 21 MJ to vaporise to plasma a kg of asteroid regolith. So 44.2 kW/kg yields a processing rate of 2.15 g/s per kg of primary at 1 AU.
Photonic propulsion has the capacity to take inert retroreflectors and efficiently propel them up to 86.6% light speed. A speed where the retroreflector has the same kinetic energy as it does rest energy. At these speeds it takes vanishingly little inert mass to propel objects at speeds used for interplanetary propulsion. The amount of thrust per unit power approximates pure photonic thrust. Namely, 21.59 milligee at 1 AU.
Optical Fiber Power Density
The photonic sheet that processes the UV laser energy within the shell to perform a variety of computing functions and other functions sustains the same power density as glass based optical fibers. This allows the shell to operate at power levels 10,000x greater than found at the Earth’s distance from the sun. So, distances of 0.01 AU and power levels of 44.2 MW/kg laser and 43.3 MW/kg electrical are possible at these distances.
Power Beaming Over Interplanetary Distances
A 300 meter diameter emitter operating at UV range 125 nanometer can form a spot of light 300 meters in diameter a distance of 590.2 billion meters which is 3.945 AU.
99.9% of the asteroid belt is within this distance.
So, at 10,000x the power density we have the following specific capacitie we can process 2.15 kg/sec regolith. At 5.54 ppm gold, this has the potential to process 375.6 kg of gold per kg of receiver.