The biggest hurdle Musk and others have to clear, however, isn’t technical. After all, aerospace companies have known how to build rockets for half a century—they just haven’t found people to pay for them. Although its plans are still unsettled, NASA is unlikely to need more than a few flights a year to bring astronauts to the International Space Station, and a few more to bring cargo there. A single commercial launch company, however, needs more—possibly many more—launches than that each year to stay in the black. That means it will have to find other customers.
All in all, these are not terms that make investors salivate: initial capital in the high hundreds of millions, wildly unpredictable long-term costs, an unproven and possibly nonexistent market, the threat of gargantuan liabilities, and reliance on a single customer that is subject to the whims of Congress and the White House, and might not need the services for more than the next ten years—after all, there’s no guarantee that the International Space Station will stay in orbit beyond 2020. Which may be why, for all of NASA’s optimism, the people who are willing to sink money into commercial spaceflight are the same as they’ve always been: existing contractors assured of government backing, and idealistic billionaires.
In the 2,900 cubic kms of Eros, there is more aluminium, gold, silver, zinc and other base and precious metals than have ever been excavated in history or indeed, could ever be excavated from the upper layers of the Earth's crust.
That is just in one asteroid and not a very large one at that. There are thousands of asteroids out there.
When the world was talking sat phones, where Iridium alone wanted to maintain over 80 sats in LEO, plus GPS/GONASS/Galileo, plus a competing sat phone system, now you were talking launches. But by the time the current launchers were ready, Iridium was dead, GPS needed only 24-32, not 72 sats (and was getting much longer lifetimes on them) and so forth.
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