Aloha – I just finished chapter 21, “Stormy Weather” in the first draft of Arlo. As promised, I will continue to share earlier chapters of the book as I proceed. Chapters 1-3 are posted in earlier posts. Chapter 4, Cibola is shared below. Enjoy, Doc
Chapter 4 Cibola
“Why not something closer?” Arthur Salt looked away from the screen in the board room. “I’ve seen the research. Our own R&D team believes it will be a viable mining operation process in the next fifteen years within a few million miles of Earth.”
“Nominal profitability,” Marshall responded coolly. “I know cost models as well as you do. You drilled them into my head enough in high school,” he frowned. “Sure Space Y can turn a profit in 15 years by snagging any of three or four asteroids. But that is assuming that there is no time-value of money. A ten percent return on a $20 billion investment sounds good, except that you have to up front the money, most of it five years in advance.”
Arthur smiled at his son. If I could only have gotten him into the business he would have been invaluable. “But you’re talking a half a million mile trip.”
“Actually a little under 400,000 miles, a little over two AUs each way.”
“AU?” Arthur hesitated.
“Astronomical Units. One astronomical unit equals the average distance of the Earth from the Sun.”
Arthur Salt grimaced, “Fine 400,000 miles. What about radiation? What about what space does to the body?”
“Radiation was actually our biggest challenge. Dr. Hilst…”
“Wait a minute! Are you talking about that scrawny little kid you used to hang out with? Brad? Brent?
“Blake,” Marshall corrected, “one of the finest engineers in the country. We are going to utilize a design using plastic; it is light weight and a much better barrier to radiation than aluminum that NASA uses. He has designed an artificial electromagnetic field system that in theory will work better than the Earth’s field.”
“And your body? What about my grandchildren? You aren’t getting any younger and this certainly can’t help you there. I saw the last landing of astronauts who had been in space for what? Eight months? They had to be wheeled off to a hospital.”
“Well, if we used current technologies it would not be a viable trip,” Marshal acknowledged. But we aren’t going to be cramped into a cabin that’s smaller than your office. I already showed you the design. The living space and corridors provide an exercise track of over a quarter mile. Living space is not deluxe, but it is not cramped. We’ll be spinning at eighty percent normal gravity, and can increase it to 1.2 times Earth normal if we want to. Bone mass loss for the duration will be under five percent; we actually are anticipating less than three percent.”
“So you’re trying to get me to build you a palace in outer space?” Arthur baited.
“You can’t have it both ways, Arthur. Either you’re concerned about our health or you aren’t,” Marshall’s voice rose in pitch.
Arthur smiled, “If I were concerned about your health I wouldn’t even consider such a venture. I’ll be dead of old age before this is viable.”
“We should launch in three years!” Marshall snapped. “You’ll never die anyway, there’s no profit in it.”
Arthur looked back at the screen again, “Take me to the cost model on this exploit. How much does it cost?”
Marshall’s throat went dry, “The original cost estimates were over $100 billion, but with redesigns and modifications we can cut the cost of launch to a little under $60 billion… we downsized the scope and duration of the project. It narrows the margins substantially, but I think the ROI is satisfactory.”
Arthur smiled again; I love it when he talks in financial terms. “$60 billion? Are you out of your mind? According to Forbes you’re talking almost my entire net worth.”
“We could go to Koshou if you’re not interested,” Marshall countered.
“The owner of Kajima Electronics? Why would that old devil be interested in a mining operation?” Arthur Salt scoffed.
“Actually, he came to us,” Marshall responded casually. “His research grant helped fund Blake’s development of the artificial electromagnetic field system.”
Arthur Salt snorted, “You gave away the farm for a bowl of porridge? Why didn’t you come to me?”
Marshall glared at his father, “Because you would have taken the farm, the bowl, and the porridge… Actually we’re not stupid. We have the patents and some critical elements are black boxed. He can’t reverse engineer it.”
“Black box?” Arthur’s brow rose.
“We’ve patented key components that have value unto themselves. The system design all leads to Blake’s black box components that we’re leaving just. Even the U.S. Patent Office doesn’t have the design. I’ll credit you with embedding paranoia into my DNA.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you acknowledge that I taught you something,” Arthur Salt paused. “So what do I get for $60 billion?
“Sixty percent of all refined metals returned to Earth,” Marshall tested.
“Sixty percent of what? Sixty percent of nothing is still nothing.”
Marshall turned back to the screen, “I know that you know that when I talk mineral deposits I know what I’m talking about. Here is the composition of what we’re referring to M-Class Asteroid Cibola de Coronado.”
“A bit dramatic don’t you think, comparing this to Coronado and the Seven Cities of Gold?” Arthur teased.
“Actually I thought you’d like it. It seemed to be the right naming convention for you,” Marshall deadpanned.
“But Coronado never discovered the Seven Cities of Gold,” Arthur argued.
“Well we have discovered it, we just need to get there and back again,” Marshall cut off his father. “You’ll see that from my assessment this asteroid, less than ten miles in diameter and shaped a bit like a figure eight has over four trillion dollars in mineral deposits. Our target is platinum and gold, but some of the rare minerals could account for upwards of another $500 billion that we have not accounted for.”
“So you capture the asteroid and bring it back to Earth?” Arthur quizzed.
“No. Look at the design of the craft. Notice the 360 nodules? Each nodule contains a drill and vacuum system that extrudes and separates the materials by spectral code. We will excavate the asteroid on site. It should take less than thirty days to turn the figure eight into a spheroid half the original size. Obviously if we spent $100 billion up front, we could mine the entire asteroid and return with between eight and nine trillion dollars’ worth of refined ore.”
Arthur Salt paused, and then leaned back in his chair, “You know, about thirty years ago I bought a mine in Peru. Great little deal, with unusually high amounts of a rare metal. I overlooked two important considerations in the purchase and used it as a life lesson. The first, the mining operation itself was inexpensive to run, but the cost of transportation to market was significantly more expensive and challenging than I had originally considered. Second, I increased the supply of that rare metal my over a hundred percent. Based on the supply now available, the price dropped by thirty percent. How do you think the markets will react to such an influx of platinum? Or Gold for that matter?”
“I’ve consider it. Eventually asteroid mining will flood the market with platinum. But as you say, that’s fifteen years from start. Thirty years from now, technology will have to improve substantially, even beyond what we’ve designed to offer a cost benefit like this does. Platinum demand will only increase. My model suggests that platinum will take a 20 percent hit in value but recover within two years. There is a lot more gold around than platinum. So for what we’re projecting we would only suffer a ten to fifteen percent loss in value, but it could take years to recover,” Marshall stood up, “But…. we accounted for that in the valuation model.”
An awkward silence fell, as Arthur Salt ran calculations in his head. Finally he replied, “90 percent would be the minimum position I’d take in a venture with this much risk… I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll give you a week, and then I’m contacting Koshou,” Marshall responded as he rose to leave.
“How about lunch,” his father offered.
“No thank you,” Marshall ‘s chill voice returned.
As Marshall Salt left the board room Arthur sat down in his chair leaning back. Little that Marshall had shared was new. He had followed the project of the three ivory tower savants as he referred to them privately. He had studied the blond little nerd, Blake’s designs and had his engineers try to find holes in the design. He had three new pieces of information now, the proximity of the target, the value of the assets, and the scope of the project. He had hoped to see the designs for the black box, but he was not surprised that Marshall didn’t share that information. He would have made a great CEO, Arthur Salt thought proudly.