The Cost Of Moving Atoms In Space; Unpacking The Dubious Claims Of A $10 Quintillion Space Asteroid

The rest of the media were reporting on an asteroid named 16 Psyche last month worth $10 quintillion. Oddly enough they reported in July 2019 and again in February 2018 that the same asteroid was worth $700 quintillion, so it seems the space rock market is similar to cryptocurrency in its wild speculation. Those numbers are ridiculous, but it had us thinking about the economies of space transportation, and what atoms are worth based on where they are. Let’s break down how gravity wells, distance, and arbitrage work to figure out how much of this $10-$700 quintillion we can leverage for ourselves.

The value assigned to everything has to do with where a thing is, AND how much someone needs that thing to be somewhere else. If they need it in a different place, someone must pay for the transportation of it.

In international (and interplanetary) trade, this is where Incoterms come in. These are the terms used to describe who pays for and has responsibility for the goods between where they are and where they need to be. In this case, all those materials are sitting on an asteroid, and someone has to pay for all the transport and insurance and duties. Note that on the asteroid these materials need to be mined and refined as well; they’re not just sitting in a box on some space dock. On the other end of the spectrum, order something from Amazon and it’s Amazon that takes care of everything until it’s dropped on your doorstep. The buyer is paying for shipping either way; it’s just a matter of whether that cost is built into the price or handled separately. Another important term is arbitrage, which is the practice of taking a thing from one market and selling it in a different market at a higher price. In this case the two markets are Earth and space.

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Turning Scrap Metal Into Something To Work With

Blacksmiths will frequently work to a customer’s commission, and sometimes those commissions can be somewhat unusual. [Copperrein] had just such a piece of work come his way, a ceremonial sword to be made from a supplied collection of iron and steel items. To render them into something useful he had to melt them together, and the story of how he did that is particularly interesting.

We’re introduced to the Aristotle furnace, a fairly simple top-fed air blast charcoal furnace capable of melting almost any ferrous scrap into a so-called “bloom”, a lump of iron with some slag and carbon inclusions. These furnaces are often built as holes in the ground, but he’s made his atop a portable forge at working height to save bending over it for seven hours.

The source material was a very mixed bag, so the first order was to strip it in an acid bath of any coatings which might contaminate the resulting bloom. The parts, including things as diverse as a huge wrought-iton bolt, a scythe blade, and a pair of dividers, were then cut into small pieces one by one and fed into the furnace. They melt as they progress down through the furnace, resulting in a bloom of iron. The bloom is impure and will need significant working to expel any inclusions, but the final result will be something like the wrought iron of old. Let’s hope he has a power hammer, working the bloom would be hard work by hand!

If this catches your attention, you may be interested in a bit of blast furnace iron smelting. And of course, there is also our ongoing blacksmithing series to get you going at the anvil. You could even make a nail.

Via Reddit.

Thanks [Mike] for the tip.

An All-Iron Battery Isn’t Light, But It’s Cheap

Rechargeable batteries are a technology that has been with us for well over a century, and which is undergoing a huge quantity of research into improved energy density for both mobile and alternative energy projects. But the commonly used chemistries all come with their own hazards, be they chemical contamination, fire risk, or even cost due to finite resources. A HardwareX paper from a team at the University of Idaho attempts to address some of those concerns, with an open-source rechargeable battery featuring electrode chemistry involving iron on both of its sides. This has the promise of a much cheaper construction without the poisonous heavy metal of a lead-acid cell or the expense and fire hazard of a lithium one.

A diagram of the all-iron cell.
A diagram of the all-iron cell.

The chemistry of this cell is split into two by an ion-exchange membrane, iron (II) chloride is the electrolyte on the anode side where iron is oxidised to iron 2+ ions, and Iron (III) chloride on the cathode where iron is reduced to iron hydroxide. The result is a cell with a low potential of only abut 0.6V, but at a claimed material cost of only $0.10 per kWh Wh of stored energy. The cells will never compete on storage capacity or weight, but this cost makes them attractive for fixed installations.

It’s encouraging to see open-source projects coming through from HardwareX, we noted its launch back in 2016.

Thanks [Julien] for the tip.

From Dirt To Space, Backyard Iron Smelting Hackerspace Style

When I went to a hacker camp in the Netherlands in February I was expecting to spend a few days in a comfortable venue with a bunch of friends, drink some beer, see a chiptune gig, and say “Ooh!” a lot at the exciting projects people brought along. I did all of those things, but I also opened the door to something unexpected. The folks from RevSpace in the Hague brought along their portable forge, and before long I found myself working a piece of hot rebar while wearing comically unsuitable clothing. One thing led to another, and I received an invite to come along and see another metalworking project of theirs: to go form ore to ornamental technology all in one weekend.

From Dirt To Space is a collaboration between Dutch hackerspaces with a simple aim: to take iron ore and process it into a component that will be launched into space. The full project is to be attempted at the German CCCamp hacker camp in August, but to test the equipment and techniques a trial run was required. Thus I found myself in a Le Shuttle car transporter train in the Channel Tunnel, headed for the Hack42 hackerspace in Arnhem where all the parties involved would convene.

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Blacksmith Elevates The Craft With This Fabulous Strongbox

For most of human industrial history, the blacksmith was the indispensable artisan. He could fashion almost anything needed, from a simple hand tool to a mechanism as complex as a rifle. Starting with the most basic materials, a hot forge, and a few tools that he invariably made himself, the blacksmith was a marvel of fabrication.

If you have any doubt how refined the blacksmith’s craft can be, feast your eyes on [Seth Gould]’s masterpiece of metalwork. Simply called “Coffer”, [Seth] spent two years crafting the strongbox from iron, steel, and brass. The beautifully filmed video below shows snippets of the making, but we could easily watch a feature-length film detailing every aspect of the build. The box is modeled after the strongboxes built for the rich between the 17th and 19th centuries, which tended to favor complex locking mechanisms that provided a measure of security by obfuscation. At the end of the video below, [Seth] goes through the steps needed to unlock the chest, each of which is filled with satisfying clicks and clunks as the mechanism progresses toward unlocking. The final reveal is stunning, and shows how much can be accomplished with a forge, some files, and a whole lot of talent.

If you’ve never explored the blacksmith’s art before, now’s the time. You can even get started easily at home; [Bil Herd] will show you how.

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When Is Wrought Iron Not Wrought Iron?

I grew up with a blacksmith for a parent, and thus almost every metalworking processes seems entirely normal to have as part of everyday life throughout my childhood. There seemed to be nothing we owned that couldn’t be either made or repaired with the application of a bit of welded steel. Children of blacksmiths grow up with a set of innate heavy hardware hacker or maker skills that few other young people acquire at that age. You know almost from birth that you should always look away from the arc when dad is welding, and you also probably have a couple of dictionary definitions ready to roll off the tongue.

The first is easy enough, farrier. A farrier makes and fits horseshoes. Some blacksmiths are farriers, many aren’t. Sorry, my dad made architectural ironwork for upmarket houses in London when he wasn’t making improvised toys for me and my sisters, he didn’t shoe horses. Next question.

The second is a bit surprising. Wrought iron. My dad didn’t make wrought iron.

But… Hang on, you say, don’t blacksmiths make wrought iron? At which point the floodgates open if you are talking to a blacksmith, and you receive the Wrought Iron Lecture.

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Push Big Red Button, Receive Power.

As with the age-old panic after realizing you have left an oven on, a candle lit, and so on, a soldering tool left on is a potentially serious hazard. user [Nick Sayer] had gotten used to his Hakko soldering iron’s auto shut-off and missed that feature on his de-soldering gun of the same make. So, what was he to do but nip that problem in the bud?

Instead of modding the tool itself, he built an AC plug that will shut itself off after a half hour. Inside a metal project box — grounded, of course — an ATtiny85 is connected to a button, an opto-isolated TRIAC AC power switch, and a ‘pilot’ light indicating power. After a half hour, the ATtiny triggers the opto-isolator and turns off the outlet, so [Sayer] must push the button if he wants to keep working. He notes you can quickly double-tap the button for a simple timer reset.

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