Metzger is pretty confident about the viability of the three supply-chain technologies, because he’s spent the last decade or so keeping a list of every idea anyone has suggested for making money in space.
"The craziest one I heard was to put a retirement home on the moon. That way, when people fall, they won't break their hip, [because they'll be] in low gravity," he explained to the conference attendees. "I don't see that one surviving."
Killer app #1: Mining asteroids for propellant
Mining asteroids has a business case right now, said Metzger. That case revolves around conventional satellites that use electric thrusters after launch to get into their geostationary orbits, located some 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above the planet. That trip can take anywhere from six to 12 months. During that time, the satellite company is spending money on overhead costs and not making any revenue, Metzger said.
Asteroid mining offers a solution to that unused time, he said. A spacecraft would excavate the rocky material on an asteroid and then extract the water molecules that are chemically bound to the rock's clay minerals. Next, the craft would deliver the collected water to an orbiting depot, where the water would be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used as rocket fuel. A space tug would then collect the fuel and rendezvous with a recently launched satellite, where the tug would inject the fuel and boost the satellite into its final orbit. [How Asteroid Mining Could Work (Infographic)]