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There is gold in the asteroids, or iridium.

links:

Musk just proved that his Falcon heavy can send mining robots to the asteroid belt.

links:

Question:
Is there any indication that this was intentional and not accidental?

  • prospecting/surveying/telemetry equipment in the starman or base/mount
  • equipment for return trip (solar panels with ion engine?, other)
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    $\begingroup$ "Musk just proved that his Falcon heavy can send mining robots to the asteroid belt." does not follow from your question. $\endgroup$ – ReactingToAngularVues Feb 7 '18 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ An unprovable and extremely unlikely conspiracy. At the most, if it was Elon Musk's plan to mine the asteroid belt, this would just be a proof of concept. Even the idea of that is highly dubious. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Feb 7 '18 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ They'd have to circularise the orbit once there, so this test would prove nothing. There's a great deal of a difference between zipping by in an exciting sports car and staying there with a big Boring machine. $\endgroup$ – Diego Sánchez Feb 9 '18 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ At the current market value of osmium/iridium/palladium or even some happy transuranics, a boring machine the size of a shoe-box might be able to pay for itself, as long as some part of it could make a viable return trip. $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent Feb 9 '18 at 16:06
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It is highly likely it was known that the upper stage would could be overshot into the asteroid belt, but it may be within the upper-bounds of expectations.

The reason for this is that Elon commented in the Falcon Heavy post-launch press conference that the propellant left in the upper stage was "within 0.3% of expected values". This means they knew how much propellant they expected to carry into to orbit — and of course, they run a multitude of simulations on the ground first, prior to launch. So yes, addressing the question in your title, it was likely a very purposeful convenient accident.

That being said, the latter parts of your question are unanswerable. Mainly because we don't have any form of autonomous mining technology that can fit in the payload mass of a light car; so your later statements in your question body do not follow from the question in your title.

Musk's prior comments on asteroid mining and resource utilisation indicate he sees it as something of a questionable utility (admittedly, these comments were made in 2013).

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  • $\begingroup$ Although a reserve of fuel is normally included in order to have a contingency in case of minor problems. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Feb 7 '18 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @kimholder Very true. Changing would to could. $\endgroup$ – ReactingToAngularVues Feb 7 '18 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Also it's worth keeping in mind that the car is a fraction of the useful payload of the Falcon Heavy. We don't have any autonomous mining equipment for space yet, but useful payload of 140k lbs makes it possible. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Feb 8 '18 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ The "accident" can probably be explained simply by "underpromise and overdeliver". Musk wanted to retain some wiggle room in case they lost some propellant or performance and didn't get that far. $\endgroup$ – lamont Feb 8 '18 at 1:46
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    $\begingroup$ ...which doesn't exist. But okay. $\endgroup$ – ReactingToAngularVues Feb 8 '18 at 2:18
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I've used the plotting of the Horizons projection described in this answer to show the distance between the Roadster and Mars out to 2030. The projection is likely to be slightly revised as future optical detections described here come in. There is also more to read in this answer.

There is quite a close approach between the Roadster and Mars predicted in late 2020, only about 7 million km. Without the overshoot, it is possible a close approach wouldn't be possible due to phasing reasons.

Normally you would have a launch window scheduled at a certain time of year for a planetary mission, but in this case that wasn't possible. So instead, with the launch date fixed by other constraints, the period of the orbit needed to be tuned (via the apoapsis among other things) so that the flyby would occur in the near future.

I'm proposing that this orbit is not an accident, but that some careful calculations were done and (some of) the 3rd and final burn parameters were tweaked in order to produce a near approach to Mars in within the next few years. It could be just an accident/coincidence, but as they say, space is big...

Distances of Roadster to the Sun (small wiggle, yellow), Earth (medium wiggle, blue) and Mars (big wiggle, red).

note: The current projected orbit has a period of about 558 days.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Would you consider Ceres, Vesta, Pallas, or Hygiea to a second, similar plot? $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent Feb 9 '18 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @EngrStudent the second link in the first sentence will take you to everything necessary to make a plot yourself. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 9 '18 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ sorry. I missed that. Thanks for the pointer. Yay python. $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent Feb 9 '18 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @EngrStudent yay! :-) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 9 '18 at 16:28
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There is no way to power any 'prospecting equipment'. The batteries on the stage are dead already, and there are no solar panels on board. Also, no equipment is visible in the prelaunch photos.

The batteries on the stage were made to power the stage for the ~6 hours it needs to work. The stage has to be standard for the flight to be valuable as a qualification flight.

Solar panel size depends on how much power you need, which depends on the instrument package. Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter has 9.5 m2 of panels, which produce 1000 W of power in Mars orbit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are the batteries dead already? If it is a 2-year journey, how big of a solar panel do they need? $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent Feb 9 '18 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ In the GM Sunrayce, which became the American Solar challenge, we charged for a few hours on ~600W, then drove for a few hours, then charged for a few hours. Max panel size was 6 m^2. There is a balance to be made between how big the panel is and how much work one must do in a day. A 1 square meter terrestrial-grade, inefficient but cheap panel might only give 100W, but it would charge many watt-hours in years before it was needed. Were it space grade it might give 300 W. The miner might work with fury briefly, or it might work slow over a long time. ... speculation at this point still.. $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent Feb 10 '18 at 2:02

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