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I am an Architecture and Urbanism student. Currently I am working on designing a space habitat for mineral mining on Ceres.

I have been reading about space mining techniques mostly on near Earth asteroids which are far smaller in size and mass than Ceres. I read that due to very low gravity it is not possible to use conventional methods like open pit mining, etc. on these asteroids.

Ceres is one of the largest asteroid and it's composition is quite similar to terrestrial planets. I had read that although it has low surface gravity, it is still sufficient for humans to walk on it. So does that mean it is possible to use conventional mining techniques in this case?

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question! If you can expand a little on "I have been reading" and "I had read" (i.e. can you mention what or add a link?) that would be great! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 2 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ Do you really know Ceres composition is quite similar to terrestrial planets? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Feb 2 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ If there is a 100-kilometer-thick mantle of dirty water ice, mining of minerals below that mantle would be very difficult if not impossible. Water ice does flow slowly under high pressure and fill up the hole while drilling. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Feb 2 at 20:56
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Ceres has a surface gravity on of 0.029G and an escape velocity of 500ms. So there would be a down, standing up would be possible and it would be impossible to accidentally escape into orbit. Falling over (or dropping something held) would take around 10 seconds, anything kicked up or thrown would be aloft for much longer. So jumping your mining truck wouldn't give you enough time to eat lunch, but certainly enough time for people to notice.

In terms of mining any mobile machine is going to have great difficulty cutting rock, or even scooping up loose debris because of the greatly reduced friction. Pushing would have around 1/30th the force available on earth, and trying to dig into the surface would tend to flop or roll the machine rather than break material free.

Explosives would work, but probably unpopular since they will exceed the 500ms velocity where debris becomes every-bodies problem. You would also need to look at the chemistry locally available to avoid having to import material from earth.

So an open pit mine with dump trucks and excavators is probably not going to be a thing.

One key question to answer is what is being mined. Current information appears to be that the top 100km is icy, with a metallic core under that. If the aim is water extraction mining might consist of just exposing material and putting down a bag to trap the subliming volitiles.

If the aim is surface layer material, than a dragline system probably works.

If the metal core is the target the mine will first need to get through that 100km of icy material, conventional tunneling where the tunnel machine clamps itself in place to provide traction for drilling and work regardless of gravity (which will reduce towards the core).

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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh, yep mixed up the digits and decimal places for G and ms, should be fixed now. Suspect at that rate moving around in a suit without technical assistance of some sort would be possible but really tedious. $\endgroup$ – GremlinWranger Feb 2 at 10:00

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