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I have a space station (sadly, only in my story) situated out in the asteroid belt that was initially built in order to mine the Asteroids. Due to the long haul nature of the job, crew would be on the station for several years at a time, often bringing their families as well.

My question is, could the station plausibly grow to a point where it was overcrowded (Think China's Kowloon Walled City), becoming an independent colony supported by it's mining industry?

Can a small nation (essentially) support itself with one industry?

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    $\begingroup$ check out this link ... miight be what you are looking for $\endgroup$ – Abhishek May 26 '15 at 5:38
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Actually, the asteroid colony is one of the best places to build. The asteroids can supply everything you need, from metals for the structural elements of the colony, water for living and growing crops and most forms of materials needed to create "dirt" for farming, petrochemicals for chemical, pharmaceuticals and plastics (mine the carbonaceous asteroids). Even the slag left over from processing is useful as radiation shielding, as well as refining the silicon for glass and computer chip making. The internal economy of the colony will have plenty of raw materials and access to as much energy as desired (huge mirrors in zero G can be made from metal foil. Each mirror might need to be 4-8 x the size of a similar mirror in Earth orbit, but there is no real limit to how large you can make a solar mirror. For convenience, the real solution might be platoons of mirrors focused on a single point).

About the only thing you will be a bit short on are volatile elements and chemicals, but from the Asteroids you can send expeditions to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn to get things like methane from the ices or mine nitrogen out of the atmosphere of Titan.

Overcrowding? Just build out more colony volume, or watch as new generations of people set out for the outer Solar System to settle on the moons and mine the ice. In the real future, once the technology to get there becomes cheap and widely available, you will see a "land rush" of people wanting to go there rather than stay on Earth.

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I think this will be a requirement on some scale. Since the delivery times for the food and supplies would be so large, people will need to grow food, repair clothes and so on.

A lot of stuff will be recycled. Old food will be dirt and fertilizers, clothes will be stitched together and plastic and metal will be grind up and available for 3D printers.

It will be a challenge to make it self sustaining, but with a steady income of valuable minerals it should be possible for as long as the minerals is cheaper in the colony or as long as the colony has monopoly.

That said, political bribes could be used to keep interest in the product. It is well known to happen.

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If you want families, and overcrowding, then you have to consider what you are going to do when your insulin/nappies/bacon supply runs out. You need imports, and that means futuristic rockets are required. However, any rockets capable of delivering cheap pizza to the asteroid belt can also be strapped to your space station. Like in James Blish's Cities in Flight, single industries are only possible due to high mobility and commerce - which kind of defies the point of a fixed space station.

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It's important to realize that although the colony's main source of income is its mining operation, the colony will still be doing all sorts of other businesses. Given that this is a space operation, I'd think self-sustenance would have been an original goal, as you don't want your entire mining colony to die out if you lose a food shipment. Thus, your colony should be full of people doing all sorts of jobs, such as making food, recycling trash, and keeping the station in good repair.

Once you achieve self-sustenance, your main problem will be growth. Asteroids may provide metals and minerals, and the sun can provide energy, but for the building blocks of edible carbon-based life-forms (fruits, vegetables, bacon, etc) and water, you're either going to need the ability to transmute elements (unlikely and expensive), or you're going to need to import it.

The question now is if these imports could happen. To that, I'd say it depends on how things are faring on Earth (or whatever the home planet is). Nowadays, if someone asks for a few tons of plant matter in return for a few tons of gold, it's easy to see what the answer's going to be. But in the future, who knows what we'll find useful. Will we be in the midst of a new Dust Bowl, and be in dire need of topsoil and food? Will pollution be a problem, poisioning the water and crops? And what about other colonies? Is the mining colony one of hundreds of other places, all asking for the same commodities? All of these factors are essentially supply and demand, and they will dictate how much the colony will need to mine in order to get what it needs. If Earth is well-fed but in dire need of metals, then your colony will have an easy time getting everything it needs to raise some babies, and even hire on anyone looking for work. As for the overcrowding, it might be the case that the very materials you need to add to the station are the ones you're selling to Earth; thus, you can't make more room because you're still trying to keep everyone fed.

The last thing you need to worry about is when your supply of minerals runs out. Like I said, your station should be built to self-sustain from the start, but after some growth it's anyone's guess if that's still the case. After the American Gold Rush, many boom towns became ghost towns; people just left once the gold ran out. If you don't want that to happen to your station, you've got to keep people there somehow.

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Asteroid mining looks good for the Moon. A single Saturn V style F-1 engine can introduce delta-v of about 7km/sec change to near-Earth asteroid of 1000 tons (about ten meters across) if supplied with 40% of the Saturn V first stage fuel and firing for about 5 minutes. If the asteroid is rich in ammonia and other volatile materials, it could be directed to orbit about the Moon and then 'mined' for Moon use. So, we could use existing technology to do this which makes for good, 'hard-science' science fiction. There are many near-Earth asteroids that are in this size range and come to within 10 Lunar diameters of the Moon at relative speeds of well under 7 kilometers per second. Slow it to Moon orbital velocity at 100 kilometers orbital height (about 1.6 kilometers per second) and enjoy. Go up anytime and pick a piece off. Nice.

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