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Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future
The process of extracting useful minerals and other substances from asteroids. Asteroids fall into three basic catagories, each of which is different in nature and value.
Nickel-iron asteroids are reasonably dense, high-grade sources of metal of most value to the manufacturing industry; large asteroids can be sold to local shipbuilding concerns as planetoid starship hulls.
Carbonaceous asteroids are the most common planetoids and have the lowest value of all the asteroids in most marketplaces. These stony chunks have the most value in systems where space colonies and large stations can make use of the variety of the useful elements - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and so on - that can be extracted from them. Ice chunks are made up of various frozen volatiles, including methane, water, and the like.
These "dirty snowballs" are a source of hydrogen fuel and hence support an entire speciality of "ice miners" who seek them out. In systems where gas giants cannot be used for one reason or another, a starport or space station may pay reasonably good money for ice chunks, though they will never make a belter rich. None of these three categories of asteroid is particularly valuable, and few belters ever made a fortune strictly from discovering and mining any of these. In point of fact, there other things to be found.
Many asteroids, most particularly nickel-iron rocks, contain varying amounts of the valuable minerals: platinum, iridium, and sometimes radioactives. Occasionally an asteroid belt will be discovered with an unusual configuration that makes it valuable for scientific or even aesthetic purposes. And finally, there are artifacts, which take in the entire gamut from the flotsam of a week-old wreck to a trove left by the Ancients, and which vary in value accordingly.
Ref: MT-ENCYC, 1120,