After the advent of easy to deploy home-stations and individual mining equipment, solo entrepreneurs have been shooting themselves into the solar system looking for spacebux.
Maybe you're here out of curiosity, or you're already serious about making rock dollars in exchange for years of loneliness. Hopefully this guide has something for you.
You want to look for tested quality. Don't buy all-in-one packages. They are usually made out of poor material and sold to suckers looking for a bargain. Poor quality means malfunctions. And the last thing you want is to be stranded on some moon with no atmosphere making emergency repairs to your only source of food, comfort, and oxygen. Mining is an investment after all and you want to become rich, not dead. No one's asking you to buy a five billion dollar portable space station. Just get something that can get you through at least 5 years without any serious problems.
The same thing goes for mining equipment, more or less. However, for your first mining trip you might want to go for mid-range gear. The top-end gear is usually made for super rare rocks like platinum and radioactive stuff. Chances are, you wont find any of that on the cheap beginner node you bought from the prospecting company.
Prospectors use their fancy radars and science to find out where the best rocks are. They're also a business. Big prospecting companies are in bed with the big mining companies. No surprise. So the best of the best nodes are not sold to solo miners. But prospectors don't know everything. And sometimes lucky people get super rare rocks out of normal nodes.
Visit a few ports on Earth or a Lunar base and listen to the miners who've done business with these prospectors. There's always rumor mills about a new discovery of good rocks. It might be worth it to follow up on those rumors. If you aren't sure, buy your node from a big prospecting company for your first time. They usually wont sell you a dud since they have a reputation to keep.
Martian nodes are usually not worth it. Most of the good surface area has been mined or claimed already. Focus on the outer solar system, preferably moons. Do not buy asteroid nodes. They are for experienced miners only. Mining asteroids is completely different from mining on a moon. For starters you don't live where you mine. Asteroid miners commute from shared space stations or home-stations on Mars or a Jupiter moon. They own spaceships. They have to calculate the cost of fuel to get to work and bring back their payload every trip. They need to monitor their equipment remotely and be able to troubleshoot problems with network communication. Its also highly HIGHLY dangerous stuff.
Every kilogram you bring with you adds to your travel cost. Not to mention, you'll have to take your stuff home with you along with the weight of your payload. Don't bring anything you don't really need. Prioritize food, emergency medical kits, and anything vital for survival. Yes, you can get supplies from local space stations but depending on where you are, it might take weeks or months for a drone delivery. They aren't very fast and they can't carry very much. They also might never arrive.
Of course you can (and should) bring some entertainment and communication equipment. For your sanity among other things. I recommend light-weight legacy desktops and laptop computers. They aren't fully fitted VR rooms, but they did a good job entertaining people 50 years ago and they'll be fine for you. Bring some software and games on disk too. You will have access to the network (and the freenet with a little work) but there will be lots of LH delay and packet dropping.
Keep good records of your supplies during your time in space. You're by yourself. No one is there to save you. If you run out of food/water, nobody is coming to bail you out. You can use supply tracking software, a spreadsheet, or a piece of paper. Just keep track of your stuff.
You Might Actually Die.
Space is not a virtual experience. Its the real deal. Astronomical anomalies, dust storms, asteroids, exposure, and who knows what else will kill you. You're taking a risk for a reward. Keep an emergency beacon on standby with some kind of insurance process. That way, if you don't check in with the beacon every day it will send out a signal. Even if someone can't get there in time to save you, they'll at least be able to find your remains.
Some people have the mistaken impression that all they have to do is sit for a few years and the rocks will mine themselves. That's not the case at all. There's a lot of work.
The mining equipment can be programmed to do a few automated things. But it is not a replacement for you. You need to watch your gear and your monitors like a hawk. You have to do the hardest work manually to get the best quality product out of the dirt. A few weeks go by, and you hit nothing good. Then one day you're out working for 19 hours a day for two weeks straight. Be prepaired to do the work to get the most out of the node you paid for.
The surface from moon to moon varies greatly. Some surfaces are easier to mine than others. Over the years, miners have started to number moons by difficulty. Individual experiences may differ from the scale, depending on individual node location.
Not everyone is meant to be a solo miner. That's just how it is. You're going to be spending years by yourself. With some exceptions, the only communication you'll get will be heavily delayed from a series of relay stations. You're also living in a box. Some people adjust to it just fine. Others have mental breakdowns after only a few weeks. Ask yourself which scenario will most likely happen to you.
The solar system has a lot of surface area. 90% of the time there will be no visible souls on the horizon. What's more likely however, is sharing the same moon with multiple miners. The distance will be great enough that you wont see eachother, but commmunicating over the network will be quite speedy and convenient. Be aware though, some neighbors aren't very talkative. They're very protective of their area and don't want to make friends for fear of sabatage. Likewise, you should also use caution when engaging with other miners while on the job. Space mining is the wild west of the 21st century.
If you think you aren't prepaired to solo mine, there's always the option of becoming a company man. Mining for a company has some benefits. Most supplies and meals are on the house, and you have plenty of social opportunities with your fellow workers. However, the pay is not nearly as good. Companies are also known to abuse their workers while no one is looking out in the boonies.
Going home requires some decision-making. You and your payload leave at the same time, with whatever personal effects you're taking back. You pay a weight-based fee to a pick-up service that you must arrange. Some pilots wont drop everything to come to you if you're in some weird ass hard to get area. So make sure you have your pick-up booked well in advance. Some miners choose to leave their mining gear and portable home-station behind to save costs. You have a few options if you do this.
- You can just never come back for it, at which point it becomes public property. You can mark it on a public database, and scrappers will probably come to pick up anything of value.
- You can attempt to emit a reserve signal from your beacon indicating that you're coming back. Usually people do this if they aren't done mining. However, scrappers (and other miners) are known to ingore reserve signals.
Now its time to sell. The prices of material fluxuate depending on demand. There are charts available on the network that reflect the current running value of everything. At this point you can shop around for buyers and even haggle.
If you worked hard, you'll make a lot more money than what you put in. And if you were lucky, you'll cash out huge.