To take up the career path of mining in Elite: Dangerous, you need some basic equipment on your ship and the location of a rocky or icy planetary ring. Having these, you can go and refine the chunks you blast off of asteroids into their base minerals or metals and sell them. Why is doing this better than buying and selling them between stations? Because there is no cost to the commodities you mine, which means every credit of their sale value is pure profit.
Mining; to some it’s the fishing of space, to others it is figuratively and actually, grinding rocks.
Equipping your ship
The absolute minimum equipment needed for mining is a refinery, some cargo racks and one or more mining lasers. This means the bar for entry into a mining career is pretty low. So what are these items for and what should I choose?
You can equip a Sidewinder with a Class 1E refinery and a single mining laser for 12,800 CR, while a single ton of Palladium can sell for over 13,000 CR, so there's money in them thar rocks!
The mining lasers drill into asteroids and cause chunks containing minerals or metals to break off and float into space. You can then retrieve these chunks and pick them up in your cargo scoop to be refined. Mining lasers are fixed hard-point weapons and only come in Class 1 and Class 2 (small and medium) sizes. They are purely for mining and cannot be used to shoot other ships, so effectively remove those hard-points for defence. Unless you manage to obtain the PowerPlay reward weapons, the Mining Lance, which can function as both a mining laser and as a weapon.
For best results; two Class 2 mining lasers.
The refinery is a specialist internal slot equipment item that takes ore from the cargo scoop, grinds it and extracts the valuable metals and minerals into bins. When these bins are 100% filled with a single commodity, they are emptied into a one ton cargo cannister and transferred to your ships cargo hold, freeing the bin for a new item (or more of the same).
The bigger and better a refinery, the more bins you get. A Class 1E refinery has one bin, while a Class 1A has four. The largest refinery is Class 4A and has ten bins. What this means is that the more bins you have, the more things you can refine at one time. If you only have two bins and find a asteroid that contains three metals, you will keep having to discard the hopper contents of the third commodity to manually "unblock" your refinery. This can be time consuming, so you must either get a refinery with enough bins to keep up with the different types of ore, otherwise you'll be throwing a lot of money into space.
The refined ore can be held in the refinery and is not considered cargo, so you can go back to mining at a later date and fill the other 50% of the bin with Gold to get that ton of cargo. Ships can also be stored with partially filled refineries.
For best results; the biggest refinery you can afford to fit!
It may seem obvious, but you do need a cargo hold to stick the refined metals and minerals into, when you have processed them. You should, for maximum profit, use all free internal slots for cargo space. The more you fill, the more credits you make.
For best results; it's all about the cargo space!
Scooping your brains out
When you are mining, you need to collect the ore into your cargo scoop. To do this manually, you must line up each fragment in your sights and click "target" then, with your cargo hatch deployed, scoop the ore from space. When the cargo scoop is deployed, your target reticule changes to a range-finder with a cross-hair. Keeping the targeted fragment in the middle of the cross-hair, slowly approach the object and it will pass below the nose of your ship and into your cargo scoop. With a clang!
While scooping ore to fill the six ton cargo space on a Sidewinder is not too arduous, however drilling and scooping to fill a largeer cargo hold is exceedingly laborious. So, in 1.2 of Elite: Dangerous, Frontier introduced Limpets that do the work for you.
Limpets for the win
Limpets are autonomous drones that carry out tasks while under remote control from your ship. There are fuel limpets to transfer fuel, hatch-breaker limpets that help pirates break open other ships cargo hatches and (what we are interested in) collector limpets, which grab any ore, materials or canisters in range of you ship and return them to your cargo scoop.
To use collector limpets, you need a Collector Limpet Controller fitted to an internal slot on your ship. Collector Controllers come in odd number classes – 1, 3, 5 & 7. The larger the class, the more limpets you can control at once and the longer the limpets will last and the further their range. You can (unlike refineries) have multiple limpet controllers, so they stack.
My Anaconda is equipped for mining and has two Class 5 Collector Limpet Controllers, so the ship commands six limpets at once - when mining ore the limpets rapidly collect all the spoil as it leaves the asteroid.
Limpet controllers program limpet drones and these have to be purchased, like ammo, in a station. Limpets are purchased from “Restock” menu and take up one ton of cargo space per drone. How many should you buy? As a rule of thumb, you should fill your cargo hold to 50-60% capacity with drones before heading out to a resource extraction site. Since drones have a finite lifespan and can be destroyed in collisions with asteroid, there is a fairly rapid turnover of drones.
When using drones, do not target ore (or canisters or materials) as the drone that collects the targeted item will self-destruct on return to your ship. Don’t ask me why.
The last type of limpet controller not already mentioned is the Prospector Limpet Controller. These also come in odd (not even) class sizes (1, 3, 5 & 7). They control one or more prospector limpets. What prospector limpets do, is when fired into an asteroid, tell you what ore the asteroid contains, what percentage of ores the asteroid is composed of and finally, the percentage you have mined that asteroid.
The Prospector Limpet tells you what you’ll get, when you have depleted the asteroid of ore and the best part; the limpet increases the yield of ore you can obtain.
Prospector limpets are well worth the cost, as they help you mine asteroids for the ore you want and give you a better volume of material.
The perfect mining ship
The ideal ship for mining should have both a Collector and Prospector Limpet Controller, two Class 2 mining lasers and all remaining internal racks converted to cargo space - half full of limpets.
Show me the money!
Okay, now you have your shiny new mining ship all set, where do you go?
You can mine in asteroid belts. These are usually found between the primary star and planets. The content of asteroid belts is determined by the type of star they orbit.
You can also mine for ore at any planetary ring, but there are three types of ring and each type will contain a different variety of ores.
- Rocky rings - These contain Bauxite, Bertrandite, Cobalt, Coltan, Gallite, Indite, Lepidolite, Rutile and Uraninite.
- Icy rings - These contain Bromellite, Hydrogen Peroxide, Lithium Hydroxide, Liquid Oxygen, Low Temperature Diamonds, Methane Clathrate, Methanol Monohydrate Crystals and Water.
- Metal rich rings - These contain Bertrandite, Coltan, Gallite, Gold, Indite, Lepidolite, Osmium, Painite, Praseodymium, Samarium, Silver and Uraninite
- Metallic rings - These contain Bertrandite, Gallite, Gold, Indite, Osmium, Painite, Palladium, Platinum, Praseodymium, Samarium and Silver
How do you know which is which? On the system map, selecting the second info TAB, you will see the ring type displayed. Which is best? Depends what ore or mineral you are seeking. The rare metals are only available in asteroids and are quite valuable. The most valuable items are Low Temperature Diamonds, but they are exceedingly rare, so in a time versus profit exercise, the metals will always win out.
Another factor to be aware of is the ring state. How mined out are they?
Rings will start Pristine and then decrease in worth to Major, Common, Low and finally Depleted. Obviously you want the Pristine rings if you can find them, as they will give the highest yields.
A bit of time spent on the galaxy map finding systems with ringed worlds and then checking which are metallic and pristine, before you set out, will save you a lot of time and make you a lot more credits.
Now you have found a nice juicy pristine metallic ring and your ship is launch, where do you start?
Sauron is not the only one with ring trouble
The Resource Extraction Sites (Low, High and Hazardous) are obvious targets to head for when mining, but they attract both undesirable NPCs, police ships and other players. Not only have you got competition for resources, but also a high chance of attack. Now while these sites tend to have better ore content, they also carry higher risk. So you either want a wingman to guard your back or (after 2.2 hits) a deployable fighter. Some extra guns and armour can’t hurt – but you’re two hard-points down because of the mining lasers, so a hired gun is a better option.
The alternative is to just drop into a ring anywhere, at least 2000km from the nearest RES site. There may be a slightly lower yield of ore, but it is all yours and there will be nobody there to bother you or compete with.
If you decide to log off and resume mining later, leave the ring in super-cruise first! If you log off, then respawn in a ring, the game spawns a few NPCs around you and one of them will almost certainly be hostile.
Selling your cargo
Once you filled your hold (or run out of limpets) you then want to head to the nearest refinery economy station. These station economies tend to pay better rates for metals and minerals.
A number of Engineers require commodities for upgrades that can only be obtained from mining, so you have the opportunity to barter these items with other players who don't have a mining ship or don't want to pursue a career in the rock business. Even if you don’t have Horizons, you can still mine materials and ores that Horizons players need.
Another thing to be aware of, especially in refinery economy stations, is the mission board. You will often see mining missions that pay out thousands or even hundreds of thousands of credits for just a few tons of Painite or Palladium.
Always check the mission board BEFORE selling your cargo. You can pick up these high-value mining missions even if you already have the required commodity on board, so picking a couple of missions could easily multiply the value of your cargo a dozen times over!