A recent CCP news article featured the story of a small corporation mining moons in null security space, on the sly, right under the nose of the big mega-alliance that held sovereignty in the area. The moons selected were not the mega-valuable moons that the end-game alliances squabble over in their great wars. Instead, the moons were carefully chosen to be lucrative without being noticed by the controlling alliance or worth dislodging. Even if the mining starbases are noticed and blown up, they are likely to have more than paid for themselves by the time that happens.
These more modest moon materials may not pay for titans by the fistful, but they still yield enough passive income to bankroll a moderately sized corporation. The thing is, using a POS (short for Player Owned Starbase, and also called 'towers' by some players) is intimidating and arcane, and plopping them down in nullsec is risking a big chunk of capital that might be vaporized overnight if the local inhabitants get wind. Thus, the need for this guide.
This article is the first half of a guide to the general concepts involved with "ninja mining" a moon without being a mega-alliance. This half of the guide contains the basics of moon mining, how to find valuable moons, surveying the materials contained in a moon, and assessing the risk level involved in settling a particular moon. The second half of the article will contain shopping lists, the basics of setting up a mining POS, and some tips on increasing profits.
The primary player skills required is the ability to move around dangerous space without losing ships, the mild discipline required to keep a POS fueled, and the ability to move decent amounts of goods around empire without wasting time. There are many different skill sets involved and, although this could easily be done by an individual, it is small corporations that can effectively cooperate that best excels that this.
The basic idea is to put up one or more small, low-cost moon mining POS in innocuous locations at the edge of occupied areas of space, harvesting moons that would otherwise lie fallow. Such moons are common in less-used portions of EVE space, where large alliances often only have the motivation to mine the really high-end towers. The towers can be left nearly defenseless (to contain losses if they are blown up), but keep in mind that unless the moon is on the more valuable side, there is little incentive to blow them up.
The fuel for the tower is best smuggled in with a blockade runner, that can then smuggle the mined product out on the return trip. A blockade runner of any race can hold at least two weeks of POS fuel for the towers that will be used for this project. Capital ships may be used as well, but for the purposes of this article I will assume a blockade runner.
If the targeted moon is well-chosen, the mining POS should more than turn a profit before it is noticed and destroyed, if ever that occurs.
What Is Moon Mining?
Some moons contain valuable materials that can be mined out with POS. The POS produces 100 units of the material in question, each hour, and stores them in a silo. The silo is then emptied periodically, and the product sold in empire. Because this is a form of passive income, accruing whether the owner is logged in or not, it is one of the better ways to earn isk in EVE.
Unlike asteroids, it is not immediately obvious what materials are inside moons. They must be surveyed with special probes. Another way that they differ from asteroids is that they do not ever run out of their material. A cadmium moon is always a cadmium moon, and always will be. Some moons have more than one material, as well.
There are a few caveats regarding moon mining. First, most moons contain junk materials or nothing at all. The valuable moons are rare, and the most valuable are the object of serious contention between alliances. Second, moons in high security space cannot be mined due to a hard-coded game mechanic. Sorry, high-sec dwellers. Third, POSes are relatively high-profile. Even after the changes in the Dominion patch, they express a note of territoriality. When corporations put down a POS, they are saying "I live here, this is mine." Thus, if a POS is put down too close to an established alliance, they may react with hostility.
Fortunately, blowing up even an undefended POS is a thankless task. Unless a capital fleet is involved, it can take a pilot hours. If even a few small weapons are included in the POS setup, it becomes a job for a battleship fleet. Again, I stress: as long as the tower is not on a material that the local alliances wants, isn't in a threatening location or used as a base to launch attacks, and isn't in a critical system, it is in all likelihood completely safe.
How Do I Find Good Moons?
There are several public databases of collected moon scan information. None of them are one hundred percent reliable, but they are all decent starting points. Consider: there are several thousand solar systems in EVE. Each system can have up to a hundred moons. Thus, probing out all the moons is very impractical. Instead, use a body of moon data as a base, and if you see something you like then you can fly out and check it yourself.
Moon materials are be found on the market under Manufacture & Research / Materials / Moon Materials / Raw Materials. They are classified in complicated categories based on rarity, but you don't need to worry about that. Your only concern is how much is a given moon material is worth on the Jita market.
Because the fuel for a small POS costs about 70,000 isk per hour, any moon mining operation must produce goods worth more than that. Each Moon Harvester array produces 100 units of whatever material it has been assigned. Thus, in order to break even on operation costs, a moon material must sell for at least 700 isk per unit. This is not hard. All but the most basic of moon materials are worth more than this. But the good moon material are worth much, much more.
The moon material market is incredibly centralized. Aside from self-contained operations, almost all of it runs through Jita. When assessing the potential worth of a moon, use a site like EVE-central or an alt to check the Jita price of a given moon material.
Because the moon material market is so hectic at the time of this writing, I am hesitant to list specific materials to go after. Technetium seems like it will be the new king moon material, but that could be the result of artificial inflation or large stockpiles of other materials being dumped onto the market.
The onus is upon you to find the best moons in your vicinity. You must be able to reliably fuel the POS with fuel purchased in high security space, and you must be able to get the mined materials to Jita for sale.
Hawwing And Hemming
As of this writing, the best public moon database is the Dotlan Maps site. It has an incredible interface, and a decent repertoire of moons in its database. Find a lucrative moon in an area that is readily accessible to you based on your EVE lifestyle, and go probe it to confirm that it has the listed material.
For example, if a pilot lives in the Curse region (an NPC-controlled area of nullsec), that pilot might find that the neighboring alliances did not pay too much attention to what happened in the systems along the edges of Curse. So the pilot could sift through Dotlan to try and find acceptable moons in those systems, and then fly to check them out. Some moons will already be occupied, others may turn out not to have the material that was listed. That's all right, keep looking.
Some moons only appear in a particular area of EVE space. Other moons are found in all areas, but are more common in some places than others. Some moons, like those than contain cadmium, tend to "clump up" in particular constellations, where several can often be found. The really good moons will always be owned by larger alliances, and these should be avoided unless there is another large alliance backing you up.
The Nuts And Bolts Of Surveying Moons
The category of probes used to check what kind of materials are in a moon are called Survey Probes, and they can be launched with an Expanded Probe Launcher I. Unlike normal probes, survey probes fire directly out of the front of your ship, and accelerate in whatever direction your ship was moving. In order to use them correctly, a ship must warp to the moon in question, 'align to' at it, and then fire the probe. After a variable amount of time, depending on what kind of probe is used, the moon scan results are returned to your scanner window under the moon analysis tab.
If a pilot sends out probes and then logs out, docks, or leaves system, the connection to the probes ends and no results are returned. The exact skills needed to probe vary depending on the kind of probe being used. In order to use quest or discovery probes, a pilot must train Astrometrics III, Science III, Survey III, and Electronics I. The three varieties of survey probes are:
Quest: The low-end option, these take forty minutes to return results. On the plus side, they only take up 5m3 of cargo. In a system with an abundance of moons, it might make sense to use these.
Discovery: The middle-end option, these take ten minutes to return results, but each occupies 10m3 of cargo.
Gaze: The cadillac of moon probes, these only take five minutes to return results. Unfortunately, they require Astrometrics V and Survey V in order to be used.
When surveying moons, be careful of existing POS. They will blow your ship out of the sky. Use the directional scanner from a nearby planet to check your target moons for existing POS, before you warp to them. Even when using a cloaking ship, it is sometimes dangerous to warp to a moon. This is because the relationship of the POS to where your ship will leave warp is more or less random, meaning the POS shields could potentially de-cloak your ship.
I've Found A Moon, Now What?
So you found a moon, and are pretty sure nobody will notice you mining it. You don't think that that there will be any problems maintaining a supply line to high-sec from there. Now you need to assemble your POS, buy a fuel cache, convey them to your target location, and set up the POS. Then you need to do some profit calculations, and consider ways to make even more isk from your expanding moon empire.
This and more will be covered in the second half of this column, later this week.