To find decent ore in low security space, one has to go look for them. Each system has a number of known, stable belts. Whose location remain constant and each marked by a beacon, easily found by any interested pilot or pirate alike.
However, these belts have poor quality ore and for solo operators like myself, I need more exotic rocks to make it worth while. Most pilots are now aware that there are many 'hidden' belts - either shrouded in temporarily visible deadspace bubbles or rock fields that have a long and fast orbit, taking them out of a system and into the depths of space. It is these hidden belts that make me isk. Since they have not been found and exploited - the make up of the ore is usually rarer than the more stable belts. As an example, a 0.2 system in Minnie space usually has omber as it's rarest and most valuable ore. Omber is a great ore but it can be found in quantity and in far safer Empire space. No, within the 0.2 systems, hidden belts yields ochre and gneiss belts to name two.
Knowing this, I had been working hard on prospecting around a number of 0.1 and 0.2 systems; avoiding pirates of all types and fanatical capsuleers now embroiled in faction warfare - an Empire war by proxy in regions of low security space. The process for prospecting is quite simple:
1. I move from low-sec system to low-sec system, dropping exploration probes until I get a hit for a hidden field. It comes up as a deadspace signature oscillating on a certain frequency. All ore bearing asteroid fields, regardless of the ore type has the same, unique frequency. Usually, the hit is very, very faint. The more faint the signal return, the more hidden and therefore more valuable the ore will be. The last positive return was wafer thin in terms of signal strength - but it was there and so tantalising.
2. Once I have confirmed that the system has a hidden belt and it's available, I drop more accurate probes around each planet and scan away. Most asteroid fields, whether hidden or not, feel the gravitational pull of celestial bodies and therefore they have a varying orbit around the planets. The system I was in possessed seven planets but four were clustered close to the central star so one probe, dropped near the sun, covered all four planets. The three remaining planets, each got one probe. A total of four probes were deployed.
3. Once you find the belt (after many attempts) - warp to it in a combat ship and kill off any rats and come back in a mining barge. Rats occasionally wander back so make sure you have things bookmarked for a quick exit.
So, in some detail: when I am sure that I have found a hidden belt and seeded the planets with probes, I proceeded to scan through the results.
The first five hours yielded cosmic anomalies and other space debris but no deadspace signature. It's possible that the belt may have become 'lost' - the deadspace bubble it's in collapsing completely. To check, I dropped a new system-wide probe and yes, it confirmed that there was a hidden belt here and I reseeded the probes around the selected planets. I adjusted their placement slightly, emphasising the probes to concentrate towards the fourth planet. I just had a gut feeling that the hidden belt was sprawling out towards it.
Prospecting like this takes a lot of time and patience but being cloaked in a covert-ops I had plenty of time with little danger of being spotted.
After almost a day of patiently sifting through tera-bytes of data, there was small beep from the scanning array. I had a special rig built to scan for ores and it was a custom job, cost me an arm and a leg. Am hoping the isk I get from the mining will allow me to purchase one of those Sisters Of EVE exploration probe launchers. They are the dogs nuts, so to speak.
I examined the results and it was a creditable hit but it's accuracy was still about 0.75 AU. I warped there and dropped a more accurate but shorter ranged probe and concentrated on this area. Another an hour later, I managed to get within 7000km of the belt and dropped the most accurate probe I could find. It was close now and I knew that I would get it.
My covert-ops was whipping it's way towards the signature - the distance to it counting down and in a flash, I found myself inside a huge belt. Gneiss and Ochre in huge quantities all slowly rotating around their own axis. I couldn't possibly be able to mine all this before the belt disappeared once more: either due to it's own orbit taking the rocks out of the system or the deadspace bubble collapsing. Until then, I had time to mine and mine.
I can actually see this forming into a service: I go out and prospect and find these hidden fields and sell the location to larger, more established mining operations. Then the risk and reward of low-sec mining is borne by these organisations and not me.
Anyway, I have a 'low-sec mining op in a barge' setup already in place and hauled an industrial class ship and a repackaged mining barge to the station nearest to the hidden field and started the operations.
Mining in low-sec requires all hands and eyes on the job. None of this going to sleep and waking up to a hold full of ore. In low-sec, I need to keep an eye on local for unfriendlies, keep an eye for other scan probes (who's looking for me?) and the ever present Angel Cartel sniffing around. No afk here otherwise I would most certainly, lose my ship or worse.
A quick count told me that I have discovered a hidden belt with about 48 very large asteroids and a 50/50 split between Gneiss and Ochre and all varieties too. I started to cherry pick the best ore: the obsidian ochre and prismatic gneiss.