Mining Asteroids in Space

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By Joshua Ostrer

There is another company out there setting goals that would make you think they are straight out of fantasy. That company is Planetary Resources and they’re going to mine asteroids.

Planetary Resources, originally named Arkyd Astronautics at the time of its founding in November 2010 and renamed this year, has a straightforward mission statement.

“The company will overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources,’” says an April 18 press release entitled “Space Exploration Company to Expand Earth’s Resource Base.”

Why try to mine asteroids? In the eyes of Planetary Resources, that answer is very simple.

“Everything we hold of value on Earth: metals, minerals, energy, water, real estate; are literally in near infinite quantities in space. Planetary Resources mission is to gain access to the natural resources of space by mining near Earth approaching asteroids,” says co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, Inc. Peter H. Diamandis, M.D.

Planetary Resources has a three-step plan to mining the asteroids. “Our plan for opening up the resources of the solar system is three-fold: first, we’re going to identify all of the most valuable near-Earth asteroids, where they are, what they’re made of and how to reach them; second, we’re going to develop the technology and the capability to transform those resources into valuable materials; and third, we’re going to deliver those materials to the point of need, whether it’s a fuel depot orbiting the Earth, or elsewhere in space,” says Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, Inc. Eric Anderson.

Planetary Resources has compiled an impressive list of investors including Founder of Google Larry Page, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi, and the director of Titanic and Avatar, James Cameron.

The only successful asteroid material ever returned to Earth came from Japan’s Hayabusa unmanned spacecraft, which collected 1,500 asteroid particles in 2005.

Planetary Resources believes it has compiled a team of technicians capable of achieving its goals.

Led by the former Mars mission Director and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki, the team is composed of many former JPL scientists.

It doesn’t seem like it has been too difficult for Planetary Resources to recruit.

“It’s very fun to do it once, it’s fun to do it twice, but when you have an opportunity like we have at Planetary Resources, where we can redefine how it can be done, that’s something that’s really attractive to people who have done things like land on Mars before,” said Lewicki.

There has been no shortage of skeptics. Many scientists have voiced their concern that Planetary Resources’ plan is simply not cost effective and will prove impractical.

However, Planetary Resources insists that it will be able to mine multiple asteroids for the cost of a single Mars mission. The company also believes that the amount of platinum they will find will ensure profitability, as platinum is currently valued at over $1,400 per ounce.

“Our vision is to catalyze humanity’s growth both on and off the earth…and in the end, the entire human race will be the beneficiary,” says Diamandis.

Planetary Resources plans to launch two to five telescopes into Earth’s orbit to identify potentially valuable asteroids within the next two years.

Within five to seven years, Planetary Resources expects to send out small spacecraft to the potentially valuable asteroids for a prospecting mission, the cost of which, they estimate to range between $25-30 million.

For anyone interested in Planetary Resources, visit their site at www.planetaryresources.com.

 

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