I have to give it to this group of billionaires, they have ambition. Planetary Resources, a new company founded by titans of the tech industry, and financed by the likes of Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and James Cameron are in the initial stages of their goal: to mine asteroids. Looks like our future is catching up to us quickly.
Planetary Resources envisions a future in which the value of resources extracted from near earth asteroids (NEAs) totals tens of billions of dollars annually as robotic spacecraft deliver precious metals to Earth and water ice to orbiting space stations, outbound spacecraft, or space depots that will serve as orbital “gas stations” by processing water into hydrogen and oxygen, two key ingredients for chemical propulsion (oxygen could also be siphoned off for breathable air supplies).
How will Planetary Resources pull it off? Details are a bit scarce at this point, as admittedly Planetary Resources itself hasn’t exactly figured out the entire process. (We speculated a few months back about possible approaches to space mining.) But the company is somewhat far along when it comes to laying the groundwork for the commercial space sector’s eventual push into deep space.
The company unveiled designs for two new spacecraft it intends to deploy in the relatively near term–the Arkyd Series 100 Leo Space Telescope and the Arkyd Series 200 Interceptor–the former being slated for launch within the next two years. Further robotic spacecraft will be developed to evaluate asteroids for their water and mineral content and to eventually mine and perhaps relocate them to orbits more amenable to mining.
Most importantly, Planetary Resources plans to do all this on the cheap. The first Arkyd Series 100 telescopes are expected to be relatively inexpensive, on the order of $10 million dollars each, and will hitch rides to low earth orbit aboard existing satellite launches. And the company’s philosophy is centered on opening up deep space and the asteroids that live there to exploration while keeping the company’s value proposition intact.
Doing so is not going to be easy, but it does have its economic allure. There are roughly 9,000 NEAs currently on record, and that’s estimated to be just one percent of the total NEAs out there larger than about 165 feet. A 1,600-foot diameter asteroid rich in platinum group metals–things like rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum itself–could yield the equivalent of all the platinum group metals ever mined on Earth, the company says.
As a verified space geek, I say ‘go forth!’, you crazy entrepreneurs!