Space

Is asteroid mining about to begin?

Is asteroid mining about to be...
Planetary Resources may be looking to start mining asteroids (Image: NASA)
Planetary Resources may be looking to start mining asteroids (Image: NASA)
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Planetary Resources - A vision of asteroid miningImage: NASA
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Planetary Resources - A vision of asteroid miningImage: NASA
Planetary Resources may be looking to start mining asteroids (Image: NASA)
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Planetary Resources may be looking to start mining asteroids (Image: NASA)

Planetary Resources, a new player in the commercial space industry, is backed by a host of tech and aerospace luminaries with an integrated personal net worth on the far side of US$30 billion. A press release from the company hints that it will look to establish asteroid mining operations in space.

The President and Chief Engineer of the new company is Chris Lewicki, president of Arkyd Astronautics and former NASA Phoenix Mars Lander mission manager. A press release states, "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."

Various Internet sources speculate, based on this statement, the name of the company, and the past interests of some of the officers and investors, that Planetary Resources will be aiming toward asteroid mining, probably with a strong robotic slant. Some types of asteroids are profligate ores of the noble metals, such as gold, platinum, iridium, and rhodium, and thus ripe for exploitation.

The investors and advisers associated with Planetary Resources include:

  • Larry Page - Google
  • Eric Schmidt - Google
  • K. Ram Shriram - Google
  • Peter Diamandis - X-Prize Foundation - Space Adventures - Singularity University
  • Eric Anderson - Space Adventures
  • James Cameron - Film maker and explorer
  • Charles Simonyi - Intentional Software and two-time space tourist
  • H. Ross Perot, Jr. - Perot Systems and pilot of first round-the-earth helicopter flight
  • Tom Jones - Former NASA Astronaut and planetary scientist
  • All will be revealed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, when Planetary Resources will hold an inaugural press conference and presentations. Gizmag will cover this press conference and publish an extended article in which their plans and goals will be laid out.

    Source: Planetary Resources via Technology Review

    74 comments
    Michael Mantion
    there is no ore valuable enough to make this profitable..
    Alex Lekander
    This is the most utilitarian reason for going to space, and probably the best motivation for getting space exploration moving along pretty quickly. Lets hope it's cost effective enough to actually work.
    Walter Costescu
    @Michael That's what people once thought about commercial flight
    Paul Smith
    "there is no ore valuable enough to make this profitable.. " Then you should contact these people who are some of the richest and smartest in the world and let them know.
    Slowburn
    re; Michael Mantion
    If we assume $10000 per kg cost to orbit and a 1500kg craft it will cost $15000000 to put it into space. A 747-8F: costs US$333.5 million the space craft will cost less. So lets assume a cost of $348500000 and a price of gold of $1500 troy ounce or $48225 per kg you will make a profit at 8 m tons of gold. And you will still have your space craft.
    Swede
    No matter what your estimate is of the available physical resources on our planet, they are finite. Eventually they will run out. The gamble is not on whether this concept becomes profitable but when. Also, spin off technologies from the research and development can not be predicted but should be expected to weigh in on the profit and loss statement.
    Ross Jenkins
    Maybe initially, but like a lot of start up resource acquisition projects. They don't make money until they get economies of scale on their side. There is a finite amount of natural resources on our planet. And not nearly enough of the rare earths for our consumption. This will add those necessary resources to the global economy. On top of that it's a more worthy investment in resource aquasition then say, oil wells in the south pole... Fair play to them in my opinion. Someone needs to take a big risk on space exploration / colonization for it to work. Otherwise our monkey species will never see ourselfs reach our true potential.
    William H Lanteigne
    Lunar mining and manufacturing would make more sense. Processed ore and/or finished goods, manufactured in Lunar factories, could be launched to Earth via an equatorial, circumlunar, solar-powered high-speed maglev rapid transport rail system that would double as a launching system; such a launching system could also launch probes and man-carrying craft anywhere in the solar system at a fraction of the cost of launching craft from the Earth's surface.
    Slowburn
    re; William H Lanteigne
    The asteroids have easier access to the high value ores that this company is looking to mine and the mine and smelting waste can be used as reaction mass in a variety of rocket designs.
    Bob Ehresman
    A fairly small Class M rock can be expected to hold more Platinum Group metals than has ever been found or mined on earth. Some of the highest purity deposits on earth come from impact sites.
    Platinum and friends are awesome catalysts. A dip in price here on earth from a significant influx of new resources would open up higher efficiency tech in a lot of chemical areas. Fuel cells for instance.