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Billionaires and NASA veterans launch gold rush to mine asteroids

Planetary Resources Inc. announced it will mine asteroids and acquire new raw materials like water and precious metals from space. The astonishing claims are backed by billionaire investors like Larry Page, founder of Google, or Charles Simonyi, space tourist along with former astronauts, NASA veterans and space industry gurus. The company plans to launch its first spacecraft within 24 months and promises to mass produce satellites for prospecting and mining Near Earth Objects.

concept art for asteroid mining


"Good morning everyone, I am Chris Lewicki, asteroid miner" - started president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources inc., and collected a round of applause as he unveiled his plans to mine asteroids for water and platinum group minerals. At the Tuesday morning press conference in Seattle, the method was presented to possibly harvest tens of billions of dollars annually by developing low cost solutions for space exploration and using it for commercial purposes.


According to Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of the company, income from asteroid mining can truly be astronomical, as a single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history. “Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” told Diamandis to reporters.

Arkyd 100 in Low Earth Orbit

Apart from precious metals, plans also include collecting water from icy objects. These will serve as “stepping stones” for deep space exploration, providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots. Accessing water resources in space will revolutionize exploration and make space travel dramatically more economical. “Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman. Currently a single liter of water for the International Space Station is in the range of 20,000 USD, which is expected to drop drastically once the program is operational.

Possible targets for prospection are high in number: currently we have a knowledge of about 9000 Near Earth Objects, about 1500 of which have an orbit which is commercially feasible to reach. Some of them are even more easily approached as the Moon. According to Planetary Resources however, 99% of possible NEO-s are yet to be discovered, which is why they started to develop the Arkyd 100 series satellites which will function as their primary tool for prospection. These will be low cost space telescopes, produced and launched in high numbers, and will provide much needed data on nearby asteroids. Once the most promising candidates are chosen, the next generation Arkyd 200 crafts will carry a propulsion system, allowing flybys and more detailed information on possible targets. The final 300 series is then expected to operate in swarms, land on candidate asteroids and analyze samples directly.


Each step of the project is designed to be commercially viable. The Arkyd 100 will be rentable space telescopes, which are also able to turn toward the home planet and provide Earth observation data upon request. The 200 and 300 crafts will also spark interest of the scientific community before any actual mining has taken place. As Lewicki put it, "our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems." "The promise of Planetary Resources is to apply commercial innovation to space exploration. They are developing cost-effective, production-line spacecraft that will visit near-Earth asteroids in rapid succession, increasing our scientific knowledge of these bodies and enabling the economic development of the resources they contain," added Tom Jones, Ph.D., veteran NASA astronaut, planetary scientist and advisor for Planetary Resources.

The company currently employs about two dozen engineers, but does not plan to grow too rapidly. However, Planetary Resources is actively looking for cooperation partners to tackle various engineering challenges. Peter Diamandis, who was also a founder and chairman of the X Prize foundation, specifically called out to GLXP teams to work together for mutual benefits.

Financial support is granted mostly by tech billionaires, like Larry Page, Eric E. Schmidt and K. Ram Shriram from Google, Charles Simonyi from Microsoft but also by Ross Perot jr., son of former US presidental candidate and film maker and explorer James Cameron. After three years of Cameron's blockbuster movie, Avatar, where humans travel to distant worlds to mine precious minerals, the science fiction of the story comes suddenly closer to reality.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 25 April 2012 10:01)

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