In a highly anticipated announcement, new company Planetary ResourcesÂ has unveiled bold (to say the least) plans to eventually mine a selection of the 8,900 or so near-Earth asteroids for water and various metals.
The founders of the company say they aren’t going to waste any time, either. Within the next 18 to 24 months, Planetary Resources will launch multiple Arkyd Series 100 spacecraft, as they are calling them. These will have mass-produced telescopes capable of identifying which of the thousands of asteroids smaller than 50 meters will be suitable for hauling back to orbit around the Earth.
The second stage of the company’s plan is to send up Arkyd Series 200 spacecraft. These will track and further analyse selected asteroids. The next series of spacecraft, the Arkyd Series 300 “swarm spacecraft”, will start to survey chosen asteroids more closely.
All going well, the next stage will be to send multiple robotic spacecraft to retrieve an asteroid and bring in back to high Earth Orbit. Yet more spacecraft will be waiting in orbit to harvest the asteroid’s goodies when it arrives.
It is anticipated that actual mining of the asteroids will commence around 2025. Planetary Resources has projected that asteroid mining will create a trillion-dollar industry, and it will be the beginning of a new, and presumably unlimited, space economy.
It is envisaged that some of the uses for the abundant metals extracted from asteroids could be used back on Earth in electric transport, to reduce the cost of electronics, to drive innovation, and ultimately to “create a greener Earth”. The theory is that if the unlimited resources of space are opened up, we won’t have to plunder and pollute the Earth as we do now. It will also begin to open up the solar system for possible human colonization, if we as a species want to expand beyond Earth.
Along with others, one of the metals thought to be highly useful and abundant in asteroids is platinum. This metal is not naturally occurring in Earth’s crust. Most of it has been delivered to Earth by way of asteroid impacts. This plan by Planetary Resources involves going straight to the source, thus making this metal abundant.
Water too, could be highly valuable in space. Humans can’t explore space without the presence of water. As water contains both hydrogen and oxygen, it could well be used to fuel space “gas stations”, as the space economy develops. Both water and oxygen are difficult and expensive to launch from Earth, so it could help to make deeper space travel easier and less expensive.
What do you make of this astonishingly bold plan to mine asteroids for metals and water? The founders have stated themselves that they know they are going to have failures along the way, but that it’s completely doable and they are all in it for the long haul, including investors. Indeed, co-founder Peter Diamandis (also author of new bookÂ Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think) has said,
“With technological advances that are coming out of exponential technologies and investors willing to bear the risk, small teams are able to literally do what only governments and large corporations were able to do before.”
He may well be right there, especially as this small team counts high-level executives and founders of already successful corporations and projects. Investors include the likes of Google CEO Larry Page and Chairman Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot Jr, Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi, and filmmaker and deep sea adventurer James Cameron.