Planetary Resources – the company I profiled this week that was founded by commercial space entrepreneurs and funded by high-profile billionaires – officially unveiled its plans yesterday.
As most people suspected, the company’s initial goal is to mine asteroids for precious resources.
More specifically, it’s after two things…
– Minerals. The company calls asteroids “the best real estate in the solar system.” That’s because “a single platinum-rich 500-meter-wide asteroid contains about 174 times the yearly world output of platinum, and 1.5 times the known world reserves of platinum group metals.”
– Water. After precious metals, it doesn’t seem like water would be such a hot commodity. But the company believes it’s just as important, as it can be broken down and used to develop rocket fuel. In fact, that same 500-meter-wide asteroid above “contains 80 times more water than the largest supertanker could carry and could provide… If the water were converted to rocket propellant, [the asteroid would produce] more than 200 times the rocket fuel required to launch all the rockets ever launched in human history.”
Sounds great… in theory. But how exactly are the minerals and water going to be extracted?
Well, the company isn’t exactly solid on all of the details at this time. But it does have at least one innovation on the way to kick things off.
The World’s First Asteroid Prospectors
Planetary Resources is building robotic spacecraft that it claims will cost “an order of magnitude less than current systems.”
Its first product, called Arkyd Series 100, or Leo, is basically a telescope placed in low Earth orbit. With a precision imaging system on board, Leo will spot near-earth asteroids (NEA) for later exploration.
Then, a second craft, the Interceptor, will do fly-bys of NEAs in order to scout out each asteroid for more data.
And finally, a third spacecraft, the Rendezvous Prospector, will be able to track down and determine an asteroid’s composition in deeper space.
The mission to find mineral-rich asteroids could begin sooner than you think, too, as Leo telescopes could be ready for launch in the next 18 to 24 months.
When it comes to actually mining these resources, however, the company is a bit hazy on the details. As the website says, “Recovery and processing of materials in a microgravity environment will occur through significant research and development.”
In other words: Who knows?
Once it solves that riddle, however, the company will be sitting on a goldmine.
Trillions of Dollars in Materials Rocketing Over Our Heads
There’s certainly not a shortage of asteroids to choose from.
According to Popular Science’s Clay Dillow, “There are roughly 9,000 NEAs currently on record, and that’s estimated to be just 1% of the total NEAs out there larger than about 165 feet.”
And the company’s co-founder, Eric Anderson, says that a single 80-meter asteroid could dish out $100 billion in materials. So it’s easy to see why the company thinks its work can “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.”
Plus, with almost 1,000 more NEAs discovered each year, Planetary Resources is virtually guaranteed an unlimited revenue stream once it begins the mining process.
Not to mention that extracting water from asteroids could come in handy if things get rough here on Earth. And it could also allow for deeper exploration of the solar system by creating what amounts to “gas stations” throughout space. Like Anderson says, the company’s technology will help deliver materials “to the point of need. Whether it’s a fuel depot orbiting the earth, or elsewhere in space.”
So we’re not just talking about resources to keep the world sustainable, but giving us the means to extend our reach in space farther than we’ve ever thought possible.
Here’s hoping they can make it happen.