US firm plans to mine asteroids

2012-04-25 08:26

San Francisco - A start-up backed by top Google executives and film director James Cameron on Tuesday unveiled a plan to mine asteroids for precious minerals and water.

Planetary Resources used a space museum in the Pacific Northwest city of Seattle as a launching pad for a bold plan to prospect on resource-rich chunks of rock not far from Earth in space.

"The promise of Planetary Resources is to apply commercial innovation to space exploration," said former Nasa astronaut Tom Jones, an advisor to the start-up.

"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."

Planetary Resources said that it was "poised to initiate" space mining missions in what it predicted would become a multibillion dollar industry.

Deep space exploration

A single 500m platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history, according to the start-up, whose backers include Google co-founder Larry Page.

"Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space," said Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis, who created the X Prize.

"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."

Water-rich near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) could be springboards for deep space exploration by serving as fuelling and supply depots, according to the company.

"Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space," said Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson.

"In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant."

More than 1 500 of the approximately 9 000 known NEAs are as reachable as the moon in terms of how much energy it would take for the trip, according to the firm.

The company has developed the first in what it said will be a family of prospecting spacecraft dubbed Arkyd-100 Series.

"Our mission is not only to expand the world's resource base," said Planetary Resources chief engineer Chris Lewicki.

"We want to increase people's access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems."

  • mnbain - 2012-04-25 08:52

    That is fricking AWESOME :>

  • E=MC2 - 2012-04-25 09:14

    now thats cool!!

  • craig.a.salter - 2012-04-25 09:32

    NExt up on googles list. google shuttles to take us to our new home on the moon

  • cwboshoff - 2012-04-25 09:33

    That's so cool!!!!! Eve online for real, hehe

  • Vicker - 2012-04-25 09:39

    Where do I buy shares in this start-up?

  • Werner - 2012-04-25 10:14

    Hope they will find some RHINO HORN too???

      pieter.f.cornelius - 2012-04-25 10:44

      Maybe the Chinese should focus on cloning rhinos and not sheep?

      cwboshoff - 2012-04-25 11:28

      I like that idea, then they can harvest their own rhinos and leave ours be!

  • Lanfear - 2012-04-25 10:19

    Fantastic! :)

  • jason.dutoit - 2012-04-25 10:24

    who will own the asteroids?

      Werner - 2012-04-25 10:25

      The ANC!

      cwboshoff - 2012-04-25 11:35

      rofl, we all think only about how cool it would be, and you go and spoil our fun by asking a serious question! I suppose there will have to be some kind of "Earth Alliance" formed that will consist of members from all the countries on the planet that have their interests at heart. (This is getting very Start Trekkie.) Oh there's gonna be war about this issue! I don't even wanna start thinking about it. Obviously there will be new laws and everything, we have to think about bringing foreign stuff into our atmosphere that could harm our environment and all that. Completely new territory really, I think NASA will try to worm their way in there and get a piece of each and every pie from outer space! I say again, there will be war, it's kinda inevitable.

  • Ben - 2012-04-25 14:08

    Should have called the company Weyland Yutani Corp...

      jaco.jansen1 - 2012-04-25 15:29

      @ Ben: Sharp Bru!

  • ben.bezuidenhout3 - 2012-04-25 16:22

    You better buy yourself an astroid. I have deeds if anyone wantsto buy, ONE TRILLION EURO for a size 500m wide. HAHA

  • Jaco - 2012-04-25 17:10

    so i'm totally for this asteroid mining plan, very futuristic... just thinking a little ahead, if this becomes really profitable and they mine the living hell out of every asteroid the earth would actually become heavier since these are external sources, would we eventually shift into a new rotational field further away from the sun? guess the solution long term would be to remove as much sand and dirt from earth as the mining material you bring in to keep an equilibrium.

  • marius.dumas - 2012-04-26 00:41

    For 4 billion years, thousands of asteroids have developed a harmony as they are surrounding the earth as relatively stationary objects. These asteroids have been left behind from the early solar system in an equilibrium of forces relating to cycles and relative positions to each other where this harmonious relationship exists. The equilibrium of forces keeping these small to massive rocks in place, is nothing more than extremely faint forces in a perfect, but extremely complex balance. These forces are gravity, drag, centrifugal forces, momentum and a few others. If you disturb this harmony it will be like having a board balancing on a nail with hundreds of rocks all over in perfect positions to allow this board to balance perfectly. What will happen when you move, remove, resize one of the rocks? The balance is disturbed and nature will accelerate towards a new equilibrium where the board and rocks are scattered all over the floor. What I mean is, do not attempt to change the mass, metals, position, speed of any of those stationary asteroids. Climate change, HIV, weapons of mass destruction will become the least of our problems since the earth gravity may just end up being the strongest biasing force to determine the new direction for the disturbed objects.

      marius.dumas - 2012-04-26 01:17

      If the US or very least the UN allow this it would be incredibly dangerous. Maybe not that much if you do only one or so. But once more are getting disturbed and the equilibrium gets disturbed, we will get disturbed by asteroids no longer in harmony and no longer stationary. At first we will not notice anything since the differences in forces grow exponentially with time. Very little at first, but the more it shifts the stronger the disruption gets, the faster it will start to move. I’m not sure what kind of delay to expect but the disturbance may be enough to set the process into action. This could possibly be a very big risk to take.

      cwboshoff - 2012-04-26 09:24

      It's still a cool idea! This may quite possibly pave the way for further exploration into unknown space, advancements in technology etc, we might even find another earth like planet that we could colonise! So exciting! Don't just think of the bad, there will be some good that comes along with it too.

      marius.dumas - 2012-04-26 10:07

      Every NEO has a force of gravity that is in equilibrium with every other. If small amounts are extracted it is not a problem. For example volatiles are constantly escaping from them in any way. The amounts required for space travel and so on is not a problem. The problem comes when more companies start to see it as resources and significant mass is removed. The equilibrium gets disturbed we may create a bigger threat to earth regarding asteroid impacts. That harmony is the reason the earth is not bombarded with asteroids anymore the way it was in the early solar system. It is not just about thinking only about the bad, it is a real case or risk assessment that will be required. having a million ton rock aiming for you at 200 000km/h is not to be ignored by positive thinking. If a asteroid is removed for example, you will find in the first hundred years that it only shifted with a hundred km or so. But soon in let say 200 years they acceleration and displacements might rich way beyond 80 000km affecting all nearby NEO’s to suffer the same fate. It is certain that the earth gravity will gain dominance over many of these disturbed NEO’s. It will not happen for many years but at some point of no return they disturbance will accelerate rapidly. If they want to do this they must go far away from us. Where larger planets like Jupiter can absorb the disturbed asteroids. Disturbing NEO’s is a bad idea.

      marius.dumas - 2012-04-26 10:28

      We should just remember that burning coal, fossil fuels, deforestation and mining without considering the consequences also seemed like a cool idea not to long ago. For those who can profit, they will stop at no cost. We have prove over and over that during the course of history that humans are greedy and foolish when it gets to exploiting resources and nothing has or will change. We cannot even manage the consequences of the havoc we created on earth, how will we solve the problems we create in space around us then. Humans should learn from their mistakes. Don’t look at what is the chances for things to go wrong up there, think of when things go wrong, do we have the ability to recover it, can we recover a equilibrium of forces that formed over 4 billion years to the required precision once they started to drift noticeably? The answer is no, we don’t.

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