The first trillionaire could be an asteroid prospector, if you believe entrepreneur Paul Diamandis. Asteroid mining is very much in its infancy, but Luxembourg wants to get in on the ground floor. Deep Space Industries and the government of the small European grand duchy announced Thursday a partnership that will help advance the technology required for spacecraft to mine highly valuable asteroids.
Prospector-X, the partnership between Luxembourg and Deep Space Industries, will be a research and development mission exploring experimental technologies that could be used in future asteroid mining missions. "The opportunity to partner with Luxembourg on Prospector-X allows a number of the key technologies for cost-effective deep space operations to be rapidly flight-tested in advance of more complex missions," Daniel Faber, CEO of Deep Space Industries, said in a statement. Luxembourg's space resources initiative was revealed in February. In its attempts to enter the asteroid mining industry, the tiny country is seeking partnerships with Planetary Resources — backed by the likes of Google founder and CEO of Alphabet Larry Page, Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt and Sir Richard Branson — and Deep Space Industries, with a headquarters on its territory.
Deep Space Industries will develop a small spacecraft that will fly in low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft will test the Deep Space Comet-1 thruster that uses water as a propellant. The spacecraft will also test a two-camera optical navigation system and avionics that could later navigate a craft to an asteroid. Each of these technological components will be evaluated on a small scale, making it a cost-efficient way to gather data on the feasibility of asteroid mining.
Instead of a scenario in which someone or something drills into an asteroid a la Bruce Willis in "Armageddon," expect something less apocalyptic. Asteroid mining, it is predicted, will be conducted by spacecraft scooping up handfuls of precious materials. Asteroid 2011 UW158, which made its closest approach of Earth at 1.5 million miles in 2015, could contain anywhere from $300 billion to $5.4 trillion worth of platinum and other precious minerals. Asterank has a full list of asteroids along with their values. Asteroid mining could also make deep space exploration a reality. Common asteroids with carbon and water could serve as fueling way stations for future spacecraft on their journey through the solar system.