On April 24, a group of wealthy entrepreneurs, including Google Inc. executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and filmmaker James Cameron, formed a new business venture to survey and extract rare metals and minerals from asteroids.
Dubbed Planetary Resources Inc., the Bellevue, Wash. based company will begin its endeavors by selling low-cost robotic spacecrafts for information gathering missions, reported Reuters. In approximately two years' time, Planetary Resources hopes to demonstrate their technology and progress by launching a spacecraft into orbit.
Since my early teenage years, I've wanted to be an asteroid miner. I always viewed it as a glamorous vision of where we could go, said Peter Diamandis, another one of the founders of Planetary Resources, told a news conference Tuesday at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, reported the Associated Press. The entrepreneurs' goal is to make the resources of space available to humanity.
Approximately 9,000 asteroids larger than 150 feet in diameter orbit the Earth, reported Wired. Some could contain rare materials that could be extremely beneficial to the investors and the Earth's population.
The plan is to use commercially built robotic spacecrafts to obtain fuel and raw materials from asteroids near the Earth. However, the company also hopes to extract water, which can be used for fuel, from the gigantic space rocks as well.
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Planetary Resources hopes their advancements in technology will open the door to deep-space exploration of private companies, similar to the way the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition did, which Diamandis helped to create, reported Reuters. The prize was awarded to Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne in 2004 for providing the first flight beyond Earth's atmosphere from a private company.
Within five to 10 years Planetary Resources hopes to progress from selling observation systems to science agencies to actually engaging in space travel. The company hopes that by 2020, they will develop a refueling station in space, reported the AP. Water is extremely expensive to ship into space, so being able to have in key locations will allow people to lift off more easily and cheaply.
A depot within a decade seems incredible. I hope there will be someone to use it, said Andrew Cheng at John Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab, who was the chief scientist for a NASA mission to an asteroid, reported the Associated Press. And I have high hopes that commercial uses of space will become profitable beyond Earth orbit. Maybe the time has come.
Anderson said he is confident in the company, but knows it will take time before advancements really being.
We have a long view, Anderson said in an interview with Reuters. We're not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time,
However, the company leaders said the major payoff for Planetary Resources will come when they are able to mine platinum and other rare minerals.
If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it's the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land, Diamandis said, according to Reuters.
Diamandis also outlined the mission of the company.
Those precious resources caused people to make huge investments in ships and railroads and pipelines. Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth - metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water - is in near-infinite quantities in space, he said. The opportunity exists to create a company whose mission is to be able to go and basically identify and access some of those resources and ultimately figure out how to make them available where they are needed.
Several scientists not involved with the project were concerned about newest venture. According to the Associated Press, they do not believe it would be cost effective, even by mining the precious materials. An upcoming NASA mission will cost a $1 billion to bring 2 ounces of asteroid to Earth.
But the company hopes that extracting water will help drive the costs of space exploration down, since it could be using for drinking, growing food and also for fuel. However, Anderson did acknowledge there will be potential problems with the new endeavor.
There will be times when we fail, Anderson said. There will be times when we have to pick up the pieces and try again.
He also said he is confident that the benefit to investors and humanity will be worth all the failures, according to the AP.
We do understand that the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, if it's successful, will be big.