Asteroid Mining: A Quick Overview
In the past several years it has become very popular for the very, very rich multi-billionaire types to be interested in space ventures. Most of this has centered around commercial flights (Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic, Space X) for the lowly millionaires to go to space, but now a company called Planetary Resources has found several billionaires of its own to get behind their current project – Asteroid Mining.
Here’s a short video about this new, exciting project.
Where Do Asteroids Come From?
In the same Big Bang event that created Earth, the asteroids were made – of essentially the same materials. So the company plans to (over the next several decades) figure out how they can take water and mine precious metals from the NEAs – near Earth asteroids. Most of the asteroids in our solar system are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but there are about 9,000 NEAs – 1,500 of those are considered good prospects for asteroid mining.
What Do They Want to Mine from Asteroids?
The main things Planetary Resources is looking for are water and platinum group metals.
The water will be extracted and separated into hydrogen and oxygen (the main components of rocket fuel) to create what would eventually become little space gas stations. This would solve some huge problems – since
carrying heavy fuel from Earth’s surface is one of the issues holding back deeper human space exploration. The water could also be used for the astronauts themselves – you know, since humans need water to live and all.
Platinum Group Metals
The metals they are looking for are in the platinum group – including platinum, iridium, osmium, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium. These would be dug up and sent back to Earth for use in all kinds of things. Platinum is useful in making electronics, treating cancer, in pace makers, in making spark plugs, coating wind turbine blades, making expensive jewelry, and a myriad of other things. This would be great for us because the cost of electronics could potentially be so low that all kinds of technology would be available to a lot more people.
When will they be able to mine asteroids?
The predictions for how long it will take is at least 30 years. The reason it’s going to take this long to send spacecraft to prospect and eventually extract minerals from asteroids is because the technology for this does not exist right now. This, for me, is the most exciting part of the whole thing. Spin-off products will be sure to emerge from such a challenging pursuit, and the spin-offs from every other space venture have made all of our lives better and easier in some ways. I have no doubt it is possible. Human ingenuity has made totally automated robots that work on the bottom of the ocean (totally amazing), and this is really pretty similar to that.
Who is Planetary Resources?
On April 23rd, 2012, Planetary Resources announced their plans to mine asteroids. Who are these bold individuals, you ask? The usual – a small number of very, very rich entrepreneurs. If you don’t know their names, you know who they are anyway. There are more, but the main publicized backers are listed below.
James Cameron – Director of Avatar and Titanic. He will be an advisor to the company, since he is only worth a mere $700 million.
Larry Page – Co-founder and CEO of Google. He is a billionaire backer.
Ross Perot, Jr. – Son of Ross Perot, the former presidential candidate and electronics entrepreneur. He’s a billionaire backer.
Eric Schmidt – Executive chairman of Google. He’s a billionaire backer.
Charles Simonyi – The guy who made Microsoft Office. He is a space nut who has been to the International Space Station and up to space in Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
There are a lot of smarts in this group, and I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.
Visualize it Better…
Space.com opened this image up to us. We think it portrays the scenario pretty well