A new private space company, Planetary Resources, has announced its intention to begin a long term venture aimed at prospecting and mining asteroids within the next 10 to 20 years. Ordinarily, such a venture would be scoffed at by most experts, but Planetary Resources has been operating in secret for the past 3 years (and perhaps longer) and has some astonishingly big name multi-billionaire backers, including Google founders Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, as well as Ross Perot, Jr., and an advisory board that includes movie director James Cameron, astrophysicist Dr. Sara Seager, former Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley, and astronaut Thomas D. Jones.
This is big news. And by that I mean really big news. If they pull this off, this will be the game-changing event for humanity’s future in space. Rather than having to boost hundreds of tons of fuel and material into orbit (and it costs roughly $20,000 to get just 1 liter of water into orbit), Space Resources will mine small near-Earth asteroids for water and other basic materials, creating depots in orbit, around the Moon, or perhaps the Lagrange points (though they didn’t say that specifically), and will presumably sell water, fuel, and material to NASA and other private space companies. Later, they would also begin to mine asteroids for precious metals such as platinum, which is rare and expensive on Earth but extremely abundant in space (and by the way, platinum is actually far more important for use in electronics and various chemical processes that it is for jewellery, which is the real reason for mining it in such massive quantities).
Here’s the full presentation of their April 24th, 2012, announcement:
For more information, Phil Plait has a nice long post on Planetary Resources.
And if you’re still sceptical of this, just remember: space has near-infinite resources, and near-infinite resources equals the potential for near-infinite profits. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the economics (∞ = ∞), but will take a genius to pull it off. It’s a good thing Planetary Resources already has a few geniuses on-board.