Yup, Planetary Resources is all about asteroid mining — and it’s not as crazy as it seems

April 24, 2012

When first we heard about Planetary Resources — the mysterious space company launching Tuesday with the backing of big tech names — we had an inkling that the company was actually an asteroid mining outfit.

Now, the company’s true purpose has been revealed, and yes, it’s totally focused on extracting precious resources from asteroids. Wired’s Adam Mann had the privilege to talk with the folks behind Planetary Resources ahead of Tuesday’s launch event, and in addition to confirming its sci-fi sounding focus, he also revealed some interesting details about the mysterious company.

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources and founder of the space tourism company Space Adventures, told Wired. Anderson started the company together with Peter Diamandis, the X Prize founder who previously argued for space mining in a TED talk.

According to a press release sent out last week, they’ll be joined by former NASA Mars mission head Chris Lewicki, and former astronaut and planetary scientist Tom Jones,  at the launch event Tuesday. The company is notably backed by an impressive group of names, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, filmmaker (and explorer) James Cameron, and Ross Perot, Jr.

Planetary Resources mission will certainly be tough-going, but the rewards could be astronomical. According to Wired, the company “hopes to go after the platinum-group metals — which include platinum, palladium, osmium, and iridium — highly valuable commodities used in medical devices, renewable energy products, catalytic converters, and potentially in automotive fuel cells.”

With platinum now worth around $23,000 a pound, the company could mine around $6 billion of the stuff from the top feet of a typical half-mile wide asteroid (around 130 tons). But given that the company will have to spend tens of millions to simply scope out worthwhile asteroids, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the potential returns.

So where does Planetary Resources go from here? According to Wired, the company will launch two to five space-based telescopes in the next 18 to 24 months. And within five to seven years, Planetary Resources will send out a “swarm” of similar spacecraft to take a closer look at the asteroids (this alone could cost between $25 and $30 million).

The company isn’t yet revealing how it will actually mine, possibly refine, and deliver the ore to Earth. A video provided to Wired by Planetary Resources shows how robots could be used to dig up the precious minerals.

It’ll definitely be some time before we see the results of Planetary Resources’ endeavor, and it could potentially fail completely. But if the company even has a small chance of success, it would certainly be worth it to explore the possibilities of asteroid mining and figure out the big problems with the process now.

We’ll be live at the company’s announcement Tuesday in Seattle, so be sure to stay tuned for more details.

Copyright 2012, VentureBeat

AP

AP

This computer-generated image provided by Planetary Resources, a group of high-tech tycoons that wants to mine nearby asteroids, shows a conceptual rendering of a spacecraft preparing to capture a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid. The group's mega-million dollar plan is to use commercially built robotic ships to squeeze rocket fuel and valuable minerals like platinum and gold out of the lifeless rocks that routinely whiz by Earth.

AP

AP

This computer-generated image provided by Planetary Resources, a group of high-tech tycoons that wants to mine nearby asteroids, shows a conceptual rendering of satellites prospecting a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid. One of the company founders predicts they could have their version of a space-based gas station up and running by 2020.

: Inventions: What will we think of next?: Here’s a collection of some of the great uses of technology over the last couple of years.

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