Water Rich Asteroid, courtesy of Planetary Resources

Water Rich Asteroid, courtesy of Planetary Resources

Imagine that a company with enough funding and brain power sends armies of spacecraft to observe thousands of asteroids and then mine them. Planetary Resources, Inc, unveiled its plans in April to mine near-earth asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. The resource-rich asteroids will soon be accessible by cost-effective exploration technologies developed by the company.

Bringing the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence

Two years ago, Planetary Resources became the brainchild of Peter H. Diamandis, engineer, physician, and entrepreneur, educated at M.I.T and Harvard Medical School. The Greek American formed a company to establish a “new paradigm for resource discovery and utilization that will bring the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence.” He partnered with Eric C. Anderson, aerospace engineer, educated at University of Virginia, to develop robotic space missions. Anderson, who is fond of space adventures such as suborbital spaceflights and flights to circumnavigate the moon, assembled a team of like-minded visionaries, industry pioneers, and rocket scientists to work on technical principles. They launched space telescopes in orbit to seek out asteroids and developed the first line in its family of deep-space prospecting spacecraft, the Arkyd-100 Series.

Exploring near-earth asteroids

At a cost of $1 million, each spacecraft brings commercial innovation to space exploration by studying and visiting near-earth asteroids in rapid succession. Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer, said “Our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems.” Increasing scientific knowledge of asteroids will make possible economic development worth billions of dollars.

Finding sources of scarce minerals

Space economy, courtesy of Planetary Resources

Space economy, courtesy of Planetary Resources

Each 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the platinum group metals that have been mind throughout history. Diamandis said: “Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications.” “In addition, water-rich-asteroids can provide space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots,”added Anderson. “Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system, and make space travel more economical, he pointed out.

Expanding mankind’s resource base

The start-up secured funding from a cadre of leaders committed to expanding the world’s resource base. Google founder Eric E. Schmidt said: “The pursuit of resources drove the discovery of America and opened the West. The same drivers still hold true for opening the space frontier. Expanding the resource base for mankind is important for our future.” He and co-founder Larry Page have invested millions in the project.

Planetary Resources is a stepping stone for a revolutionary movement in space exploration. With the spacecraft up and running in the next five years, tourism and recreation will develop the off- planet economy as scientific knowledge enhances man’s prosperity.

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