Commercial Asteroid Mining Project

A new space exploration company is announcing their intent to create a new industry and redefine “natural resources” by mining asteroids. Planetary Resources plans to launch a small, low cost, space telescope that will discover asteroids and examine them to determine what valuable metals and elements they contain. Ice and platinum group metals are among their top targets. Teams of robotic spacecraft will be used to intercept and mine the asteroids.

Asteroid Mining Mission Revealed by Planetary Resources, Inc. – [youtube.com]

Planetary Resources’ mission is mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Through the development of cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is poised to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.

Planetary Resources – [planetaryresources.com]

21st Century Job: Asteroid Miner – [youtube.com]

Asteroids – [nss.org]

As an example of the economic value of space resources, let’s consider the smallest known M-type asteroid, the near-Earth asteroid known as 3554 Amun (two kilometers in diameter): The iron and nickel in Amun have a market value of about $8,000 billion, the cobalt content adds another $6,000 billion, and the platinum-group metals add another $6,000 billion.
— John S. Lewis, Mining the Sky.

The Promise

There are vast numbers of asteroids in near-Earth orbits, some of which are easier to access than the Moon. The potential mineral wealth of these asteroids is so great that huge profits could be made once we can start mining them for materials to be sold to markets on Earth. Like space solar power, this is one of the potential revenue sources for the large startup costs for the first space settlements.

Asteroids can also be an enormous boon to orbital settlements. Orbital settlements must import their materials from either the Moon or asteroids. Diverting a few small (30-70 meter diameter) asteroids into Earth orbit could supply all the materials needed for early orbital settlement development.

Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study, Keck Institute for Space Studies, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2012) PDF 51 pages

New Study Says Asteroid Retrieval and Mining Feasible With Existing and Near-Term Technologies – [parabolicarc.com]

A new study sponsored by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) has concluded that it would be possible to return an asteroid weighing approximately 500 metric tons to high lunar orbit where it would be mined for resources by 2025.

The Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study, published on April 2, was prepared for KISS, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Co-leaders of the study included John Brophy of NASA JPL/Caltech, Fred Culick of Caltech, and Louis Friedman of The Planetary Society and participants included representatives of other NASA centers, various universities, institutes and private companies.

The report may provide a preview of what a new company named Planetary Resources spearheaded by the X PRIZE Foundation’s Peter Diamandis will unveil during a press conference in Seattle next Tuesday. Two of the 34 study participants were Planetary Resources President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki and former astronaut Tom Jones, who is an adviser to the company. The start-up – which is backed by Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft mogul Charles Simonyi, filmmaker James Cameron, and Ross Perot, Jr. – says it will “overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.”

Company aims to strike it rich by mining asteroids – [phys.org]

A group of high-tech tycoons wants to mine nearby asteroids, hoping to turn science fiction into real profits. The 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. One of the company founders predicts they could have their version of a space-based gas station up and running by 2020.

SEE ALSO:
Mining Asteroids
Life in the Asteroid Belt
Stepping Stones to Space
Economics in Space

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