When you think about it, the idea of space mining, however farfetched, really could solve some of the world’s niggling problems. With the mining industry moved onto extra-terrestrial facilities, no longer would there be concern with increasing size of tailings facilities on earth or issues with acid rock drainage and other toxic elements. The scarcity of many elements—and possibly all elements—could be eliminated. And of course, with these problems solved, the price of many scarce elements may even come down.
Once the stuff of fiction, the mining of asteroids could make the jump from the pages of sci-fi to outer space in a matter of years, said the co-founder of Planetary Resources at a press conference in Seattle today.
“If you think about what has driven human exploration over time, it’s been the search for natural resources,” Peter Diamandis told the attendees at Seattle’s Museum of Flight Aviation. Diamandis announced the company’s plans to mount a robotic space mining project that’s getting some big-name backing from such names as Canadian filmmaker James Cameron, Google’s founders and Ross Perot’s son.
“Whether it is the exploration 500 to 1,000 years ago of China, or the Europeans heading to the Americas searching for gold and spices or the American settlers searching for timber, land, gold, oil…these are the things that have driven us over the long term,” Diamandis told the tittering (“tweetering?”) crowd.
Planetary Resources, he says, will get the mining process started within two years by launching satellites to find viable asteroids for mining.
Somewhat surprisingly, the company expects the satellites to cost just a few million dollars to build.
“We’re going from a species that used to use only resources within a day’s walk, to a species that has access on our planet to a species now that has access to the resources in our solar system,” Diamandis said.
“Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system,” co-founder (and co-founder of Google Inc.) Eric Anderson said. “In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant.”
Planetary Resources is the latest brainchild of Eric Anderson, whose company Space Adventures has helped millionaires and billionaires go on 10-day trips to the International Space Station; and Peter Diamandis, the motive force behind the multimillion-dollar X Prize program, the Rocket Racing League and the Zero G Corp.’s weightless-airplane tourist venture. Anderson and Diamandis serve as co-chairmen of the venture they co-founded.
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