Forget exploration. Forget tourism. Following the money, the next big development for space may be exploiting its resources. In April, a group of billionaire investors, space experts, and former NASA engineers announced ambitious plans to mine asteroids. Their company, Planetary Resources, is already constructing a telescope, which it expects to launch within two years, to prospect likely targets. Swarms of cheap robotic craft built on an assembly line would be deployed later to do the mining – water and ordinary metals would be used in space, while precious metals would return to Earth.
“Landing spacecraft on another planet is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can ever do,” Planetary Resources’ president and chief engineer (and former JPL Mars mission manager) Chris Lewicki says. “But when you have an opportunity like we have to redefine how it can be done, that’s really attractive.” If the company succeeds, the payoff for investors such as Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt could be, well, astronomical. According to Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X Prize Foundation and a Planetary Resources co-founder: “A 500-metre asteroid of the [optimal] metal chondrite contains more… precious metals than have ever been mined in the history of humanity.” That’s awfully attractive, too.
A 7 m-diameter, 450-ton asteroid could have hefty amount of resources:
Platinum group 0,0015 % This might seem like a small concentration of the precious metals – only 7,5 kg – but it’s three times denser than the richest terrestrial deposits.
Water 20 % Future astronauts could use the 90 000 litres of H2O) for life support or convert it into rocket fuel.
Iron, nickel, cobalt 18 % Nearly 90 tons of common metals could be used for space-based manufacturing and for building space stations and habitats for colonies.