In a press release that reads like sci-fi writing, a startup called Planetary Resources announced plans to identify, explore, tag, and finally mine asteroids for materials ranging from precious metals to water. The audacious venture is an attempt to locate and exploit a sustainable resource supply for Earth's ever-growing population.
"Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space," said Planetary Resources co-founder Peter H. Diamandis. "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."
Water is one of the main materials that the explorers will target. Not only would it be valuable to future space missions as both life support and drinking water for astronauts, it could also be used for rocket fuel, which can be made from water’s constituent elements of hydrogen and oxygen. The group also hopes to obtain platinum-group metals, which are abundant in asteroids. Diamandis estimates that a single 500-meter-wide asteroid could contain as much platinum and other rare (on Earth) metals than have been mined in all of history.
The company has no shortage of big-name, billionaire investors, including Google founder Larry Page, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the Perot Group.
For its first project, Planetary Resources is building a space telescope called Leo (low-earth orbit) at its Seattle headquarters, which will be used to scout for potential resource targets.
Photo: Illustration of the Leo space telescope. (Planetary Resources, Inc.)