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Cosmic quarry: A team of scientists have unveiled plans to mine asteroids for their raw materials
  • Scientists due to unveil plans to extract raw materials from space rocks
  • Plan would add 'trillions' to global GDP
  • One 100-foot asteroid can contain $50 BILLION of platinum
  • Spacecraft could mine near-earth rocks for platinum
  • Platforms will also allow further exploration of space
  • Backed by Google chiefs as well as James Cameron

Nasa has already successsfully landed a probe on an asteroid, Eros, 196 million miles from Earth Google chiefs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and filmmaker James Cameron are bankrolling a venture to extract precious metals such as platinum from asteroids that orbit near Earth.

Planetary Resources, based in Bellevue, Washington, initially will focus on developing and selling extremely low-cost robotic spacecraft for surveying missions, the company announced today.

A demonstration mission in orbit around Earth is expected to be launched within two years, said company co-founders Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson.

Within five to 10 years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services.

It plans to tap some of the thousands of asteroids that pass relatively close to Earth and extract their raw materials.  

A 98-foot asteroid can hold as much as  $50 billion worth of platinum (£31 billion) at today's prices, said a company spokesperson.

Not all missions would return precious metals and minerals to Earth. In addition to mining for platinum and other precious metals, the company plans to tap asteroids' water to supply orbiting fuel depots, which could be used by NASA and others for robotic and human space missions.   

'We have a long view. We're not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time,' Anderson said in an interview with Reuters.   

The real payoff, which is decades away, will come from mining asteroids for platinum group metals and rare minerals.  

'If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it's the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land,;     Diamandis said.   
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'Those precious resources caused people to make huge investments in ships and railroads and pipelines. Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth - metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water - is in near-infinite quantities in space.

'The opportunity exists to create a company whose mission is to be able to go and basically identify and access some of     those resources and ultimately figure out how to make them available where they are needed,' he said.   

Diamandis and Anderson declined to discuss how much money has been raised for their venture so far.

In addition to Google billionaires Page and Schmidt and filmmaker Cameron, Planetary Resources investors include former Microsoft chief software architect Charles Simonyi, a two-time visitor to the International Space Station, Google founding director K. Ram Shriram and Ross Perot Jr.   

Planetary Resources also declined to discuss specifics about how and when asteroid mining would begin.

The shortage of sources for raw materials on the planet has caused global inflation to spike in recent years causing tensions to rise between nations, experts have said.

The company's first step is to develop technologies to cut the cost of deep-space robotic probes to one-tenth to one-hundredth the cost of current space missions, which run hundreds of millions of dollars, Diamandis said.

Among the targeted technologies is optical laser communications, which would eliminate the need for large radio antennas aboard spacecraft.  
Space entrepreneurs Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson are just two of the names behind Planetary Resource. In a press release, the company announced its intentions to create 'a new industry in space and a new definition of natural resources'.

Diamandis and Anderson - both known for their aspirations for commercial space exploration - will host the launch event along with two former NASA officials.

A driving force behind the Ansari X-Prize competition to spur on non-goverment space flight, Diamandis has made no secret of his goal to one day become an asteroid miner.
In an interview earlier this year with Forbes magazine, he said: 'The earth is a crumb in a supermarket of resources.

'Now we finally have the technology to extract resources outside earth for the benefit of humanity without having to rape and pillage our planet.'

Hollywood film maker James Cameron is no stranger to daring exploration.

Just last month the director of Titanic and Avatar became the first solo diver to  reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep - the deepest point on Earth.

It might seem like a radical concept, but scientists have been toying with the idea of mining asteroids for their natural resources for longer than the space program has been running.

Experts believe it is only now that we have the technology and ability to discover and characterise a sufficient number of small near-Earth asteroids (NEA).

The mining could yield a large amount of water - frozen inside the asteroids - oxygen and metals which could not only be brought back to Earth but could help further space exploration by allowing humans to fuel spacecraft and build space stations.

Nasa believes capturing placing an NEA in lunar orbit could provide a unique, meaningful and easy-to-reach destination for exploration by astronaut crews in the next decade.

It is only now that the sufficiently-powerful electric propulsion systems necessary to transport a captured NEA are becoming available.

Mining asteroids could take several forms. This includes sending humans in a spacecraft to an asteroid to explore and mine it.

Another possible scenario could involve launching a robotic spacecraft to either to mine an asteroid directly or transport it closer to Earth so it could be reached by humans more easily.

Extracting raw materials, such as iron and nickel, from the space rocks is a possibility that has been discussed for decades.

However, the obstacles for such a mission has always been the cost, sufficient scientific expertise and technical prowess.

It could cost tens of billions of dollars - and could take well over a decade - for astronauts to successfully land on an asteroid, NASA experts have said in the past.

Source: The Institute for Space Studies


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