Five days ago we detailed how a group of investors that included Google co-founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, director James Cameron, CEO of the X-Prize Foundation Peter Diamandis are funding a project known as 'Planetary Resources' that would help “chart the future”, “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP” and ultimately “[breed] a new definition of 'natural resources'.” Open to interpretation at the time of writing, the company has today revealed exactly what that all means; fuelling a new age of space exploration and eventually mining nearby asteroids for precious metals and rare minerals.
Although the idea of asteroid-mining for resources sounds a little insane, if phenomenal, the rewards that the company can expect to yield from the project is even more incredible. $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum, Diamandis noted within the press conference held at Seattle's Museum of Flight, can be held within a single, 30-meter long asteroid. “Everything we hold of value on Earth – metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water – is in near-infinite quantities in space,” he added.
Diamandis, who has been at the forefront of driving innovation in the sector of space exploration – having bankrolled the non-profit X-Prize Foundation since its inception in 1995, instrumental in bringing commercial spaceflight so close to reality – is expected to bring his exemplary drive, ambition and experience to the project and is one of the key figureheads in Planetary Resources' tantalising arsenal. The company, which currently employs only 20 people or so, is being overseen by former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki and has been operating in secret for the past three years now.
Don't expect the mining of asteroids to come any time soon however, we're still looking at a time-scale of decades rather than years for that particular venture to come to fruition. For now, Planetary Resources' aim is to drive the cost of robotic spacecraft down in order to make it commercially viable for private industry to have a role in deep-space exploration. “We're taking new approaches at design,” Diamandis said. “Part of the philosophy we're taking is building very low cost, very small spacecraft. You put up six or ten or dozens and you get reliability.”
Within five to ten years, the company is hoping it will be in the position to start selling orbiting 'observation platforms' in a bid to start the ball rolling in terms of extracting raw materials from the asteroids that pass relatively close to the Earth and to ultimately close in on their grand plan to “add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.”