An asteroid (Illustration: MC)
A bunch of tech entrepreneurs and billionaires are getting together to mine asteroids orbiting the earth for precious metals. Planetary Resources, Inc., a new space venture company bankrolled by these billionaires, is scheduled to make the asteroid mining announcement out of California later today.
The company has been co-founded by Eric Anderson of Space Adventures and Peter Diamandis of X Prize Foundation. It has investment from Google’s CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, former Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr., son of Texan billionaire of the same name, according to early media reports.
Close to 9000 asteroids that orbit near the earth are said to be metal and mineral rich. These space investors intend mining some of them for platinum, palladium, osmium, and iridium which are scarce on our own planet and are prohibitively expensive. According to a story by Adam Mann of Wired, “Platinum alone is worth around $23,000 a pound — nearly the same as gold. Mining the top few feet of a single modestly sized, half-mile-diameter asteroid could yield around 130 tons of platinum, worth roughly $6 billion.”
Various estimates suggest that eventually Planetary Resources, Inc. will pump in trillions of dollars into the global GDP by mining asteroids. Prospecting asteroids has been long speculated but it is only now that a confluence of various technologies could make it financially viable over a long term. It is a very capital intensive and technology heavy enterprise but those involved believe that the time is right to do that in order that in the next decade or so we will actually begin bringing back these metals back to the earth. However, it is not clear yet whether the enterprise will mine and refine or simply bring ore back to the earth for refining here.
If not for anything else, for the sheer coming together of some of human history’s most complex technologies it would be exciting to watch this enterprise take shape. The mining , refining and shipping will be an unmanned affair to begin with but it is not altogether inconceivable that at some point in the future you might have space miners land on these asteroid to do the job themselves.
There is the inevitable question of whether space mining should be used for the limited purposes of satisfying our own ever growing earthy demand or we should, in fact, consider it as integral to creating satellite civilizations around our own planet. Expanding to near space objects is inevitable; the only question is how far into the future.
P.S. Excuse if my asteroid illustration looks like SpongeBob.
P.P.S.: Apart from the enormous challenges inherent to such an enterprise, I also apprehend that the Klingons might not take lightly to it.