There have been whispers for the last 2 years or so about Planetary Resources. How could there not be. With a who-is-who list of ex astronauts, scientists and tech geniuses on is management staff, as well as some pretty hefty cash backing… what geek wouldn’t be curious what they were up to. Well, they let the news out yesterday. ASTEROID MINING!
In short, PRI sums up their plan to 4 phases:
- Tiny low orbit space telescope satellites targeting asteroids roughly within the same range as the moon. These are used to identify the most likely candidates. Highest priority, asteroids with water on them. With water, we can make fuel far more economically then you can ship it up via rockets ($20k per liter)
- Next interceptors are sent out. Imagine the tiny satellites in phase 1 with propulsion. They will head out to asteroids to capture more detail on them.
- Tiny Robot swarms are sent out to completely scan likely asteroids. Each has specific functional tasks like radar, thermic scanners, and electromagnetic scanners. As well as some tasked with simply transmitting all the data back to Earth.
- Asteroid exploitation. In the case of smaller asteroids, PRI has a couple strategies for capturing the little treasure box of materials and bringing it home to mother Earth. In instances of asteroids that are too large, robotic mining operations could be setup to make the asteroid a viable fuel or supply depot for further exploration.
I know what you are thinking… Can there really be enough of value on a asteroid to make it worth all this effort? The math says yes. Even if PRI does nothing more extensive then bringing in asteroids that contain water. That alone could turbo boost (hehehe) space exploration. A tiny 10 meter asteroid could have 120 tons of water in it… that translates to $2.4 Billion in costs if we needed to lift that by rocket into low orbit. But PRI has set their sights on the bigger prize of precious metals like platinum, gold, iridium, osmium, palladium, rhodium, and ruthenium. The quantities of these metals that can be found on asteroids far exceed anything we have down here on earth. PRI says an asteroid about 850 meters in diameter contains eight hundred thousand tons of precious metals worth about US$50 trillion. Those kind of numbers make me want to strap on a rocket booster myself!
In short, I think their plan seems sound, and PRI seems to be taking a very pragmatic and practical approach to a concept that has only ever been in Scifi novels. With a lot of backing and a solid 10 year plan… things could get really interesting in space in the next 20 years. E.E. Smith would be proud!
What do you think?