There’s gold in them there hills. You know, those ones floating around in space. Asteroids contain many tons of precious metals, making them irresistible to scientists, aerospace engineers, futurists, fiction writers … and tech billionaires.
A group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs will announce on Apr. 24 a new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth, in the process adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP, helping ensure humanity’s prosperity and paving the way for the human settlement of space.
“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, who founded the commercial space tourism company Space Adventures, and is co-founder of a new company along with Peter Diamandis, who started the X Prize foundation, which offers prize-based incentives for advanced technology development.
Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 150 feet in diameter orbit near the Earth. Some could contain as much platinum as is mined in an entire year on Earth, making them potentially worth several billion dollars each. The right kinds of investment could reap huge rewards for those willing to take the risk.
Outside of NASA, Anderson and Diamandis are among the most likely candidates to realize such a dream. Space Adventures has sent seven private tourists to the International Space Station while the Ansari X Prize led to a spurt of non-governmental manned spaceships.
“We have a long track record of making large-scale space ventures real,” said Diamandis.
Despite the promise of astronomical profits, the long time-scales and uncertain return on asteroid mining has historically driven most investors away from such undertakings. But the new company is also backed by a number of other billionaire luminaries, including Google’s CEO Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, former Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr. The venture also counts on filmmaker James Cameron, former astronaut Tom Jones, former JPL engineer Chris Lewicki, and planetary scientist Sara Seager as advisers.
Still, this new undertaking will be much larger and more ambitious than anything Anderson and Diamandis have attempted before. The hurdles are many and high. While the endeavor is technically feasible, the technology has not yet been developed. And beyond their initial steps, the details of Planetary Resources’ plans remain scarce.