Some would say it’s a long shot, some that it’s pure science fiction, but the challenge is on: mining asteroids for water, platinum, nickel and iron has never seemed more real than now! The initiative belongs to Google founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and X-Prize creator Peter Diamandis. With the hovering threat of resource exhaustion, think of the project as a goldmine.
They assure that as fantastic as it may sound, the project is feasible and people must have at all times the ensuing benefits in mind. For example, a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid with a diameter of 50 meters could provide all the oxygen and hydrogen every space flight will ever need. Now multiply that to 9,000, the number of asteroids circling Earth.
Or, more important, water! This can be used in its normal state, to hydrate cosmonauts, or decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen as rocket fuel. Just the thought of it makes Thomas Jones, a former NASA astronaut and an advisor to Planetary Resources, bubble with plans: “We will create a network of gas stations that opens the roadway to the solar system. It will dramatically decrease the cost of deep space exploration.”
However, not every material would have a space-related destiny: platinum and other valuable elements would end up in catalytic converters, fuel cells, batteries and various medical and electronic devices. The only issue remaining will be how to make them find their way back to Earth!
Fortunately, these people seem to know what they talking about and how to make it happen. In 2009, they put together a startup called Planetary Resources (rather explicit, isn’t it?) based in Bellevue, Washington, but the reason we’ve only heard of it now is because it took some time to raise funds (as expected). Now the company wants to launch Arkyd-100 Series in two years’ time, which will have as goal to overfly Earth’s low orbit in search for asteroids.
The startup’s daily operation will be headed by its president Chris Lewicki, with filmmaker James Cameron and former Microsoft chief technology officer David Vaskevitch on the board of advisors. Now, hearing James Cameron’s name on the list – the one who directed The Terminator, Aliens, Avatar, Titanic and others as such – didn’t you for one moment think that this might more sci-fi than at first sight? But just for a moment…