This Company Wants to Mine Space Rocks

Arkyd Series 300 - Rendezvous Prospector. [Photo: Planetary Resources]
Asteroids are more than hunks of rocks floating in space. They are hunks of rocks that could potentially hold tons of useful minerals.

A company named Planetary Resources officially announced its plans to mine asteroids with unmanned spacecraft earlier this week. In a webcast announcement made on Tuesday, the company detailed its plans to launch a telescope within a few years to pick out potential mineral honeypots floating in space to be remotely mined.

It might sound an as farfetched as a moon colony, but the project has already garnered support from high profile investors such as Google co-founder Larry Page and filmmaker James Cameron.

Why, you ask?

Space mining could yield another source of Platinum-group of metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum) that are important materials used in computers, electronics, and automobiles. These metals can be found planet-side, but Planetary Resources says that they could be found in much greater concentrations and more easily in space rocks than in the Earth’s crust.

Like anything else involving space-travel, there will be many hurdles to overcome and steps before they can start mining an actual asteroid. First, Planetary Resources will launch its prospecting spacecraft, the Arkyd-100 Series, within the next 18 to 24 months. The exploratory satellite will orbit around Earth, picking out potential targets for resource extraction out of the approximately 9,000 known near-Earth asteroids.

Arkyd Series 100 - Leo Space Telescope. [Photo: Planetary Resources]

After the prospecting phase, which itself will take a couple of years, Planetary Resources says it will begin excavations with swarms of its Arkyd-300 Series spacecraft. But the company says there are too many variables to give a firm timeline on when the extraction phase would begin.

Beyond providing Earth’s population with a “sustainable source” of precious metals, the project could help future space exploration. According to the company, these asteroid extraction sites could be used as watering and refueling way-stations for deep-space exploration.

“Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources in a release. “In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant.”

[Planetary Resources via Space]

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