Star Trek was yesterday’s entertainment, and pure fiction to boot. But Planetary Resources is a business here and now, and the new company’s project could soon become a tangible reality. In an era of spiralling costs for raw materials, the American company is now planning to harvest rare earth metals from asteroids using robotic spaceships. Their eyes are on valuable minerals and metals such as platinum, iron, nickel and sulphur – all of which are of considerable interest to the tool manufacturing industries and others. Some asteroids are also believed to contain water. Tuesday last week the company founder Peter Diamandis gave a detailed description of the project, which plans to make the first prospecting flights into space within two years and determine which near-earth asteroids hold out promise of a commercial yield.
Another founding investor Eric Anderson, believes that a single 500 metre asteroid will contain as much platinum as has so far been won from the Earth’s mineral resources. Nevertheless, this is a high-risk and very expensive enterprise. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a NASA study estimating it would cost about 2.6 billion dollars to capture a 7-metre diameter asteroid in a robotic spaceship and position it in moon orbit, where it would be ‘mined’ for valuable minerals. So it is perhaps just as well that the project is supported by prominent investors such as filmmaker James Cameron and Google founder Larry Page.
More information can be obtained from the Planetary Resources web site.