Private Company Wants To Mine Asteroids, Fight Space Invaders, Get That Damn Frog Across The Street

Let's start by saying, this isn't some bunch of crazies saying they've hit space gold, or a presidential candidate spouting off Bond villain nonsense. This proposal has teeth. The management of Planetary Resources has pedigree. President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki was Flight Director for two NASA Mars missions, and manager for a third. Co-founders Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson started Project X, which gives cash prizes to groups and firms that achieve technological breakthroughs. The staff is made up of former NASA scientists, engineers, and two astronauts. Financial backing is coming from billionaires Ross Perot, Jr., Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and James "I like space almost as much as I like water" Cameron. I'm honestly shocked that Richard Branson didn't throw in his two cents. This is a serious group of people working towards a serious goal: mining natural resources from asteroids.

And, most importantly, they aren't going into this whole hog. They're doing the smart thing, the scientific thing. Standing on the shoulders of giants, they're taking baby steps. They plan to start with a series of small telescopes, like the Arkyd 101, to observe and classify asteroids as possible subjects for further interest. At first, they're going to concentrate on asteroids that contain materials needed for further missions. Space gas stations, essentially, places where water, oxygen and other essentials can be naturally obtained rather then brought from Earth. These resource bars would act as launch pads for the end game: the discovery of asteroids containing, and eventual mining and transport back to Earth of, minerals and materials we need here. And they aren't thinking of doing this next week. Space technologies takes a long time, and they're playing the long game here. The first telescopes will be launched early next year, at the earliest.

There are still major hurdles to overcome before any of this can actually happen. Launch of the telescopes will happen in partnership with other space firms, including Space X. This is good, it's the beginning of a private space based economy. Once they get to the mining stage though, we're still a little short. We'll need to be able to tow the rocks, a technology that is of immediate importance to the entire planet, if we're to ever hope to divert possible impacters, which will happen, it's only a question of when. Unfortunately, it is a technology that is still only a theory. We'll also need mining equipment, processors, and transports to do the work, and ever since the retirement of the space shuttle, only Russia has a working, reusable space vessel. And that is a near-Earth orbit vessel. Asteroid mining would occur much farther out, the safest place being in orbit around the moon, a place humanity hasn't been too since 1972.

Personally, I feel this has the potential to be the most significant space based mission since the Apollo project. It lays out a realistic plan, over a reasonable timetable, to accomplish something extraordinary. It isn't being influenced by war, or aggression of any kind. It stands to be a financial windfall, and a way to supplement dwindling resources on Earth. But most importantly, it could represent the first stage in a permanent manned presence in space. Moon bases make for great science fiction, but space stations are easier to build, easier to maintain, and easier to get to and from. Being able to tether asteroids, build facilities to mine them, possibly position them in Lagrange points, are all huge steps forward technologically, and culturally, and could be the motivator, like the moon missions were to an entire generation in the mid twentieth century, that gets droves of young people interested in astronomy, engineering, physics, chemistry and other sciences that make the discoveries that change the world.

Phil Plait is a smarter man then I, and has much more information, and his own thoughts, on the subject. I highly recommend you check it out at his Discover blog.

Via The Bad Astronomer.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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