If you remember the movie ‘Alien’, the crew was tasked with mining various planets and asteroids before their eventual demise on planet LV-426 (Everyone but the hero, that is). While that was science fiction, a new start-up company wants to make mining asteroids and other planetary bodies a reality.
Called Planetary Resources, the company is looking to explore the vastness of space. as well as mine valuable metals and water from resource-rich asteroids. To do this, the company will first deploy a low-cost ‘Arkyd-Series 100 Leo Space Telescope’ to search for near-earth asteroids that are rich in resources. Once potential asteroids are found, the ‘Arkyd-Series 200 Interceptor’ (a powered version of the 100) that houses additional scientific equipment will then head to the target and assume a geostationary orbit where it will collect further information on the suspected resources.
Once the information collected by the 200 series is confirmed, a ‘Arkyd-Series 300 Prospector’ with laser-based communications is sent out to survey the asteroid and collects information on its shape, density and surface/sub-surface composition in preparation for mining to begin. Initially, only asteroids that contain water will be mined as it can be broken down to its base components (hydrogen and oxygen) and used for fuel making the asteroid a kind of space gas station. The company hopes to use their Arkyd system as a cost-effective means of space exploration while simultaneously grabbing precious metals while doing so.
Concept art for the stages of mining: (1) Scan for targets (2) Up close data collection (3) In depth scan of asteroid (4) Actual mining operation
So far the company has no actual details of exactly how these planetary bodies will be mined (I have to go with the concept of Alien's Nostromo, send people there) and transported back to earth but the idea is intriguing to say the least.
The company was founded by X Prize board members Eric Anderson and Peter H. Diamandis. Although this effort seems far-fetched, several billionaire investors are banking on the quest. Director James Cameron, Google CEO Larry Page, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Google executive Ram Shriram, Ross Perot Jr., and Microsoft executive/verteran astronaut Charles Simonyi, to name a few. With the potential operating income, who knows what the future holds for Planetary Resources.