The cat got let out of the bag a little early, but Planetary Resources has now officially announced its existence and mission. We already told you that the venture plans to mine asteroids for profit, and is backed by a bunch of bigwigs from Silicon Valley and Hollywood. But now we know a bit more about the company after watching its announcement webcast and speaking with co-founder Peter Diamandis. Turns out, the company sees itself not only as a business venture, but as an entity that will pave the way for extending human influence throughout the solar system. Read on after the break for more.
Sure, Planetary Resources is hoping to find huge chunks of platinum and other precious metals and minerals in space, but its first priority is finding asteroids rich in water. You see, water is perhaps the most valuable resource in the cosmos not only because it's needed to support life, but also because it can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen -- which just happen to be the perfect rocket propellant. So, the plan is to find these H20-rich rocks in our solar system and use them as gas stations to fuel further exploration and enable the mining operations that follow.
To find its quarry, Planetary Resources won't simply be pointing a rocket at the nearest asteroid and hoping for the best, instead, its plan is to build a series of spacecraft to identify and prospect near-earth asteroids. These spacecraft, dubbed the Arkyd series, will be cheap (1/100 the cost of existing craft), small and lightweight (around 20kg), and will be deployed in swarms of up to 20 at a time. It's a new way of space exploration that relies on redundancy to ameliorate the risk of failure, instead of pouring considerable resources into one (hopefully) fail-proof vehicle. Plus, the company anticipates that its inevitable mistakes will help it iterate rapidly and improve the spacecraft technology from mission to mission. Part of the reason Planetary Resources thinks it'll be able to adapt so quickly is that it's leveraging and developing cutting edge technology with a small engineering staff of a couple dozen folks.
First up is the Arkyd 100 Series, a low earth orbit telescope -- capable of seeing up to 90 million miles away in ideal lighting conditions -- to find asteroids worth prospecting. It's also going to be made available as a private space telescope, initially costing around $3-5 million with the price dropping accordingly should customers proliferate enough to reduce production costs. Once appropriate asteroids are identified, then the Arkyd 200, a powered version of the 100 with additional instrumentation, will be deployed to intercept the asteroids and gather more detailed data on their contents. Once the highest quality targets are found, then the 300 series, with its advanced laser-based communications, will set to work surveying the "asteroid's shape, rotation, density, and surface and sub-surface composition" in preparation for mining to begin. Thus far, Planetary Resources has neither revealed how it will actually excavate these asteroids nor how it'll bring the potentially billions of dollars worth of cargo back to earth, but it's just getting started and the company claims that it'll be possible by leveraging unnamed future technologies.
The current plan is for the first 100 Series launch to happen in 18-24 months, and for the first asteroid targets to be surveyed by the end of the decade. When asked how the company was going to get its Arkyds into space, the company wouldn't say what launch vehicle will be used. Peter Diamandis told us that he is, naturally, quite fond of SpaceX's Falcon 9, but it's not the only option under consideration -- the Arkyd craft are small enough to hitch a ride on other satellite launches as a secondary passenger, so dedicated launch vehicles may not be necessary. Despite these (relatively) inexpensive spacecraft and launch options, there are questions as to how the company will make money in the short term. Not to worry, said co-founder Eric Anderson, as the company has completed its funding and already counts NASA as a customer of the Arkyd 300's optical communications technology.
Will Planetary Resources succeed in opening up an interstellar highway and unlocking untold riches in our solar system? No one can say for sure, but we know we'll be watching its progress with great interest, hoping for future gadgets made from stuff found in space.
ASTEROID MINING PLANS REVEALED BY PLANETARY RESOURCES, INC.
Expanding the resource base of humanity to include the solar system
Seattle, Wash. – April 24, 2012 – Planetary Resources, Inc. announced today its plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Through the development of cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is poised to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.
Resource extraction from asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity and grow to be valued at tens of billions of dollars annually. The effort will tap into the high concentration of precious metals found on asteroids and provide a sustainable supply to the ever-growing population on Earth.
A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history. "Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications," said Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Additionally, water-rich NEAs will serve as "stepping stones" for deep space exploration, providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots. Accessing water resources in space will revolutionize exploration and make space travel dramatically more economical.
"Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant," said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Of the approximately 9,000 known NEAs, there are more than 1,500 that are energetically as easy to reach as the Moon. The capability to characterize NEAs is on the critical path for Planetary Resources. To that end, the company has developed the first line in its family of deep-space prospecting spacecraft, the Arkyd-100 Series. The spacecraft will be used in low-Earth orbit and ultimately help prioritize the first several NEA targets for the company's follow-on Arkyd-300 Series NEA swarm expeditions.
Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, said "Our mission is not only to expand the world's resource base, but we want to increase people's access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems."
"The promise of Planetary Resources is to apply commercial innovation to space exploration. They are developing cost-effective, production-line spacecraft that will visit near-Earth asteroids in rapid succession, increasing our scientific knowledge of these bodies and enabling the economic development of the resources they contain," said Tom Jones, Ph.D., veteran NASA astronaut, planetary scientist and Planetary Resources, Inc. advisor.
Planetary Resources is financed by industry-launching visionaries, including Google CEO Larry Page and Ross Perot, Jr., Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group, who are committed to expanding the world's resource base so that humanity can continue to grow and prosper:
· Eric E. Schmidt, Ph.D., Executive Chairman of Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Planetary Resources, Inc. investor: "The pursuit of resources drove the discovery of America and opened the West. The same drivers still hold true for opening the space frontier. Expanding the resource base for humanity is important for our future."
· K. Ram Shriram, Founder of Sherpalo, Google Board of Directors founding member and Planetary Resources, Inc. investor: "I see the same potential in Planetary Resources as I did in the early days of Google."
· Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Planetary Resources, Inc. investor: "The commercialization of space began with communications satellites and is developing for human spaceflight. The next logical step is to begin the innovative development of resources from space. I'm proud to be part of this effort."
The company's advisors include film maker and explorer James Cameron; General T. Michael Moseley (Ret.); Sara Seager, Ph.D.; Mark Sykes, Ph.D.; and David Vaskevitch.
Founded in 2009 by Eric Anderson and Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Planetary Resources, Inc. is establishing a new paradigm for resource utilization that will bring the solar system within humanity's economic sphere of influence by enabling low-cost robotic exploration and eventual commercial development of asteroids. For more information, please visit www.PlanetaryResources.com.