Planetary Resources Inc. has announced its intention to go to the asteroid belt to seek to mine critical and precious metals, including rare earth elements. No I’m not making this up, and as far as I know, there were no men in white coats standing at the back of the room. In my humble opinion there should have been. But first coverage of the 21st century’s most ambitious aspirational project.
Could mining in space be the future for resources?
Tuesday 24 April 2012
From Avatar to Aliens, mining in space has been a staple of science fiction. And now James Cameron, the man behind both those films, is part of plan to make it into science fact.
He is part of an illustrious team of wealthy entrepreneurs and scientists looking to kick-start a project to hunt for precious metals among the asteroids of the solar system.
The prize is certainly a rich one. Asteroids are rich with many valuable elements which are rare on earth. A 500-metre asteroid could yield more platinum than has ever been mined in history. Rare earth metals – crucial to all kinds of modern industrial applications, from solar panels to low-energy light-bulbs, are all abundant. The trick is to get there, and get them back.
The venture, Planetary Resources Inc certainly has some powerful backers: Google founder and chief executive Larry Page is helping to fund the project, as is Google chairman Eric Schmidt. The computer pioneer and former presidential candidate Ross Perot is also behind the company.
The founders of the project are Peter Diamandis, one of the pioneers of private space flight, and the space tourism pioneer Eric Anderson. At a press conference in Seattle, they outlined their ambitious plan.
“Since my early teenage years I have wanted to be an asteroid miner,” said Mr Diamandis.
While I am sure that one day mankind will get to commercially exploit the resources of the solar system, I doubt at 63 I will live to see this plan come to success no matter how much help the project gets for the exploitation of the 21st century super material, graphene. The economics of such commercial exploitation currently make no sense at all, even if we could accomplish the difficult feat of mining an asteroid. Personally, I rate it happening decades after Japan successfully mines last year’s announcement of millions of REE tonnes discovered on the sea bed of this planets oceans. “Since my early teenage years I have wanted to be an asteroid miner,” said Mr Diamandis.” Well I’m all in favour of aspirations, though I think we need more earthly miners at present and for the immediate future. In my teenage years I wanted to be a mathematician, but found dealing with numbers confusing.