So obviously the big news today is the official launch of Planetary Resources, a new company formed for the express purpose of mining near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, some of which will be returned to Earth and sold on the market and some of which will be made available for use in orbital space.
Other companies have tried to do this before, but they have found it difficult to bring together the financial resources to make it happen. There are a lot of very expensive steps involve, starting with classifying the Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and determining which one(s) to begin mining. Next comes the launch of an infrastructure to support that mining (robotic miners, processors, separators, etc.). Finally, you would need some means of safely bringing the mined resources back to the Earth, not to mention an infrastructure for making resources available in orbit to those who might need them there.
The difference here, though, is that Planetary Resources likely has the financial backing to make this happen. Investors include a number of billionaires, such as Larry Page, Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr. James Cameron is also involved (I don’t know if he’s actually a billionaire yet, but he’s got a lot of money), and could provide a revenue stream simply by making movies or documentaries about what the company is doing.
Unconfirmed reports so far indicate that the company’s initial step will be the launch into Low-Earth Orbit of a space telescope designed to analyze Near-Earth Asteroids, in order to aid them in determining which asteroids would be the best targets for their operations. This telescope was estimated to launch sometime in the next 18-24 months, although this timeline would seem to be very aggressive unless they have been working on this for some time already.
The official announcement is at 10:30 AM PDT (1:30 PM EDT) today, and I will update this post based on information that comes out of that.
Confirmed that the target is Near-Earth Asteroids. The main goals of the mining efforts are precious metals such as platinum-group metals (PGMs) and water, which can be used as-is, or for radiation shielding, or to produce hydrogen and oxygen, possibly for rocket fuels for in-orbit refueling.
Confirmed that the first planned launch is to be in 18-24 months. The spacecraft that will be used first for prospecting and then for mining has already been designed, as the company has been in stealth mode for several years.
Mentioned that, as of today, we know of 8,931 Near-Earth Asteroids, but we mostly only know about the ones that are larger than 50 meters diameter. The company expects that there are more than 500,000 smaller NEAs.
Partial list of investors: Charles Simonyi (former head of Microsoft’s Application Products Group), Ross Perot, Jr. (Chairman of the Perot Group and son of the former Presidential Candidate), Rena Shulsky (New York Real Estate Developer).
Arkyd 100-Series: A Low-Earth Orbit Space Telescope for prospecting. Also a platform for testing communications.
Arkyd 200-Series: Prospecting system capable of leaving Earth orbit.
Arkyd 300-Series: A swarm of spacecraft that will actually do the extraction.
Will be leveraging advanced network computing in order to manage the swarms.
Planning such that failure is an option. Many smaller craft so that if some are lost, the company is not destroyed.
Company is based in Bellevue, Washington, and plans to stay small. They want a small team made up of the world’s best engineers.
Plan is to launch the first Arkyd 100-Series spacecraft within the next two years.
Expected timeline: Arkyd 100-Series over the next 2-3 years (Editor’s Note: Probably more like 3-6 years). Arkyd 200-Series over the following few years. They want to identify the first target asteroids to mine by the end of the decade.
The company has contracts with the U.S. government and other companies, and is already cash-flow positive.
Arkyd 100-Series can be also repurposed for Earth-observation.