In the past week rumors started surfacing about a company called 'Planetary Resources', shrouded in mystery and backed by a rather impressive list of investors and advisors, the only known information was that this company would be planning to go to space and mine astroids for their valuable resources.
Well isn't that just awesome?When I first heard about this plan my thoughts were: "This is awesome! Why weren't these guys around YEARS ago!". But then I started thinking. In recent years we space enthusiasts have been presented with many cunning and daring plans for space exploration and exploitation, in those same years we have seen so many startup's that were soon never to be heard from again, why would this one be any different?
The main thought that crept up on me was "Well this is certainly very cool, but I bet that for the first 5-10 years we are not going to see any real action anyway, if at all!". So with that in mind I started seeking out some more information.
'Prospecting' for information.So, soon I stumbled upon an article on Space.com, the article is a short introduction to the initiative and a brief interview with one of the company's founding members. A few lines in the following quote's came.
Followed by:Of the roughly 8,900 known near-Earth asteroids, perhaps 100 or 150 are water-rich and easier to reach than the surface of the moon, Anderson said. Planetary Resources wants to identify and characterize these top targets before it does anything else.
And there it was, my first concern was already confirmed and they had not even had their big launch event yet. So right now we are looking at an initiative which _hopes_ to be able to start prospecting and scanning astroids with their 'LEO Space Telescope', probably no earlier then summer 2014. But then again, it is not an unrealistic thought that this will be severely delayed in one way or another. And even if it is not and when they do have their satellite in orbit and when they do start prospecting, we are still looking at years and years of number crunching and planning before we can expect to see any robotic mining installations traveling to the asteroids.To that end, it has designed a high-performance, low-cost space telescope that Anderson said should launch to low-Earth orbit within the next 18 to 24 months. This telescope will make observations of its own but also serve as a model for future instruments that will journey near promising asteroids and peer at them in great detail.
The prospecting phase should take a couple of years or so, Anderson added.
So what about the plan itself?Despite all the concerns surrounding these initiatives I still would like to keep a positive mind on them. After all, as a big space enthusiast I tend to drool at almost anything blasted off into space anyway!
The plans this company have are simply amazing, to go out there and mine astroids for their valuables. How cool is that! The plan for the harvested resources is to either bring them back to Earth (rare minerals) or to store them in outer space for later use (fuels, water, etc). Especially the latter part is _very_ interesting to say the least.
As we all know I literally costs thousands of Dollars/Euro's to even lift-off a single kilogram of material into orbit. And if it concerns humans going into space it costs even more, because of the supplies of oxygen and water required to keep them alive. So what if you could just mine an ice astroid, purify the water and store it in a station orbiting the Earth? Or break down that same ice astroid and use electrolysis to split it into hydrogen and oxygen? The possibilities are endless; the water can be used to resuply spaceships and stations, the oxygen as well and the hydrogen can serve as fuel for either ships or satellites.
If this technology works there would no longer be a need to spend thousands and thousands on rocket fuel, just to bring a few liter's of water into space. No, you just dock with a refueling station, transfer the required water from it and pay your bill for it. And meanwhile, robotic probes keep resupplying the station with fresh supplies.
So I think... this is the future, or at least, it will be... if they ever get to launch their robot's anyway!
For more information:
- Planetary Resources (official website)