James Cameron’s Planetary Resources Explains Plan To Mine Asteroids, Launching In 2 Years
Planetary Resources is a new company backed by such luminaries as James Cameron, Ross Perot Jr., and the CEO of Google. As we told you last week, their stated goal is to begin mining asteroids for valuable materials. This morning the Planetary Resources team took to the stage in Seattle to explain how they’re going to do it.
They have a three step plan, outlined by Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson at the press conference earlier today. Here’s what they’re doing:
- They’ve created a line of spacecraft called the “Arkyd” line. These will be launched into space within the next twenty-four months.
- Once they’ve launched the Arkyd they’ll start prospecting. They need to examine potential asteroid targets and pick out exactly which ones they want to go to. They’ll do that using space telescopes mounted on the Arkyd spacecraft.
- Final step… go. Do it. Start mining asteroids for valuable materials using robots. They hope to reach this stage within the next 5 – 10 years.
So what are they planning on mining, specifically? They have two targets.
- Water. Its elements are the most efficient form of rocket fuel. Hydrogen and Oxygen. Also provides water to support life in space. Making water more readily available in space will reduce the cost of space travel overall.
- Precious metals like Platinum. The precious metals we find on Earth are the result of asteroid impacts. That means it exists in abundance out in space. Platinum currently costs $1500 an ounce. Their goal is to make Platinum as abundant as Aluminum. It’s useful, we need more of it.
The biggest obstacle to making all of this happen is cost. It costs billions of dollars to launch something into space and bring it back, far more than could ever be offset by selling even the rarest of metals. They’re extremely focused on reducing cost. It’s their chief goal. They expect to be able to do what costs billions of dollars for tens of millions by creating simple, elegant designs and by aggressively taking risks. Planetary Resources Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki says, “We’re going to aggressively take and accept risk where it’s appropriate.” They believe that by doing that they’re on a path which will make going into space cost as little as in the single-digit millions.
It’s the willingness to take big risks that seems to be what they’re really banking on as their means of achieving their goals. Unlike NASA, which gets torched in the press and has its funding threatened when they make even the smallest mistake, Planetary Resources plans to make a lot of mistakes and just keep going. They believe making mistakes and learning from them is the fastest route to success. Lewicki says, “When failure is not an option success gets really expensive.”
The most encouraging thing about Planetary Resources’ plan is that they aren’t waiting around and they aren’t just talking about it. Anderson insists “We’re not just talking about it. We’ve done enough of that. There’s been plenty of talking. We are about doing.” This company is not about dreaming, it is about doing real things right now.
Planetary Resources is shooting for a future where, as Anderson puts it, “We see the future of Earth as a garden of Eden… where we do our industries in space.”
Whether they’ll actually pull it off remains to be seen. Their plan is ambitious and they’re dedicated to getting things done. The cost though remains a huge obstacle for them to overcome. It is perhaps also worth noting that much of their presentation was focused more on setting up fuel depots in space than actually bringing back valuable resources to Earth. The fuel depots in space part of their plan seems the least likely to be profitable, since it depends on other industries actually needing those depots (something which doesn’t exist yet), but bringing resources back to Earth is hard and it’s not going to get easy any time soon.
Here’s a promotional video outlining the Planetary Resources plan…
Stick around we’ll be following their progress closely.