Startup "Planetary Resources" Is Looking to Mine Asteroids for Minerals

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Is Asteroid Mining the Next Gold Rush? Startup Planetary Resources Is Betting On It.

By Torie Bosch
| Posted Tuesday, April 24, 2012, at 3:10 PM ET
42


After much buzz, the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources officially launched today with a press conference in Seattle. (That’s launched in the business sense, not the rocket sense—for now, at least.)

The company eventually plans to use robots to extract water and minerals like gold and platinum from near-Earth asteroids (which Anderson tells Space.com “really are the low-hanging fruit of the solar system”). Finding water in space would be enormously beneficial to future exploration because it could be converted into rocket fuel, while the minerals could be sold here on Earth. But there’s some disagreement about how profitable the venture could be.


The Associated Press reports:


Several scientists not involved in the project said they were simultaneously thrilled and skeptical, calling the plan daring, difficult — and highly expensive. They struggle to see how it could be cost-effective, even with platinum and gold worth nearly $1,600 an ounce. An upcoming NASA mission to return just 2 ounces (60 grams) of an asteroid to Earth will cost about $1 billion.​

But in another report on Space.com, Jeremy Hsu disagrees, writing that the venture could be enormously profitable. “Just the mineral wealth of the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter could be equivalent to about $100 billion for every person on Earth, according to ‘Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroid, Comets, and Planets’ (Addison-Wesley, 1996) — perhaps slightly less now after accounting for the Earth's population growth over the past 15 years.” A graphic from Planetary Resources brags that asteroid mining is poised to become a trillion-dollar industry, while a company tweet says it’s “the modern gold rush."

Literal and figurative gold isn’t the only objective here. Planetary Resources was founded by Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation, along with aerospace engineer Eric Anderson. Its investors include Google CEO Larry Page and his predecessor Eric Schmidt, and Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron is on the advisory board. At Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait gives a thorough, highly readable account of the plan and concludes that Planetary Resources’ leadership “want to make sure there are available resources in place to ensure a permanent future in space. And it’s not just physical resources with which they’re concerned. Their missions will support not just mining asteroids for volatiles and metals, but also to extend our understanding of asteroids and hopefully increase our ability to deflect one should it be headed our way.”

For more on how the asteroid mining process might work, see the Guardian's interactive.
Sounds cool and everything, but I'm pretty skeptical on the whole mining "value" of it. Unless they start selling the minerals at a premium because they're chunks of asteroids from space...
 

Neon

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There's plenty of stuff you could mine from space that would receive top dollar on Earth like He3, or ores in various rare configurations.
 

sillyfuck

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Until someone can figure out how to use the space ore, profit will never be had.
 

Neon

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Until someone can figure out how to use the space ore, profit will never be had.
Use it for the same stuff you use those materials when they are mined on Earth.

Currently, the quality of the ore and the consequent cost and mass of equipment required to extract it are unknown and can only be speculated. Economic analyses indicate that the cost of returning asteroidal materials to Earth far outweighs their market value, and that asteroid mining will not attract private investment at current commodity prices and space transportation costs.[15][16] However, potential markets for materials can be identified and profit generated if extraction cost is brought down. For example, the delivery of multiple tonnes of water to low Earth orbit for rocket fuel preparation for space tourism could generate a significant profit.[17]

In 1997 it was speculated that a relatively small metallic asteroid with a diameter of 1.6 km (0.99 mi) contains more than $ 20 trillion USD worth of industrial and precious metals.[4][18] A comparatively small M-type asteroid with a mean diameter of 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) could contain more than two billion metric tons of iron–nickel ore,[19] or two to three times the annual production of 2004.[20] The asteroid 16 Psyche is believed to contain 1.7×1019 kg of nickel–iron, which could supply the world production requirement for several million years. A small portion of the extracted material would also be precious metals.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid_mining#Economics

Also, space mining is a self-sustaining industry, meaning that space travel, exploration, and habitation would all be much cheaper if the materials for them were mined in space. Lifting all that shit out of the gravity well is energy-inefficient, highly expensive, time consuming, and prone to error. Building things from scratch in space is a big trouble solver for stuff like Moon colonies, orbiting space stations, and even satellites. If a satellite could be built in a space station entirely from materials mined in space and then just set into orbit, deploying them would become much much cheaper and simpler, for instance.
 

sillyfuck

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So the cost of sending people, or robots to an asteriod Armamgeddon style will turn a profit?
 

Neon

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So the cost of sending people, or robots to an asteriod Armamgeddon style will turn a profit?
Depends on how cheaply you could do it, or on how profitable you could eventually make it. This is a brand new industry so it has an inherent risk to start off.
 

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The only way anybody's making money off space mining is if they find a rich vein of taxpayer-funded subsidy money to tap into.
 

MayrMeninoCrash

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Sounds like this company is more in the business of generating venture capital than actually putting equipment into space. Board of Directors make off with the seed money and retire to a non-extradition country in 3...2....1.....

Not to mention, this venture, if successful, would have the effect of driving down costs of the precious metals it brings back, since gold is gold. The venture might seem attractive at $1600 an ounce, but what happens to the price of the commodity when hundreds of pounds of gold are returned and placed on the open market?
 

Neon

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Sounds like this company is more in the business of generating venture capital than actually putting equipment into space. Board of Directors make off with the seed money and retire to a non-extradition country in 3...2....1.....

Not to mention, this venture, if successful, would have the effect of driving down costs of the precious metals it brings back, since gold is gold. The venture might seem attractive at $1600 an ounce, but what happens to the price of the commodity when hundreds of pounds of gold are returned and placed on the open market?
That's why I was talking about self-sustainability. Space mining is better for the economy of space than it is to that of Earth. Large scale mining in space can only really happen when there are people in space who need those resources. The stuff brought down to Earth would have to be the REALLY valuable stuff like He3 that barely exists on Earth at all.
 

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There's plenty of stuff you could mine from space that would receive top dollar on Earth like He3, or ores in various rare configurations.
My dad was the construction manager of a project that is to simulate mining in space. Specifically the moon, and asteroids. It is basically one giant soundproof room designed to look for He3.
 

Neon

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My dad was the construction manager of a project that is to simulate mining in space. Specifically the moon, and asteroids. It is basically one giant soundproof room designed to look for He3.
Awesome. Yeah, supposedly the moon has some high concentrations of the stuff. With more of it, we could experiment with fusion drives for space travel and fusion generators in general (they can be made to be very energy efficient). It's all very early tech, mostly because there isn't much He3 to fuck around with. All the He3 used today is manufactured, and the shit is expensive (like 8 grand a gallon). And unlike the Gold that Mayr mentioned, He3 is a fuel, so shipping it to Earth will not drive down the price below what the importers would charge (think OPEC but with He3. OHe3IC).
 

Psychopath

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When we were on the moon did they do core samples at all?
 

Neon

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When we were on the moon did they do core samples at all?
Apparently all of them did. Scroll to the second page. I guess based on that they extrapolated some other figures. I guess it is believed that areas of the moon that are in constant shadow could have incredibly high concentrations of He3.

EDIT: Oh, you were asking in general. Yeah, of course they took core samples. I was just checking to see if they did specific He3 tests, and they did.
 

Stig

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But by "Core Samples" we're only talking a couple of feet, right? I mean aliens landing in, say, New Jersey and digging down 2 feet aren't going to figure out the whole Earth.
We gotta go back there, if only for the spectacle.
 

Neon

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But by "Core Samples" we're only talking a couple of feet, right? I mean aliens landing in, say, New Jersey and digging down 2 feet aren't going to figure out the whole Earth.
We gotta go back there, if only for the spectacle.
I think the earth has more complex strata than the moon. Also, if you land inside a deep crater, then you are already pretty deep down. But yes - we haven't poked around nearly enough on there for my liking.

EDIT: Reading up on this - they also collected surface samples that came from deep inside the moon. All kinds of lava rocks and shit that formed in lower strata and were ejected by meteor impacts. A good geologist can tell a lot about the deeper regions by looking at those kinds of rocks.

EDIT 2: To answer your question - Apollo 17 dug the deepest core sample - about 9 feet.