Brightest Engineering Minds Focus on Asteroids to Sustain Life and Provide Riches

Not quite satisfied with his recent landmark trip to the very depths of the Pacific Ocean, movie maker and extreme explorer James Cameron is backing a new mission to mine precious metals and minerals from asteroids orbiting the Earth.

Cameron, along with Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt will bankroll the new project pioneered by Washington-based startup Planetary Resources, it was announced today.

The company—whose members and advisors are made up of aerospace bigwigs and top engineering minds, including private space flight pioneer and X PRIZE Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis and former Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General Moseley—will initially focus on developing a low-cost robotic spacecraft for surveying missions.

Among the targeted technologies is optical laser communications—which would eliminate the need for large radio antennas aboard spacecraft—and improved micro-propulsion.

Planetary Resources will also investigate recent innovations in commercial microelectronics, medical devices, and information technology, not traditionally used by robotic spacecraft.

The spacecraft will initially be marketed to NASA and private research institutes, but the mother-load will come further down the line when it’s sold to private industry looking to mine thousands of asteroids close to Earth. A 98-foot asteroid can hold as much as $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum.

Along with mining metals and minerals, Planetary Resources hopes that asteroids can supply water to orbiting fuel depots, which could be used by NASA and others for robotic and human space missions.

Water is essential for deep-space exploration, both for drinking and farming, as well as providing breathable air, radiation shielding and manufacturing capabilities. And its elements (hydrogen and oxygen) can be used to formulate rocket fuel.

“Since my early teenage years, I’ve wanted to be an asteroid miner,” said Diamandis at today’s press conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. “I always viewed it as a glamorous vision of where we could go. The company’s vision is to make the resources of space available to humanity.”

Some scientists are skeptical the project will get off the ground due to expense and logistics. But it wasn’t so long ago that we thought human space flight impossible.

For several years now the aerospace industry has been asking the same questions: “What’s the next big thing in space exploration?” “How do we get the next generation excited about space?” Maybe this is a step in the right direction.

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