For several years (And still today) there was a fear that eventually resources such as oil and natural gas would run out, leading some to believe there would be a collapse in civilization or a war over resources. This has led some scientists to suggest the mining of asteroids, for resources such as water and metals. This may sound like something from the science-fiction films Alien or Avatar, but there are actually multiple people that are interested in making this concept a reality.
These are not merely scientists and experts who believe harnessing resources from space is the best way to help further human civilization beyond Earth, but surprisingly well-educated, wealthy and influential people. This group is known as Planetary Resources, a company that was co-founded by Eric Anderson, an aerospace engineer and Peter H. Diamandis, chairman of the X-PRIZE Foundation which awards monetary prizes for certain achievements, such as the development of SpaceShipOne. The current president of Planetary Resources is Chris Lewicki, who was Flight Director for both Opportunity and Spirit Mars rovers, amongst other things. There are also the many people who act as advisers to Planetary Resources, such as the retired US Air Force general T. Michael Moseley, NASA astronaut Thomas D. Jones, and popular director James Cameron, who is noted for his exploration of the Earth’s oceans. Recently, Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, became one of the organization’s investors.
The goal of Planetary Resources is to increase space-travel and help expand the exploration of space through the utilization of resources found in asteroids. Asteroids, over which 9,000 pass very close to the Earth’s orbit, contain multiple resources such as platinum, would be easy to mine from by utilizing robotic spacecrafts that could attach themselves to the asteroid due to the fact that asteroids possess their own gravitational-pulls. Water, a resource that can be harvested from asteroids, is extremely important. It is very expensive to bring water from Earth, and it can also be utilized as a propellant, provide protection against solar radiation, become a source for precious oxygen, etc. If humanity did not need to bring water from Earth each time a mission was launched into space, then that would allow humans to expand greater than ever before.
Even though some would think such an endeavor would be too complicated or dangerous, mining an asteroid would actually be simpler than mining on Earth. The reason is that on Earth, precious metals are located deep underneath the ground, whereas on an asteroid the metals are dispersed across the object, making reaching it much easier. Of course, it is only after mining of water has become efficient and proven to be viable can the mining of other resources, such as elements of platinum begin; this is not to negate the importance of mining water though, as an asteroid containing water with a diameter of 500-meters can be worth fifty-billion dollars.
Currently Planetary Resources is developing the ARKYD series-100 Space Telescope, which is intended to be a commercially-available telescope that can view space and the Earth with incredibly detailed photos, as well as assist in asteroid exploration. There is also the ARKYD seres-200 Interceptor, which is intended to be placed into orbit with satellites to maintain a permanent ready-to-launch status to intercept possibly suitable asteroids and study them, possibly having two Interceptors working in pairs. Then there is the ARKYD series-300 Rendezvous Prospector, which is intended to survey more distant targets and operate in a “cluster” of series-300’s that can study the asteroid simultaneously.
It may seem like a fictional concept or one that may seem out of reach, the minds at Planetary Resources have plenty of faith in themselves to advance humanity into outer space and reach the goals they’ve set for themselves. With the number of influential people that have shown support for the project, it appears that asteroid mining may not be as far-fetched as previously thought. As Peter Diamandis states in his personal motto, “The best way to predict the future is to create it for yourself.”