Asteroid mining: 19th century gold rush meets outer space

Asteroid Mining

Will the gold rush finally make a comeback in the 21st century? According to an announcement earlier today by the startup Planetary Resources, miners will now head to infinity and beyond to extract precious metals and water from asteroids to reduce intrusion on the Earth’s surface.

Planetary Resources, which is backed by famous billionaires such as filmmaker James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, aims to plant telescopes to keep watch of asteroids that are floating near Earth. If the found asteroids are deemed to contain precious metals such as gold and platinum, miners will be sent to the objects to extract what is estimated to be $25 billion to $50 billion worth of metals per 100-foot-long asteroid.

“The company will overlay two critical sectors  space exploration and natural resources  to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources,'” a press release states, CNN reports.

Hopefully, with telescopes in place to keep an asteroid watch, we will also be able to keep an eye on asteroids too dangerously close to Earth and help divert the direction by breaking the asteroid down into a smaller and less destructive mass. We wouldn’t want deadly platinum showers raining down upon Earth!

Aside from benefiting in global economy, the company also believes mining resources from outer space could help diminish overall costs for technology manufacturing. 

“There are precious metals in near-infinite quantities in space,” Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis said in a statement, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “When the availability of these metals increase, the cost will reduce on everything including defibrillators, hand-held devices, TV and computer monitors, catalysts; and with the abundance of these metals we’ll be able to use them in mass production.”

Additionally, water that can also be found in asteroids can broken down in space to form liquid states of oxygen and hydrogen to be used as rocket fuel. The company believes asteroid mining could happen over the next four to ten years with the technology continuing to develop as a rapid pace. After successfully launching miners to asteroids, robot will be used to remotely mine the object before returning the material to Earth. Another option would be to bring the ore back to Earth before refining to help cut the costs of placing remote robots in space.

Of course, this incredibly ambitious multi-million-dollar plan to begin mining in space will have to get through many safety and financial hurdles before we may even begin to see the first signs of asteroid gold. 

Image Credit: Flickr / Shadow_Wolf