|Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and filmmaker James
Cameron are among those bankrolling a venture to survey and extract
precious metals and rare minerals from asteroids that orbit near Earth.
Planetary Resources, based in Washington, initially will focus on
developing and selling extremely low-cost robotic spacecraft for
surveying missions. A demonstration mission in orbit around Earth is
expected to be launched within two years.
Planetary Resources' first customers are likely to be science agencies,
such as NASA, as well as private research institutes. Within five to 10
years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation
platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services. It plans to tap
some of the thousands of asteroids that pass relatively close to Earth
and extract their raw materials.
In addition to mining for platinum and other precious metals, the
company plans to tap asteroids' water to supply orbiting fuel depots,
which could be used by NASA and others for robotic and human space
missions. The company's first step is to develop technologies to cut the
cost of deep-space robotic probes to one-tenth to one-hundredth the cost
of current space missions, which run hundreds of millions of dollars,
Diamandis said. Among the targeted technologies is optical laser
communications, which would eliminate the need for large radio antennas