Company announces it will mine asteroids for fun and profit. And the future.

The private company Planetary Resources has announced serious plans to begin finding, reaching, and mining asteroids over the next few years.

Yes, seriously. And I strongly suspect they can do it.

They're not fooling around. The company is being run by Peter Diamandis, who started the very successful X Prize Foundation, has several ex-NASA folks running the engineering ops, and has the backing of several high-profile billionaires (yes, billionaires with a "B").

This is not pie-in-the-sky: it's a solid, step-by-step plan that starts slow and builds up. Details are in the link above, but my conclusion?

This could be the first step to a permanent human presence in space.
Astronomy | asteroid impacts | Planetary Resources, Inc. is not your average startup: its mission is to investigate and eventually mine asteroids in space!Last week, the company issued a some
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I don't understand why more billionaires wouldn't be on board with this kind of thing. I mean, how better to establish your legacy than to be the first out there with asteroid mining operations? That's going to be a big deal for the next thousand years.
Completely agree. This is cause for optimism and of course: polishing the resumé :-)
I agree with your conclusion that this could be the first step to a human presence in space, but given that James Cameron is involved it's also highly possible that this is the first step into the subjugation of blue-skinned people everywhere.
The bigger the boondoggle, the bigger the profit. And it's so easy to find suckers for the big dig.
+Philip Plait I base my take on basic math, basic business principles, and a sure knowledge that PT Barnum had an expert knowledge of human behavior. Other than that, I guess I just lack the rainbows and unicorn mentality that allows me to eat crap because some billionaire tells me to.
No moon base? Wtf? How can any self respecting billionaire get involved in mining in space and not build a Damn moon base?
Profitable, who cares! I mean most endeavors don't make money for the first couple of years. This is bigger than that. These billionaires and visionaries are taking the Star Trek mantra "To Boldly Go" and running with it. It this project fails, it will just lay the groundwork for the next company to succeed.
+Dave Nelson I suggest you empty your entire retirement and savings account into this venture. In a few years you will understand the difference between easy talk and hard commitment.
+Walter Lounsbery and +Friedrich Sinofzik these aren't your typical billionaires. People like James Cameron and the Google guys are visionaries like Elon Musk of Space-X. they are willing to lose a certain amount of money to gain knowledge and advance the human civilization.
Agree with +Dave Nelson. This isn't about immediate return on investment; if there was return to be had on normal business timescales (1-5 years), other companies would have already jumped in years ago. This is about sinking development capital into an industry that will take much longer to realize a profit, and thereby kickstarting it into existence. Once the initial investment starts to pay off, which may not be for several decades, then others will start to see reasonable ROI and will join in. This is, historically, on par with the kings and queens of medieval Europe funding expeditions to the New World.
These guys aren't the Koch brothers. These are some of my favorite billionaires. If they discover space diseases I'm sure Bill Gates will be up there with them too. Yes, they expect to make money. I'm a lefty liberal and I don't see a downside here. Making money isn't bad. Making money by exploiting others is. Anyone working for these guys is going to be well compensated. Why do people clamor for jobs at Google? Because their bosses are awesome and pay well.
They should throw this one on KickStarter (or similar). I wonder how much money they could raise that way?
There's also talk of a Space Tourism Show in Vancouver in 2013.
The point is to setup the infrastructure for a Permanent space presence. And if they do, then they and their company (which will outlive them) will be placed to make the Lion's share off the space industry when it ramps up because they will hold the patents, the access to resources and the infrastructure. Then there will be Profit.
I'm wholeheartedly for space exploration in all forms and welcome such news. But I'm holding off on popping champagne corks unitl more is revealed. We know far too little and while wild speculation is fun, approaching this with a little healthy skepticism isn't unreasonable. :)

True, this endevour has wealthy, brilliant supporters. But those two characteristics do not automatically bring (or buy) wisdom to these supporters - especially outside their areas of expertise. Nor do they bring an immunity to being duped - particularly when an especially shiny reward is being dangled.

And yes, the slight amount of information revealed so far implies a measured progression toward an ultimate goal. But the Devil is in the details. We'll see what comes of those soon enough.
+Friedrich Sinofzik yeah but SETI never had a profit potential. This does, even if it is far off. PLus SETI never had a guarantee of finding anything.
A few months ago, National Geographic had a short article on where Rare Earth Metals are mined. 50 years ago the majority came out of the United States, today they are mostly mined in China. Much of today's ubiqutous technology is reliant on these Rare Earth Materials. Mining asteroids for these materials creates a second source without the environmental impact of terrestial mining.

A sharp decline in the price of Gold, due to increased supply, may allow industries that previously avoided using the material due to cost to then use it, like electronics. This makes the surplus supply no longer surplus and useful.

Lastly, even if all these guys manage to setup is a constellation of NEO observation telescopes in LEO, they have contributed in a very real way to the long term protection of the planet by working to catelogue the NEOs.
Must be a Canadian company they own all the mines i have worked at in the last 15 years.
Easy of discovery does not necessarily equate to ease or environment-friendly excavation. Add to this cultutal sensativity or land owners unwilling to sell and it can be a challenge. I doubt that a serious environmental protection case can be made for the preservation of small asteroids.
Of course their END goal is to mine asteroids. But they have no actual concrete plans on doing so just yet. This company is being founded for the purposes of developing the technology and infrastructure needed to do so. Their first order of business is to create low cost orbiting telescopes that can spot 'dark' carbonaceous asteroids which are currently not really being looked for or mapped and to use spectral analysis to find if they are 'high-value' or not.

They are also planning on selling the data to NASA and other services providing positive cash flow for that stage of the operation. In fact they are already apparently cash-flow positive due to research contracts they currently hold.

Their next step is to start building the necessary technology to create the infrastructure to launch regular missions to these asteroids including refuelling, maintenance and manufacturing in orbit. Which is many orders of magnitude cheaper to do then to fly it up their in the first place. Again they are planning on selling these services to various other space agencies and private parties wanting to launch, maintain and construct satellites etc.. to provide cash-flow positive there.

Then they plan on developing the technology to acquire asteroids which are high in platinum group metals and rare earth's to extract them and return them to earth for profit. These elements are extremely rare on earth and expensive. Its estimated that one decent asteroid contains more platinum than has been mined on earth in all history. A boon for manufacturers currently put off by the scarcity and cost of the material.

So no, not all that far out there and a solid plan on how they are going to accomplish their goals in a cost effective manner with methods of maintaining cash positive flows well before they even get close to mining their first asteroid.
Glenn Beck and Ron Paul better sell their gold soon. The bottom is going to drop out of the precious metals market soon.
+Scott Barnden , don't forget that before they extract platinum group metals, they plan to extract volatiles and establish propellant depots. Some of these will be sold to NASA or other space programs.
In a few decades we can read articles about how "big space" is controlling the market and politics to the detriment of mankind
Very cool idea! I'll admit my skepticism when I began reading, but it actually sounds like it could work! Obviously, they're years away from running into the kinds of multinational red tape hypothesized by some of the naysayers, but that said I think once they get there, those sorts of issues will iron themselves out much the same way that human rights almost have - not everyone is on board yet, but it's commonly considered the norm. It might be the same sort of thing for space-mining - there will always be someone nitpicking the crap out of a good idea, but the general population will concede that it is in fact a 'good idea' and it'll happen.

Just because a few old-school mennonite communities don't think the internet is 'good' doesn't stop the rest of us, does it??
Finally we have started to look beyond LEO, bout time. Exciting it should be.
If they have to send the asteroids closer to Earth in order to make it work -- then no, thank you.
The "and profit" is the hard (and possibly impossible) part.

Developing the technologies for moving asteroids certainly makes the "and profit" part easier. If you're Dr. Evil, that is. You don't even need to return anything to Earth, just threaten to do so.
+Martin Blase It wouldn't be a problem putting asteroids in orbit around Earth with a minimum of risks. There have been plans around on how to control asteroid with different techniques for a while now. And the outcome of this will also be that we get experience how to cope with high risks asteroids in a better way.
+Ulf Karlsson "Minimum of risks" depends entirely on who you're asking. If a company was proposing to bring a 500-ton asteroid into Earth orbit, where a miscalculation could send it crashing down who knows where, I wouldn't want to take any risks at all.
Digging and mining some asteroids, may be can find some new minerals that can be use for product or maybe good enough for fuel, better than nuclear source.
It's good for escaping from the need of gasoline from petroleum's countries at middle east.
+Martin Blase The problem is that we can't hide from killer asteroids. They will come. The best solution is that we get experience on how to control them. And this mining project is an opportunity to get some of that experience.
What would be the impact, pun intended, of mined asteroid metals arriving on Earth in massive quantities? Wouldn't the added weight change the speed of planet rotation?
Interesting question, but most likely no. If so, it must be an extremely huge amount of minerals and metal they will bring. And I guess we also lose some of the total weight of this planet already with deforesting or putting space stations/units in orbit or to Mars and Moon.
1.5 million and 2 million asteroids in the solar system, 1 kilometer or larger? $1 - 25 billion per asteroid? When can I invest? lol. No, seriously. This is $
You guys noticed the price of gas? The commute is going to wipe out any profits.
-1. Disgusting. Any step to mine in space should be done and supervised jointly by the UN and all nations on earth, not by any one company or country. Space belongs to no one and conversely to everybody. This is wrong and unethical like the grab for the Wild West and its Gold rush in the old days, where might is right and first come, first served. This is starting a space race/war. Moscow and Beijing are u listening, or too impotent to do anything about it?
The problem is not that it would be difficult to put an asteroid into orbit around the Earth. The problem is that anyone with the capability of doing so could also put an asteroid into the pacific ocean or central asia. How many corporations do you trust with that power? How many corporation's cyber security divisions do you trust with the task of securing that power? At least a government has, in theory, some responsibility to the people it governs.
someone has to pay for this outrageous crap with gas
Wow I'm glad most of the people commenting were NOT involved in ANY risky ventures in the past like discovering America or the invention of flight...with visionaries like these we would still be using stone tablets! With great risk comes great reward.
+Eric Korpela I don't think that the company in question will launch some kind of conspiracy to wipe out parts of the human civilization.
"Man can not discover new oceans unless he has the courage to loose sight of the shore." Christopher Columbuss
+Brian Takle Why go that far? Mine the landfills here on Earth. They are full of resources. Collect the plastic debris in the Pacific and recycle it into usable materials.
Christoper Columbus was an idiot who couldn't even calculate the diameter of the world (a value that had been known for two thousand years before he did his calculation), and if he had been building a machine capable of wiping out humanity, I certainly would have opposed him because he was a continuous screwup.

By his mistake he did wipe out most of the people on the continents he accidentally discovered. So he certainly did his best to wipe out humanity.
+Ulf Karlsson You may still be living in a part of the world where corporations are expected and allowed to be responsible citizens. It the good ole USA a corporation is not allowed to have any goals besides maximizing profits, any constraints on maximizing profits, and any duties besides maximizing profits. It's getting to the point where shareholders can sue a grocery store chain because it didn't become an oil company in order to maximize profits.

Maybe today threatening the world with destruction isn't on the agenda for this company, but look at the companies that do it on a daily basis for very handsome profits. So tomorrow it's "Nice planet. It would be a shame is somethin' was to happen to it."
<conspiracy theory>And what if they are only the visible faces behind an undercover operation by a group of nations, to destroy or alter the orbit of an asteroid / comet recently discovered?</conspiracy theory>
+Eric Korpela Remember Enron? And the damage that 1 single company can do, and how it brought the 9/11 Trade Centre down? +Diego Azuaga Yeh, I know, and then they deliberately bring the asteroid crashing down to earth to destroy only 1 country like Russia or something and kill everybody and blame it on the asteroid. Talk about secret weapons. They may even bring an Alien monster back to earth with them, like in the sci fi flick Aliens- to destroy all of humanity, or some more dangerous deadly epidemic, virus, ore or mineral/radioactive element, toxic gases - to wipe out Earth completely. Why are Americans so destructive?
Well, if the Google-guys wiped out London with an asteroid, Google's marketshare would most likely decrease. It is not realistic to assume that the company would threaten Earth to gain political or economical power.
A company's security is only as good as its worst web programmer.
-- Abraham Lincoln
How long til we start harvesting Gundanium?
Ok. +Philip Plait I have a question that I have been pondering for a while thinking with the various good and bad proposals that have been floating around for asteroid and moon mining. What happens when we start significantly changing the mass of objects in space?

It would be my educated guess that when if we aren't careful we could start changing the orbits of objects and their neighbors because we are changing their gravitational field by altering the mass.

Is this a real possibility or are things just not that delicate when it comes to such a large scale?
+Nicholas Zimmerman, its not that sensitive. Or more of it is that sensitive but the masses of asteroids are so small that their gravitational impact would be negligible on an immediate time-frame and only of risk to other orbiting low mass objects such as satellites which would then have to burn more fuel to maintain their positions.
+Nilanjan Gupta Actually, we do need a gold rush into space. Space exploration shouldn't be restricted to U.N., countries or governmental institutions. It should be open, unlimited and for everyone - including companies and people with ambitions and resources to put human commitment further out in space. Commerce seems to be the best drive to get things done in this area of matter. NASA and ESA have limited financial resources and will, most likely, focus on scientific research instead of mining. And that alone will not lead to the Great Step of the humankind in space.
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