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Billionaires to fund asteroid mining? MIT's Technology Review published news of a new project that claims it will"create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'" Space exploration company Planetary Resources will be unveiled in a conference call on Tuesday, April 24th. Besides the audacious announcement, which promises to "overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the globalGDP," what makes this unique is its high-profile support group. The venture is backed by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, director James Cameron, and politician Ross Perot's son, among others. Looking forward to hearing the actual scoop..
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We have no idea what wonders may be discovered. I like to think an old alien outpost? Think about it! Rare earth minerals, unknown compounds. Wondrous adventures await!
Where's the signup list? I'll sweep floors ...
Those darn excessive capitalistic profits...
I had always hoped we would solve the problems of exploiting Earth's natural resources before we resorted to space-mining... that said, nothing will accelerate the cause of space exploration like it suddenly being profitable.
This is both encouraging and worrisome. Will all humanity share in the wealth generated by this? Who will decide which territory is ok to mine and which should be left pristine for scientific investigation? What is the process by which territory in space may be claimed for any purpose?
Ultimately, prosperity comes from production which is dependent on resources. Earth's are limited, the solar system's are nearly unlimited. We need to get off this planet if we want to keep growing more prosperous.
"politician" Ross Perot? Didn't he only run for office twice and lose both times?
It's like being an astronaut, except without the cool factor.
+Woozle Hypertwin Good questions. Look to history and ask if all humanity shared the wealth generated by Henry Ford or Bell Labs or IBM and Apple. As to who owns new territory that's an open question that might not be decided by the dead hand of U.N. treaties.
+Franc Schiphorst In one of those fascinating coincidences, the 1997 El Nino Pacific Warming trend that turned 1998 into one of the warmest global temperature years happened to start right about the time that editing on Starship Troopers by Verhoeven began.

Bob Heinlein was cremated and his ashes dispersed into the Pacific Ocean.

One wonders if he was spinning in his grave so furiously as to affect global climate...

More seriously - as someone who paid for part of his college education by giving speeches on asteroid mining and solar power satellites in the 1980s and early 1990s...these are the billionaires made by science fiction. Paying it forward.

Thank you.
Does not Open Space Treaty of 1967 forbid such operations?
I'm betting it will take less than twenty asteroid visits to confirm Fred Hoyle's thesis.
The Treaty of 1967 does forbid "national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."
This may leave wiggle room for private use.
+Ken Burnside ;) lets hope the miners don't read too much of his work or they may get funny ideas when going on strike.
I will say this just because I know it will happen. "History" channels upcoming reality tv show: Space miners
If they don't start with the Moon, it's a no-go.
Asteroids contain fossil fuels?
The moon is much harder to get to/from than many asteroids, actually. It's a big gravity well with not atmosphere for braking.
Nat aS
James Cameron is creating the RDA? How long till we start mining Unobtanium form Pandora?
The CalTech/JPL study is an interesting read on the feasibility, which is there. The real problem is the economic payoffs, which may not. If we spend $2.6B to get an asteroid, what is it worth? For iron ore, nickel, cobalt, et cetera, it is not even close to worth it. For something like rhenium, it likely would not have enough.

You also need to imagine what 500 tonnes of anything would be worth if you tried to dump it on the market at once. This prices would fall faster than you could imagine -- leaving you with a lot of worthless stuff you just paid $2.6B to haul in.

I hope that this project goes. I think it will fail early because the current economics will not support it. In the long run, we will need the raw materials on the colonies, and the planetary gravity well makes it too expensive to get them from a planet.
I bet the violent collapse of metal markets is worth a lot to someone...
Nat aS
Well you don't sell it all at once. Just keep it in orbit and mine what you need. Prices will fall, but you can control the rate.
+William Mullins that wiil be possible .. when the natural resources of the earth depleted ... and we need get more and more to satisfy all ours needs ...
The value in it is in WHERE it is! Last I checked, the cost of boosting a kilogram of anything into orbit was over $4000. That's per kilogram. If the asteroid was cometary debris and consisted of water ice and methane, it would probably be even more valuable.
This is the kind of megaproject that actual, industrializing, future-envisioning millionaires and billionaires believe in. If this becomes the realm of the conscientious industry captain, maybe they can lock the money-grubbing exploiters out of the next big thing.
+Mike Clancy Exactly - The cost to put raw or refined materials into space means that if we need 500 kilos of nickel in orbit, and can get it from an asteroid, it in essence saves the enormous price of surface-to-orbit delivery.
Excellent news, glad to hear it. This will further embolden major resource extraction multinationals like BP, Exxon, etc to lay waste to what little is left of planet Earth. I mean, since we're all goin' to jump into space ships bound for asteroids and drill for treasure---we might as well strip mine Earth for everything we can get. Erm....right?
Let me reiterate, the book on this is
Mining The Sky: Untold Riches From The Asteroids, Comets, And Planets by John S. Lewis, my friend and colleague. ONE 1km asteroid might produce the world's entire steel production for 10 years. A century's gold and a thousand year's platinum.

I was once a world expert on comets... source of 1/3 of the asteroids. My novel HEART OF THE COMET portrays a dramatized human crewed mission to harvest space resources. But no, they have not consulted me.

They should! ;-)

In any event, there are clever/cheap ways to shepherd a small rock into Earth orbit... and then to electrodynamically move refined materials down to very close (recoverable orbit levels.) Much harder... (1) refining processes in orbit (2) passing the environmental impact statement to "shepherd a rock into Earth orbit."
Good grief +Allan Regier , they haven't even confirmed that they are going after asteroids yet. I'm sure they're not going to spend a few billion $ on a hit or miss expedition to pick up any old space rock.
+Mike Clancy & +Jonathan Perrine are expressing the economic logic of asteroid mining. It's highly valuable if you want to use the material in space. It's not if you're thinking of bringing it down to the Earth's surface (yet - that could change, but it would take a lot of change). Hence, any current plan for extraterrestrial resource extraction must be organized around a "growing capacity in space" model. Think Von-Neumann machines (in principle, not literally). The process would be guided from down here, and would look more like conventional industry than self-replicating machines, but it would be a feedback of materials used to make more solar panels (or other energy-gathering/producing structures) and more extractive capacity, repeat. When capacity is great enough, then one can think about actually making it useful to humans. One simple use would be to just build all the stuff we would normally have to send up there (communication satellites, scientific probes, etc.). More advanced (many decades) uses could involve either importing material via advanced tech (e.g. elevators, tethers) or building habitats. But that's far, far off.

If we're wrong about the mining, and it's entirely about energy, then they still have the problem of launch costs and energy transmission to the surface. So it seems there must eventually be some sort of mining.
Greg Wellman certainly gets the economics. The materials are worth it now only if we use them in space. The short-term problem is that we have no real use for them now in space. These billionaires know that this will be a fiscal black hole for some time. But once we do get moving into space, they will have the resources in place, and make money in the long term -- certainly not the Wall Street mentality.

As for mining wrecking the environment, it has been that way for millennia. Releasing gasses and debris into the near-earth field would be a long-term disaster. We would need to be careful with processing -- which is not simple for a separations and extractions operation. Lots of engineering research on the ground needed, with lots of engineer training, lots of new sciences, lots of what we need in the long term.

The more I think about this, the more excited I get.
Very interesting!
one thing is that the gravity well will kill them as much going down as going up. They need volatiles for fuel, and where they come from will make or break the project.

This is what i thought the space program needed to focus on instead of one time tricks with men on board. The mars robotic exploration effort is more rewarding from the advancement of remote exploration and robotics as it is, if you need that justification, and leave the manned presence for when it really counts.

That would be out decades and unacceptable to most of the me generation. I hope if that is what they do, they do it right.
Mack C
It would make more sense to mine the mine. It closer and more gravity.
we as a people better consider that one of these days, all these up and coming countries with their new found wealth who are acquiring weapons of nuclear weapons, will one day push those buttons and the entire world will suffer, then the question will be who has who has not and where will we go?
I hope they check out Asteroid 2010 SO16. If there was ever a monolith carved in the sheer improbability of an asteroid's orbit, 2010 SO16 is it. Even if it's not hiding something, its a great place to put the far end of a VVLBI set of terahertz digital heterodyne telescopes.

The Moon and Mars are completely boring. +Elon Musk is silly for wanting to get a colony on Mars before a self-sufficient space station shielded with an asteroid fragment hull, and that's putting it mildly. I hope that's on his critical path plan and he just says Mars to keep people who don't know it would take at least 800 years to terraform happy.
Love this. Now let's build an elevator to space.
It's always lovely to see people doing productive things.
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