The new startup, Planetary Resources will mine asteroids for precious metals.
Peter Diamandis, entrepreneur and X-Prize impresario, earlier in 2012 hinted he was about to unveil something amazing: a startup that will mine asteroids for precious metals.
“Since my childhood I’ve wanted to do one thing, be an asteroid miner,” Diamandis told Forbes. “So stay tuned on that one.”
It looks like Diamandis may be about to push the launch button on the idea.
“The company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP,” according to a press release teasing the announcement. “This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources.’”
Diamandis has long talked about creating an ‘exothermic reaction,” — science jargon for a process that releases energy in the form of light or heat, often in the form of an explosion — in space.
Curiosity started the space race. Then fear that the Russians would overtake the United States. Now it’s time for greed to play a role. “That’s he only way it’s going to happen irrevocably, I’m trying to start a gold rush,” Diamandis said.
It’s not as crazy as it may sound to some. Space scientists have long talked about mining asteroids, which could be rich in rare earths essential to the electronics industry.
Many of these rocks get awfully close: last November 8, for example, a 400-meter wide rock dubbed asteroid 2005 YU55 will passed within 201,000 miles of the earth. The average distance to the moon: 240,000 miles.
Depending on their orbit, some asteroids could be mined for a few years, and then abandoned before they zip out of reach. Others might be slowed and eased into near earth orbit.
Just securing gear in the low-gravity environment of an asteroid could be a challenge, however, with scientists weighing options ranging from harpooning asteroids to burrowing in with rotating screws.
Once secure, machinery could scrape the loose rocks on the surface of the asteroid; vaporize asteroids composed of ices and hydrocarbons; or cut and crush through asteroids composed of harder silicates and metal.
Figure out a way to extract those resources could create the world’s first trillionaire. “If I have a near-term shot at becoming a billionaire it probably be through my interest in asteroid mining,” Diamandis says.
But while greed may be the mechanism, it’s probably not Diamandis’ motive, say those who know him.
Robert Zubrin, chairman of the Mars Foundation, compares Peter Diamandis to Delos David Harriman, the protagonist of Robert Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold The Moon.”
Harriman hyped the idea of riches on the moon to create a gold rush. Like Harriman, Diamandis sees capitalism as the force that will finally coax humanity off the planet.
“He’s not doing what he’s doing for greed,” Zubrin says of Diamandis. “It’s like Columbus selling Ferdinand and Isabella on the spice route to India, I think Columbus just wanted to go sailing; Diamandis is into opening the space frontier because he’s into opening the space frontier.”