Planetary Resources is a company with plenty of funding and an ambitious goal: to send mining robots to the flotilla of asteroids that flit around our planet. the reason? Most of them have trillions of dollars worth of rare metals and minerals. Oh, and there’s water up there, and lots of it. Water is rocket fuel, and many asteroids are 90% water.
The initiative will be done in three steps.
1.Launch a series of telescopes to spot compelling asteroids
There are between 500,000 and 1 million asteroids larger than 50 meters across orbiting the Earth, but we have only spotted 1% of them. In order to find the best asteroids to target, step one will be to launch telescopes into orbit that will search the sky.
2.Launch Investigate the asteroid
The next step is to get a closer look at the asteroid that has been picked out. That involves a line of cheap craft to the asteroid to get some preliminary data. Planetary Resources claims that they are developing a line of craft an order of magnitude cheaper to launch and use than previous government probes like the ones launched by NASA, ESA and the JSA. Following the initial inspection, more expensive craft would be launched that would map the asteroid, determining the rock’s precise shape, composition and orbit.
3.Mine the asteroid
Once the asteroid has been picked out, the mining will begin.
Initially, the focus will be on asteroids rich in water. Water is one of the most useful resources in space simply because it is so versatile. Of course you can use it to drink, but it also happens to be excellent rocket fuel. Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen rocket engines are some of the most common on orbital vehicles.
Basically, Planetary Resources is talking about creating a series of fuel depots in space where you can refuel your spaceship. But it will also mean great things for those in orbit, too. Launching a liter of water into space costs $20,000 USD. The ISS needs a lot of water just so that the crew can live, on the order of a ton. That’s a lot of money spent just to get water into orbit. If we use the water already there, well, that becomes a non-issue.
Planetary Resources isn’t trying to directly move humanity to the asteroid belt. It will be using a flotilla of robots to do both the prospecting and the mining. But by making the resources to build space structures cheap, they are preparing the way for humanity to take a permanent step into space.
Yeah, I’m pretty excited. Are you?
Planetary Resources Photo by : NASA