Space Travel: Hurry Up, We Have Mining To Do

Thoughts of space travel bring images of the spent space shuttle program, Richard Branson and companies jockeying to build the next best vehicle to supply the International Space Station. Low-Earth orbital flights for commercial purposes should happen later this year, so things are moving right along in that area as well. But now, there is an organization that announced plans this week to mine asteroids for precious metals, bringing back more riches than the planet has ever seen.

Employing cost-effective exploration technologies, Planetary Resources, Inc. hopes to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals.

“Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc. in a multi-media news release and a webinar hosted earlier this week.

Touting benefits in the tens of billions of dollars, Planetary Resources says a single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the platinum mined in history.”Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” said Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Of particular importance to deep space travel are the water-rich NEAs which can serve as “stepping stones,” providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots, revolutionizing exploration and making space travel dramatically more economical.

Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, said “Our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems.”

Those working the space travel industry are looking at every angle that might make it happen efficiently. Recently, five aerospace companies contracted with NASA to study the idea of a new propulsion system, designed to turn the sun’s rays into electricity for space travel too.

In Space travel to get boost from solar power, Gadling reported energy from the sun as just one piece of the space travel puzzle. Now we have another one.