A new space prospecting rush is on

It's not science fiction anymore: Companies are developing plans to mine our solar system.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 24, 2013 1:05PM

Image provided by NASA showing the near-Earth asteroid Eros on March 3, 2000 ( AP Photo/NASA)This year could see the launch of a "space rush" of sorts as companies look skyward for new worlds to explore and mine for natural resources.

While some companies are rolling out plans to take paying customers into space, another set of entrepreneurs wants to bring things back from space -- namely precious metals and perhaps even water from nearby asteroids.

Several firms are already in place with plans to locate and mine these asteroids. The founders of Deep Space Industries held an event this week at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying, where they discussed sending a fleet of unmanned asteroid-prospecting spacecraft into the solar system over the next several years.

"Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development," said Deep Space CEO David Gump in a press statement, adding that some 900 new asteroids passing near Earth are discovered every year. "They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century -- a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Deep Space Industries is working to raise $20 million in funding for the first stage of its missions, which could start as early as 2015.

Finances are already in place, however, for Planetary Resources, set up several years ago by former top NASA officials and some established space entrepreneurs like X Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

The company has Hollywood director James Cameron as an advisor, and counts among its well-heeled investors real-estate magnate Ross Perot Jr. and Google (GOOG) executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.

Another investor is philanthropist and former space tourist Charles Simonyi, who helped Microsoft (MSFT) develop the Office software line. (Microsoft owns and publishes moneyNOW, an MSN Money site.)

"Commercial space started with communication satellites," Simonyi told Popular Mechanics last year, "and it’s continuing with space tourism, that I have been fortunately part of. I think that the next step is going to be the exploration and commercialization of space resources."

So what are some of those space resources that could be commercialized? Water, of course, which can be used to support future astronauts. And when broken down into hydrogen and oxygen, water may also end up as rocket fuel.

There are also precious and other metals. Diamandis tells Popular Mechanics that one 500-meter-wide asteroid may hold as much platinum and other rare metals as has ever been mined from the Earth.

"Using low-cost technologies and combining the legacy of our space program with the innovation of today's young high-tech geniuses," said Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson, "we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.”

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Jan 24, 2013 4:20PM
Finally we may be able to get some good qulaity dilithium crystals.
Jan 24, 2013 4:05PM
Can't wait until they bring back something that we don't have a cure for.
Jan 24, 2013 3:56PM
It"s about time!  There is VAST mineral wealth in the solar systems'  asteroids.  Science Fiction Writters, and Scientific Fact writters have been talking about doing this for decades.  Finally, Technology is catching up to the point that we should be able to do some space mining in the near future, say less than 50 years from now.  Go, Space  Explorers!
Jan 24, 2013 4:14PM
Only those who dare the absurd can attain the impossible.
Jan 24, 2013 5:13PM
Jan 24, 2013 3:16PM
Yeah, sure. Make it sound like all you need is a big shovel and a boxcar-size craft to bring all those minerals back.  However, I am also sure you will find a bunch of suckers ready to invest so that you go mine asteroids...
Jan 24, 2013 5:33PM
Sounds like an operation that on it's face seems like a good idea, but when considering the costs involved and transporting outer space materials  back to earth seems to be more costly than than what it's worth.
Jan 24, 2013 7:12PM
Gold will be obsolete within a few years. Fresh water will be the next comodity.
Jan 24, 2013 5:11PM
How would they get the minerals back to earth?  Just tow the asteroid into the path of the earth and let it "drop"?  It seems that a controlled descent would take too much fuel to make it cost effective.  I could imagine taking the ones that are mostly huge chunks of ice  and dropping them on the moon for processing later.  Maybe there would be enough water for Newt to have a swimming pool at his moon colony.  Which brings me to my next, and final, absurdly stupid question(s):  If there was a pool on the moon (say encased in a terrarium type structure), and since the gravity is so much weaker, would it be possible to "walk" on the water? or would the water be "thinner", leading to inevitable drowning in a mist-like thick vapor? 
Jan 24, 2013 6:50PM

So when they find more precious metal on one asteroid than has ever been mined on earth, doesn't that make the price of those metals alot less due to the fact that the reason it's worth so much now  is because it's hard to find? (supply and demand).  That is of course assuming that THE asteroid thats found isn't the ONLY one with that content. What are the odds of that?



Jan 24, 2013 6:57PM
Good.  Now instead of worrying about asteroids hitting us and destroying our planet we will worry about who will get their first and reap the vast mineral resources that these astrological freight carriers are delivering. 
Jan 24, 2013 4:20PM
R we going to kill all the species, like we did with the Indians and all other life forms to get the riches.  
Jan 24, 2013 4:30PM
Corporations in Space, Although fascinating To think about. I must say that I don't think it would be a good idea. Mainly because look at all the damage they are doing on this planet. Not to mention most, such as the ones mentioned in the story are Greedy and Corrupt. Now I know, there is still a problem getting out there. And when that time comes very few will be able to go in to space. However, Something to Think about is. Do we really want Greed and Corruption to spread Beyond this Planet. You know, If they do find anything worth something they will just Keep it to themselves. Getting more Wealth, more Power, More Control... I really Don't like the Idea,  Not unless there are some checks and Balances in place so that everyone prospers not just them. And Dont get me started on what would Happen if they ran in to Other life out there.
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