Startup plans a galactic adventure for new resources on Earth - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Galactic resources: Startup to explore space for raw materials

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Planetary Resources has developed the Arkyd-101 space telescope with remote sensing capability. The telescope will gather data on the composition of near-Earth asteroids to determine their commercial value. (Source: Planetary Resources Inc.) Planetary Resources has developed the Arkyd-101 space telescope with remote sensing capability. The telescope will gather data on the composition of near-Earth asteroids to determine their commercial value. (Source: Planetary Resources Inc.)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft captured this photo of the giant asteroid Vesta on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA) NASA's Dawn spacecraft captured this photo of the giant asteroid Vesta on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

SEATTLE (RNN) - A new company is planning to go far, far away to grab resources for Earth by sending out robotic asteroid miners for the first time in history.

Planetary Resources Inc. plans to launch its first spacecraft within 24 months. On Tuesday, the group announced it plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, including water and precious metals.

"Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space," said Peter H. Diamandis, co-founder of Planetary Resources Inc. "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."

According to the company, every expensive, scarce platinum-group metal mined on Earth can be found in a single 500-meter asteroid.

NASA says almost 9,000 near-Earth objects have so far been discovered, including asteroids and comets.

Planetary Resources also plans to use water found on near-Earth asteroids to fuel deep space exploration, making trips more cost-effective than they would be if water had to be hauled from Earth.

"In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocker propellant," said Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources, Inc.

The company will start by identifying near-Earth asteroids and choosing mining targets, a process that is expected to take years. The company is planning to launch a space telescope that they've developed which will be used to analyze the composition of asteroids and determine their commercial values.

"[Asteroid mining] can be done, and yes, it's very difficult … but the returns economically and the benefits to humanity are extraordinary," Diamandis said.

Diamandis and Anderson helped revolutionize space travel when they launched Space Adventures, a commercial spaceflight company.

But they aren't just relying on their experience to launch their company. The group's chief engineer, Chris Lewicki, is a former NASA Mars Rover and Lander flight director and mission manager. Tom Jones, a veteran NASA astronaut, is working as an advisor for the company.

If the plan sounds like science fiction, that's because it is - or at least it has been. Asteroid mining has been a plot point in science fiction books since 1898, when explorers found an asteroid made of gold in Garrett P. Serviss's Edison's Conquest of Mars.

However, a number of investors have come out of the woodwork to make the formerly impossible, possible: Filmmaker James Cameron, Google co-founder Larry Page, Chairman of The Perot Group Ross Perot Jr. and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to name a few.

"The pursuit of resources drove the discovery of America and opened the West," Schmidt said. "The same drivers still hold true for opening the space frontier. Expanding the resource base for humanity is important for our future."

The company was founded in 2009 by Anderson and Diamandis. The plan was unveiled Tuesday at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

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