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Unmanned _ Private Missions _ Asteroid Mining by 'Planetary Resources'

Posted by: Mongo Apr 18 2012, 08:07 PM
edit -- fixed link
On Tuesday, a new company called Planetary Resources will announce its existence at the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. It's not clear what the firm does, but its roster of backers incudes Google cofounders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, filmmaker James Cameron, former Microsoftie (and space philanthropist) Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr., son of the former presidential candidate.
According to the company's press release (below):
[...] the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.
April 18, 2012
*** Media Alert *** Media Alert *** Media Alert ***
Space Exploration Company to Expand Earth's Resource Base
WHAT: Join visionary Peter H. Diamandis, M.D.; leading commercial space entrepreneur Eric Anderson; former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki; and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones, Ph.D. on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT in Seattle, or via webcast, as they unveil a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity's prosperity.
Supported by an impressive investor and advisor group, including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr., the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.
The news conference will be held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT and available online via webcast.
WHEN: Tuesday, April 24
10:30 a.m. PDT
WHO: Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., Space Tourist, Planetary Resources, Inc. Investor
Eric Anderson, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder & Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Chris Lewicki, President & Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Tom Jones, Ph.D., Planetary Scientist, Veteran NASA Astronaut & Planetary Resources, Inc. Advisor
WHERE: Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle, WA 98108
Event will also be streamed online.

Posted by: Phil Stooke Apr 18 2012, 08:21 PM

And for another view of this:

Something's up... but what?

PS try this link instead of the one in the previous message:


Posted by: ngunn Apr 18 2012, 10:01 PM

As I recall the other space operator that has resources in its sights is India. Maybe there is scope for cooperation here.

Posted by: Mongo Apr 18 2012, 10:16 PM

Here is a report co-written by Chris Lewicki, President of Planetary Resources, and released just two weeks ago:

Posted by: The Singing Badger Apr 24 2012, 01:21 PM

BBC report:

So, it seems the plan is:

1. In the next 18 to 24 months, start launching private telescopes to search for resource-rich asteroids
2. Within five to 10 years, start to sell prospecting services
3. Mine asteroids for platinum and gold, plus water for refuelling the spaceships
4. Become incredibly rich


Posted by: Mongo Apr 24 2012, 01:44 PM

Here is a more in-depth analysis of what Planetary Resources will propose:

Very ambitious plans! But a group of very wealthy people, who evidently are no fools when it comes to making money, are convinced that they can succeed.

Posted by: Explorer1 Apr 24 2012, 05:17 PM

Stream on now, playing music:

Posted by: Explorer1 Apr 24 2012, 05:32 PM

Starting now.

Posted by: jasedm Apr 24 2012, 06:37 PM

I can see this thread being pulled if certain avenues are pursued, so suffice it to say that I'm in favour of anything that expands our horizons in space. It's an intriguing prospect, and I'll keenly look forward to future developments.

Posted by: TheAnt Apr 24 2012, 08:55 PM

Any prospecting they might do will add to knowledge anyhow. If it be with one telescope or even up close.

But actual mining? Unless they got spare scoops of the kind they depicted, and add one lid to it. They could very well create one dust cloud that could cause quite some nuisance in near Earth space.

And unless they find one suitable asteroid, one that is very small asteroid and yet of very high grade ore at the same time. I really wonder if it could get economical.

But the idea of sharing a launch to get small and nifty 9 inch space telescopes up is a cool one, be it for observing & characterise asteroids or for other purposes is novel - I want one myself to use for my own observations. =)

Posted by: ngunn Apr 24 2012, 10:23 PM

They talk about doing the mining in space and returning the processed materials to Earth. I'm wondering if they have another possibility also in mind. What about finding an asteroid rich in Lanthanides and causing it to impact in - say - Western Australia?

Posted by: Astro0 Apr 25 2012, 02:48 AM

"...causing it to impact in - say - Western Australia?"

SAY WHAT!!!!?????!!!!! blink.gif
Not even with the mining boom currently going on in Western Australia and the fact that we want to host the Square Kilometre Array there would you ever drop an asteroid in WA or realistically anywhere on Earth. That's a disaster movie waiting to happen that not even James Cameron would want to make wink.gif

Posted by: stevesliva Apr 25 2012, 03:12 AM

I actually assumed that they mentioned the asteroid would be placed in lunar orbit to simply avoid recriminations about what would happen if it de-orbited.

Posted by: Drkskywxlt Apr 25 2012, 03:26 PM

I'd like to learn more about the capabilities of these telescopes. They're talking about 9" apertures!?! How much can tiny scopes like that reasonably see? Particularly at IR wavelengths, since I assume that's where they'll be looking? Most of the larger institutional NEO Survey telescope ideas have had thermal IR scopes with apertures of ~50-100 cm (19-39").

Posted by: Fran Ontanaya Apr 25 2012, 03:41 PM

They may be busy enough studying known NEOs when they are closer to Earth. I suppose NEO surveys have to discover them over a bigger space, and they may not have much time to devote to each rock.

Posted by: Phil Stooke Apr 25 2012, 06:26 PM

Impact in Western Australia? When there are so many other places just crying out to be obliterated? No, I prefer the idea of lunar orbit.


Posted by: ngunn Apr 25 2012, 08:48 PM

Renting out a suitable target area could be a lucrative business for somebody - make everyone in Greenland a millionnaire perhaps??? Obviously there would have to be strict limits on chunk size and velocity. The timing of events would be known in advance so there would be time to fit earplugs and retire to a shelter for those not wanting to witness the impacts live.
(Come to think of it - there's another business opportunity. Impact tourism! Specially designed hotels with bomb-proof observation lounges. Even special vehicles for the most daring: you know, the sort of folks who just can't get close enough to a tornado . .)

Posted by: djellison Apr 25 2012, 10:52 PM

Actually - smallish, metalic asteroids don't make for an easy entry - they tend to air-burst at a few km up.

If, say, a 10m iron asteroid was able to impact (7.5km/sec being the impact speed) you're talking about a 100x25m crater.

Or much bigger according to

A >10km/s impact is more likely - and that's more likely to air-burst. is also fun.

The lithbraking method of Earth arrival is not one I would recommend or support.

Posted by: Mongo Apr 25 2012, 11:55 PM

I very much doubt that PRI intends to return the entire asteroid to Earth -- for one thing, the energy costs alone would be enormous. They may or may not transport the asteroid to high lunar orbit, but in my non-expert opinion, the most cost-effective route would be to process the asteroid in situ using the abundant solar power to heat the material. A light-weight parabolic mirror could concentrate solar radiation into a solar furnace, with the focus capable of reaching almost the temperature of the surface of the sun, enough to vaporize any material.

One approach would be something like fractional vaporization, with the pulverized asteroidal material being brought to successively higher temperatures. The less refractory material, including all the bound volatiles, would be boiled off at the start, with successively higher boiling-point materials vaporizing as the temperature increases. If the sunlight is concentrated along a straight line, with increasing temperatures along its length, the metal vapor that is released at the boiling points of each of the metals that it would be worthwhile to transport back to Earth (the PGMs and Gold) could be collected by vapour deposition. The fact that this would be done in a vacuum should make this relatively easy.

Of course this process would be horribly inefficient of energy, but once the mirror is deployed, it's all free of charge. There's plenty of available energy there, it just needs to be collected.

Some numbers:

Element / Boiling Point / Concentration * / Current Spot Price per Troy Ounce / Current Value of Element in 1 Million Tonne Iron asteroid (~50m diameter)

Au / 3129K / 0.6 ppm / $1,642 / $31.678 million
Pd / 3236K / 1.2 ppm / $662 / $25.543 million
Rh / 3968K / 8.6 ppm / $1,385 / $382.990 million
Pt / 4098K / 63.8 ppm / $1,552 / $3183.846 million
Ru / 4423K / 45.9 ppm / $115 / $169.727 million
Ir / 4701K / 31.0 ppm / $1,085 / $1081.511 million
Os / 5285K / 31.3 ppm / $380 / $382.444 million
Re / 5869K / 2.4 ppm / $143 / $11.035 million

Each ppm equals one tonne of the metal in a 1 million tonne asteroid.

The total value at current spot prices would be $5269.774 million, and the mass would be just under 185 tonnes, much easier to transport to Earth than 1 million tonnes! Of course the prices would be a lot lower with these quantities of PGMs available -- which would be all to the good in my opinion, these metals are very useful in various applications, but are heavily limited by their cost.

Of course other metals might be valuable enough to refine and transport to Earth as well. For example, pure Germanium metal is currently selling for $1275/Kg, so that would be another $44.625 million from a million-tonne 98 % Fe asteroid, and a whopping $1300 million from an LL Chondrite asteroid of the same mass. There may be other metals that would be worth extracting as well.


Where "98th % Fe" means that the results are for the 98th percentile iron meteorite, ranked by PGM content.

Actually, even an ordinary Chondritic asteroid (much more common) massing 1 million tonnes has about half the value** in PGMs and Gold of the rarer high-end Iron asteroid (plus as I said above, $1300 million worth of Germanium). So maybe just about ANY Iron or Chondritic asteroid would do!

** The reason being that on Earth, almost all the PGMs, being almost inert chemically, sank to the earth's core during its differentiation, so the Earth's crust is heavily depleted compared to the undifferentiated Chondritic asteroids, much less the PGM-enhanced iron cores of the differentiated but now disrupted asteroids.

Posted by: Paolo Oct 18 2014, 10:19 AM

Planetary Resources' first small space telescope to fly later this month

Posted by: Paolo Oct 29 2014, 06:34 AM

as you probably know by now, Planetary Resources' first small space telescope has been destroyed in tonight's Antares launch mishaps

Posted by: djellison Oct 29 2014, 01:30 PM

Arkyd 3 wasn't their first telescope - it was a technology demonstration 3U cubesat. Still a tragic loss along with RACE, another 28 satellite flock from PLanet Labs and all the other ISS resupply hardware.
"On board are Planetary Resourcesí initial designs for a computer system, a power system, a communications system, an attitude determination system (determining the direction the satellite is pointing relative to the stars) and many other technologies that Planetary Resources plans to continue working on as it develops future versions of spacecraft in the Arkyd line."

Posted by: Paolo Oct 29 2014, 08:42 PM

you are right, of course...
a release from Planetary Resources;

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