Entrepreneurs Plan to Mine Asteroids for Precious Metals

May 16, 2012

Asteroid Mining for Precious MetalsAsteroids have always been intriguing to scientists, aerospace engineers, science fiction writers and futurists, but they’ve recently become increasingly more attractive to tech billionaires. Asteroids, known to contain tons of precious metals, have been the focal point of Planetary Resources, Inc. The venture, made up of a group of extremely wealthy and adventurous entrepreneurs, plans to send swarms of robots to outer space, where they will scout asteroids for precious metals, set up mines, and return to Earth with tons of precious metal resources.

In addition to bringing back valuable precious metals, the robots will add trillions of dollars to the GDP and pave the way for future human space exploration and settlement. While there are plenty of resources available on Earth, they are nothing compared to the amount of precious resources available elsewhere in the solar system. Nearly 9,000 asteroids exceeding 150 feet in diameter are in orbit near the Earth, and some contain as much platinum as is mined in nearly one year on Earth. Potentially, these asteroids could be worth several billion dollars each. For those willing to take the right kinds of risk, the pay-off could be immense.

Most investors have been turned off to the idea of space mining due to long-term scales and uncertain returns on asteroid mining. Although the promise of astronomical profits is enough to lure in investors, the risk is often more than enough to turn them away almost as quickly. Technically, the endeavor is feasible, but the necessary technology has yet to be developed. Planetary Resources Inc. would specifically target the platinum-group metals: platinum, palladium, osmium and iridium. These highly valuable commodities are used in medical devices, renewable energy products, catalytic converters, and down the line perhaps even automotive fuel cells.

Platinum alone is worth over $20,000 a pound, which is nearly the same price as gold. Mining only the top few feet of an asteroid containing precious metals could yield around 130 tons of platinum, worth about $6 billion on the market. Within the next two years, Planetary Resources, Inc. hopes to launch telescopes that will identify potentially valuable asteroids. Five years down the line, the business venture hopes to send out a small swarm of spacecraft for a more detailed prospective mission. The company is tight-lipped about how they actually plan to use robots to mine, and this is the most difficult phase.

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