I hear lots of ideas for new businesses; most of them are simply me-too’s or not compelling enough to get serious about. So I’m wondering what I would have said if an entrepreneur had called me to discuss his plan to mine for metals and minerals on asteroids. My first question would have been “and you’re doing this with whom?”
Well, turns out that X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis , who was behind giving individuals the space experience with Zero G, is the Chairman of Planetary Resources, the startup that just revealed its existence and its plan to combine space exploration with natural resources in an effort to “ensure humanity’s prosperity.” Now there’s a plan Congress and the President never considered! The startup is backed by none other than Larry page and Eric Schmidt of Google, Charles Simonyi and Ross Perot Jr., and Chris Lewicki, who was a NASA Mars mission manager and serves as the company’s president.
Of course, great backing like Planetary Resources has doesn’t guarantee success. It does guarantee a lot of publicity and that might attract even more funding, which is a good thing, because figuring how to land on an asteroid or grab a small asteroid, put it an orbit around the moon, and then mine it for minerals and metals is no small engineering feat. However, according to University of Arizona planetary scientist John Lewis (who advises Planetary Resources), the smallest asteroid (3554 Amun) that crosses the earth is a mile wide and consists completely of iron, nickel, cobalt, platinum, and many other minerals, so even a relatively small asteroid is extremely valuable. Actually,Diamandis' first goal is to find asteroids rich in water, which happens to be the most valuable resource in the universe.
Diamandis, whom I got to know when he participated in a space forum I hosted a few years ago, is favoring hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for his Arkyd series spacecraft. They’ll likely start with a low earth orbit telescope that can see up to 90 million miles away to search for the right asteroid. Diamanis is hoping for a first launch in about 24 months.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be watching the progress of this venture.