Apparently, the really exciting thing of the day on the interwebs yesterday was asteroid mining:
Last week, space startup Planetary Resources announced its existence to the world. Co-founded by X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis and space entrepreneur Eric Anderson, the company is backed by a group including billionaire investors and even James Cameron. In a press conference today, the company announced that it is embarking on a long-term goal of exploiting the natural resources found on asteroids.
Oh good grief. No one is going to be mining asteroids in the forseeable future. So what do they want to mine?
In particular, the company intends to mine water (for space travel purposes as fuel and for life support) and precious metals. In particular, they are looking for platinum group metals – ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum. Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson likens these metals to aluminum. Aluminum used to be a very expensive metal until it could be extracted cheaply. Anderson sees the platinum group metals in the same light.
The words “extracted cheaply” are key here, because when you’re talking about mining an asteroid, cheap doesn’t happen. But go on…
One thing that the press conference left frustratingly vague, however, is how the company plans on mining the asteroids for resources. The only technical aspects they discussed were getting through the prospecting stage.
Well, yeah. They were vague because they have no idea how to mine an asteroid in a technically or economically feasible way. No one does. So what’s really going on here?
The company plans on earning revenues relatively quickly –not from mining asteroids, but rather from derivative uses of the technology that they’re developing.
Aha! It seems to me hat these guys have no intent on ever mining anything. Rather, they plan on throwing around a bunch of probes and satellites then charging people for the data they generate. As it happens, there’s nothing wrong with that. Actually its probably really useful. And because they plan on hitching a ride on NASA vehicles, it could be a good funding source for some NASA project eventually. But as for asteroid mining? I have a feeling that’s just a way to generate buzz. It obviously worked. I hope that’s the case and these guys plan to be a legitimate technology provider for some low earth orbit research, because otherwise they’re today’s Snakeoil Salesman of the Day.
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