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Surprising Science

Asteroid Miners Prepare For A Lucrative Future

Planetary Resources isn’t the first company formed around the mission of extracting valuable metals from the asteroid belt, but it may be the first one with some real investor belief and funding behind it.

What’s the Latest Development?

Seattle-based Planetary Resources was founded in 2010, but has kept a relatively low profile until recently as power investors, including filmmaker James Cameron and two Google executives, put money towards its primary mission: sending an unmanned robotic craft to the asteroid belt to mine for platinum and similar valuable metals. They believe that they can accomplish this within the next decade, according to company president and former NASA scientist Chris Lewicki: “The engineering in many cases has been solved…[it’s now a matter of] who can find the best economic model.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Mining asteroids has been discussed since at least the 1920s, but it’s only been in the last few years that technology has advanced to a point where it could become a reality. Planetary Resources intends to fund the mission by building tools, including an orbital telescope, that it will sell to corporations or individuals. Some skeptics say that, funding aside, there are still several major technological hurdles to overcome, some of which could take decades, if not an entire century to solve. However, the knowledge being gathered by the company and its supporters could be useful in other ways: If, for example, an asteroid were to head towards Earth, they may end up being the first line of defense.

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