By Telegraph UK
Outside experts are sceptical about the project, announced at a news conference in Seattle on Tuesday, which would likely require untold millions, or perhaps billions of dollars and huge advances in technology. But the same entrepreneurs pioneered the selling of space rides to tourists – a notion that seemed fanciful not long ago, too.
“Since my early teenage years, I’ve wanted to be an asteroid miner. I always viewed it as a glamorous vision of where we could go,” Peter Diamandis, one of the founders of Planetary Resources, said at a news conference at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. The company’s vision “is to make the resources of space available to humanity.”
The inaugural step, to be achieved in the next 18 to 24 months, would be launching the first in a series of private telescopes that would search for the right type of asteroids.
The plan is to use commercially built robotic ships to squeeze rocket fuel and valuable minerals out of the rocks that routinely whizz by Earth. One of the company founders predicts they could have their version of a space-based gas station up and running by 2020.
Several scientists not involved in the project said they were simultaneously thrilled and wary, calling the plan daring, difficult – and very pricey. They do not see how it could be cost-effective, even with platinum and gold worth nearly $1,600 an ounce. An forthcoming NASA mission to return just 2 ounces (60 grams) of an asteroid to Earth will cost about $1 billion.
But the entrepreneurs behind Planetary Resources Inc. have a track record of profiting off space ventures. Diamandis and co-founder Eric Anderson and pioneered the idea of selling rides into space to tourists, and Diamandis’ company offers “weightless” aeroplane flights.
Investors and advisers to the new company include Google CEO Larry Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and explorer and Cameron, the man behind the blockbusters “Titanic” and “Avatar.”
Anderson says the group will prove naysayers wrong. “Before we started launching people into space as private citizens, people thought that was a pie-in-the-sky idea,” Anderson said. “We’re in this for decades. But it’s not a charity. And we’ll make money from the beginning.”
The mining, fuel processing and later refuelling would all be done without humans, Anderson said.
“It is the stuff of science fiction, but like in so many other areas of science fiction, it’s possible to begin the process of making them reality,” said former astronaut Thomas Jones, an adviser to the company.
The target-hunting telescopes would be tubes only a couple of feet (less than a metre) long, weighing only a few dozen pounds and small enough to be held in your hand. They should cost less than $10 million, company officials said.
The idea that asteroids could be mined for resources has been around for years. Asteroids are the leftovers of a failed attempt to form a planet billions of years ago. Most of the remnants became the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but some pieces were pushed out to roam the solar system.