Just as the US space program takes a breather, a private start-up, Seattle-based Planetary Resources, is making plans to mine asteroids in space for their precious metals.
Google founder Larry Page and Chair, Eric Schmidt are among its backers, along with K. Ram Shriram, founder of Sherpalo who sits on Google's board, Ross Perot, Jr. and others.
For the first time, humans will attempt to "mine" the solar system, retrieving precious metals that are becoming scarce on Planet Earth as population continues to grow beyond its carrying capacity.
And the treasures will be valued at tens of billions of dollars a year for the company.
The platinum on Earth originated by asteroids colliding with our planet - a single 500-meter asteroid contains all the platinum that's ever been mined in human history, says Planetary Resources.
"Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications," says Peter Diamandis, M.D., one of the co-founders.
Additionally, water-rich near-Earth asteroids will serve as "stepping stones" for deep space exploration, providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots. Accessing water resources in space will revolutionize exploration and make space travel dramatically more economical, they say.
"Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and and the most efficient rocket fuel there is," says Eric Anderson, co-founder. "That provides the radical cost reduction required to really open up space."
There are about 9,000 known near-Earth asteroids and 1,500 are as easy to reach as the Moon. The company's first deep-space prospecting spacecraft - the Arkyd-100 - will go into low orbit in the next two years to help prioritize the first asteroid targets.
They expect to begin active prospecting of minerals in less than four years using robotic technology.
"The promise of Planetary Resources is to apply commercial innovation to space exploration. They are developing cost-effective, production-line spacecraft that will visit near-Earth asteroids in rapid succession, increasing our scientific knowledge of these bodies and enabling the economic development of the resources they contain," says Tom Jones, Ph.D., veteran NASA astronaut, planetary scientist and Planetary Resources, Inc. advisor.
Within 10 years, the company plans to site "gas stations" in space where hydrogen and oxygen from asteroid water is used to refuel spacecraft, including satellites.
The founders launched Space Adventures in 1998, the first company to offer "tourist" space travel. Peter Diamandis is also the founder of X-Prize, which gives out many millions in prizes for inventors of alternative fuels, super-fast electric cars and other super-fuel-efficient vehicles, innovation in space travel and genome mapping.
Here's their website: