Science

Would You Like To Be A Space Miner?

Planetary Resources, the company that is planning to mine near-Earth asteroids, has received lots of emails from fans wanting to participate in its exciting venture. In fact, it may open the possibility for you to be part of it.

Of course, your participation is not going to be like Larry Page or James Cameron’s — who are board members and investors in the company. And don’t think about pulling a Bruce Willis either. The founders are thinking about “adding additional capacity in [their] production run, and either offering you access to a portion of [their] orbiting spacecraft or, if there’s enough demand, actually build you an additional Space Telescope for your own use.” They say it would probably do this through Kickstarter if enough people ask for it. They have a couple ideas about how this may happen:

• $US100 for a chance to direct the Arkyd-100 Space Telescope and take a high-resolution photograph of anywhere on Earth that you choose (except the Googleplex)… or, some other celestial body. Current space telescopes charge more than $US10,000 for a directed photo of that resolution!

• A desktop scale model of the Arkyd-100 Space Telescope

• A half-day at the controls of a satellite, allowing you to take up to approximately 50 photos from space.

• An exclusive invitation to the Planetary Resources Launch Party — with the whole Arkyd Team and potentially some of the Planetary Resources board members.

They are asking people to submit their own ideas and vote their favourite ideas at Planetary Resources’ blog.

How does asteroid mining work?

There are 9000 asteroids near Earth. Of those, about 1500 are within easy reach using the same or less power than what was used to go to the moon. Planetary Resources want to investigate the composition of those and pick up the best targets.

These asteroids are loaded with two things. Some of have a high content of water ice, which could be converted into solid oxygen and solid hydrogen to provide rocket fuel for exploration; in its unaltered form, it could help support life in space. Harvesting water from asteroids will make space travel really inexpensive, allowing for an industry to blossom in space.

Other asteroids are rich in rare metals, like platinum or gold. An abundance of these metals will enable easier acces to technology that is currently prohibitively expensive.

One small asteroid of, say, 50m in diameter could contain billions of dollars worth of these metals, pure and ready for easy extraction. Likewise, an icy asteroid of the same size could contain enough water to power the entire space shuttle program.

First, within two years, the company will send prospectors to low-earth orbit. Called the Arkyd 100 series, these machines will be cheap and networked together. They will track near earth asteroids (NEA) and asses the possibility to reach them and mine them.

Within a decade, they will launch a swarm of prospectors with propulsion capabilities. They will be the Arkyd 200 and 300 series. These will approach asteroids and analyse their composition.

After identifying the best candidates in terms of distance, speed, physical stability, and composition, they will launch the actual mining spacecraft.

Some of them may be swarms that will grab asteroids and bring them closer to Earth for mining. Others will be large containers that will engulf the asteroids to move them and process them. [Planetary Resources']


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