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Consider this space mystery solved. After drumming up speculation through the circulation of a press release last week, Planetary Resources Inc. confirmed that, yes, it does in fact plan to travel to and mine asteroids for everything from water to precious metals.
In a press conference held at Seattle’s Museum of Flight and streamed online Tuesday, co-founders and co-chairmen Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson revealed the space exploration plans of the Bellevue, Wash.-based company.
“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,” Mr. Diamandis told the audience at the museum while as many as 7,000 viewers at times looked in online. “The vision of Planetary Resources is to make the resources of space available to humanity both in space and here on Earth,” he said.
Mr. Diamandis’s name was included on the cryptic press release the company put out last Wednesday, when it revealed few details but said it would “unveil a new space venture” during Tuesday’s news conference.
His background as chairman and chief executive of the X PRIZE Foundation, which created the Ansari X PRIZE for private spaceflight, and well-known aspirations of tapping into asteroids to exploit their potential resources had the Internet buzzing with theories that asteroid mining – long the stuff of science fiction – was exactly what this company planned to do.
Planetary Resources confirmed the suspicions with a press release ahead of the webcast, stating it planned to deploy a line of deep-space prospecting spacecraft, a space telescope it has dubbed the Arkyd 100 series, to explore in low-Earth orbit and prioritize appealing asteroid targets.
During the presentation, Mr. Anderson, an entrepreneur whose resumé includes cofounding spaceflight company Space Adventures Ltd., said that phase should be underway within two years.
After that, the company plans to launch swarms of its Arkyd 300 series of spacecraft, which will travel in expeditions to further explore target asteroids.
The spacecraft will be unmanned, Mr. Anderson said, because adding humans to the equation makes it more expensive and the entire idea is to create a cost-effective means of space exploration.
Dale Boucher, innovation director at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT), a Sudbury, Ont.-based mining research and training centre, said the technology is advanced enough now that Planetary Resources’ plan is within reach within a decade.
He said the main concern for a space mining operation, like all mining operations, are the logistics of extracting and making use of the resource to ensure economic viability.
“It’s not just, ‘How do I go and get that mineral?’ It’s, ‘How do I get it to market?’ ” he said. “The very best case for mining off planet is to be able to use the resource that you’re mining local to the mine site.”
Mr. Boucher said if processing the material on-site isn’t possible, finding a location between the mine and the Earth is the next best option.
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