Companies plotting to put robots into space need funding anchored here on Earth
Mineral extraction is going to be crucial for the survival of colonies on Mars or the moon, dreamt up and financed by the likes of entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
But such is the prohibitive fuel economy of space travel that it is unclear when, if ever, bringing resources such as iron and platinum back to Earth will be commercially viable.
Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the Centre for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, says it would make sense only when things on Earth “become economically not affordable”. “Now it’s a race to the funding,” says Meagan Crawford, who runs Brand Delta-V, a space marketing consultancy.
A number of companies are carving out a reputation of being among the industry leaders: ispace, a Japanese company founded in 2013, specialises in robotic rovers weighing just 4kg, whose dainty proportions make them relatively cheap to deliver into space.
The company has a staff of 40 people and managed the operations of Hakuto, one of five finalists in Google’s Lunar Xprize competition. It raised $10m of funding by selling advertising on the side of its rover.
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