What do filmmaker and deep sea explorer, James Cameron, and Google co-founder, Larry Page, have in common?
They’re both backing a new venture to extract natural resources, such as precious metals and water, from more than 1,500 near-Earth asteroids (NEA).
The firm that plans to turn what sounds like science fiction into science fact is called Planetary Resources of Seattle, Washington.
In a press release announcing the venture, the company says a single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid could contain the equivalent of all the platinum group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum) that have ever been mined on Earth.
Along with mining precious metals, the company also hopes to take advantage of water-rich asteroids, which they hope will function as “stepping stones” for future deep space exploration.
The water will be used to provide various life supporting functions, such drinking water and breathable air, as well as to help make rocket fuel.
The way Planetary Resources sees it, providing water, air and fuel at these space-based “pit stops” will revolutionize space exploration and make space travel much more economical.
To get the project moving, Planetary Resources has developed a new line of space craft which will initially be used to survey the targeted asteroids for resources. Later, the vehicles will extract water and metals from the asteroids.
The first of these vehicles will launch within 24 months, according to Eric Anderson, company co-founder and co-chairman.
Meanwhile, NASA is also planning a mission to a near-Earth asteroid. The U.S. space agency won’t be mining for precious metals, but it does plan to extract and return at least a 60-gram sample of the asteroid to Earth.
The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will study asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36 in detail.
Currently scheduled to launch 2016 and return with the sample in 2023, the NASA mission is expected to cost approximately $800 million.