Billionaires Invest In Space In Asteroid Mining Venture

A Washington company wants to mine asteroids for their valuable resources. Among those investing in the project are a few Google and Microsoft tech billionaires, billionaire Ross Perot Jr., and near-billionaire filmmaker James Cameron.

Google and Microsoft billionaires are counted among a "Billionaire Boys Space Club" that will be investing in a long-term space project where asteroids would eventually be mined for their precious minerals and water.  Planetary Resources, Inc., announced Tuesday that the company would be at the forefront of exploration and the eventual retrieval of resources from asteroids, naming Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, and Ross Perot Jr. (all billionaires) as initial investors. Also named were near-billionaire filmmaker James Cameron ("Titanic," "Avatar") and Google founding director K. Ram Shriram.

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system," Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources, told reporters. 

Plans are to have between two and five space telescopes in place within the next two years to study and detect candidate asteroids for future mining missions. Planetary Resources is also attempting to develop technologies to cut down on the exorbitant costs of constructing and deploying deep space probes, looking to launch smaller, more reliable spacecraft.

Anderson and Peter Diamondis, the other half of the co-founding team, did not give specifics as to when the proposed first mining expedition would take place. However, the company expects to move on from observation stations to actual prospecting services sometime in the next five to ten years. The ultimate prize, the actual mining and recovery of metals, rare minerals, and even water may be decades away.

"We have a long view. We're not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time."

The Planetary Resources co-founders also declined to divulge the exact amount of money their elite group of investors had staked in their company.

The goal is to open up space to profitable exploration and recovery missions. Planetary Resources' first customers are likely to be members of the international science agencies, including NASA, as well as private research institutes, not to mention the many private space enterprises -- like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic -- that are taking shape around the planet.

The company also declined commenting on how the actual mining would begin or what methods would be used in extracting the targeted commodities. Still, it is estimated that extraction ventures to a near-Earth asteroid measuring about 100 feet across could contain enough platinum as to be worth $25-$50 billion.

Peter Diamindis put the entire Planetary Resources operation in perspective. He said that it was the search for resources that caused Europeans to explore new trade routes, search for gold, conquer new territories.

"Those precious resources caused people to make huge investments in ships and railroads and pipelines," Diamindis further explained. "Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth - metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water - is in near-infinite quantities in space. The opportunity exists to create a company whose mission is to be able to go and basically identify and access some of those resources and ultimately figure out how to make them available where they are needed."

And the Solar System contains tens of thousands of asteroids, with thousands in the near-Earth range that would be suitable for scouting and potentially mining for profit.

Private companies have already started looking at ways to make money off of outer space and space exploration. The aforementioned SpaceX, headed by the billionaire entrepreneur and PayPal creator Elon Musk, has been developing a private successor to the space shuttle. There is a planned cooperative mission with NASA scheduled for early May to carry supplies and test the capabilities of their own Dragon capsule before docking with the International Space Station.

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has opened up a spaceport in New Mexico and plans to open up others in Sweden and Abu Dhabi. As of the end of 2011, the company had recorded numerous successful flights of its air and spacecraft. The company's goal is to provide commercial sub-orbital spaceflight opportunities for paying customers and work in conjunction with private and governmental agencies to promote scientific studies and deploy satellites.

(photo credit: Mdf, Wikimedia Commons)

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