Planetary Resources is exciting right from the beginning

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I watched the presentation today given by Planetary Resources:


and found it to be exciting to say the least. For those who don't know, Planetary Resources is a new company that has gotten a lot of attention in the past week primarily due to two reasons:

1) the company plans to do something that has never been done before: eventually mine (small) asteroids, and
2) more importantly, it is backed by billionaires. The founders of Google, for example.

The company's general plan will take place over three stages: 1) observation from afar, 2) observation close up, and 3) resource exploitation. Stage 1 is what makes this interesting right from the get go. Transcribing from the video:

As of this morning there are 8,931 near-Earth asteroids that we know of...we have a population of almost 9,000 near-Earth asteroids, which represents by the way my friends, one percent, one percent of the near-Earth asteroids that are larger than 50 meters. So there are almost 500,000 -- there are between 500,000 and a million asteroids that we expect to find out there over time that are greater than 50 meters and that are close to us in terms of the near-Earth capability. That's an extraordinary amount! We only know one percent of them right now. And so our first phase, beyond the development of our technology, is to prospect. We're gonna do it by launching a space telescope, a series of space telescopes which are our Arkyd 100 series which we're gonna see, and then we're eventually gonna launch swarms of spacecraft using our Arkyd 300 series to these targets, as we characterize them and learn about them...
The launching of one or more space telescopes in the beginning specifically to find asteroids - that's exciting. Not only is it exciting because it is doing science that NASA otherwise has to beg to find the funding for, but because it is easy to do. Mining an asteroid is something entirely new, but building and launching a telescope? No problem. I would even recommend building telescopes on the ground to accomplish the same thing, such as what Pan-STARRS is doing now. Perhaps Planetary Resources will do that as well; it's hard to tell from that video alone without any more detail. But either way it happens, finding asteroids is easy to do and I am very glad to see their investment being used in this way in the first phase.


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